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Guilford resident Howard Taylor readies for another day helping his community with his licensed therapy dogs Chief and Miley (foreground). The trio assists at several different programs around town and along the shoreline, including weekly Paws and Read sessions at Guilford Free Library. (Photo by Pam Johnson/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
A young reader finds a fan in Miley, in this photo shared by a parent with the program. (Photo courtesy Howard Taylor )
Chief and Miley show their owner/handler, Howard Taylor (off camera), that they're ready to settle in for another session of Paws and Read at Guilford Free Library. (Photo courtesy Guilford Free Library )
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Howard Taylor is enjoying retirement by sharing his licensed therapy dogs, Chief and Miley, with his community.
Howard, Chief, and Miley volunteer for Guilford Free Library’s (GFL) Paws and Read program, which brings in furry friends to share a quiet corner with young readers (ages six and up). The trio is ready to read with kids registered for 15-minute sessions each Wednesday from 4 to 5 p.m. now through March 28.
Howard got the idea to share his pups with the public last year. Three years ago, he adopted Chief from an Arkansas shelter. The beautiful golden retriever had been rescued from a backyard breeder. Chief needed many months to be nursed back to health. Through it all, his gentle demeanor and kind temperament made Howard consider the possibility that Chief could serve as a therapy animal.
Due to issues that may stem from arthritis, Chief, who’s thought to be about 10, can’t sit, so that ruled out a couple of different types of therapy occupations for him. Howard did some research and found that Chief could be perfect for Alliance of Therapy Dogs, a nationwide program.
“They want dogs with great temperaments, which is the important thing,” says Howard.
Last March, Howard and Chief met up with an Alliance of Therapy Dogs’ local tester from North Guilford, and took the test at Strong House Adult Day Care in Madison. Chief passed with flying colors. Howard’s next bit of research led him to sign them up for Paws and Read at GFL.
“I was looking for things we could do, and I thought working for kids would be fun,” says Howard. “I checked the website and noticed Ellen with Lucy.”
That’s GFL volunteer and dog handler/owner Ellen Silberman and her licensed therapy pup, Lucy (through March, they’re at GFL for Thursday afternoon Paws and Read sessions). Howard met Ellen to discuss the program and liked what he learned. His next stop was a visit with GFL Head Children’s Librarian Angelina Carnevale, who welcomed Howard and Chief to the program.
About six months ago, Miley, believed to be about six years old, joined Chief and Howard as part of Paws and Read at GFL.
“Miley came along from same shelter down in Arkansas in May of 2017, and I fostered her,” says Howard. “Ninety days later, I took her for the test, and she passed, which I knew she would.”
Expanding GFL’s popular Paws and Read program with more volunteers like Howard, Chief, and Miley was a golden opportunity, says Carnevale. Earlier this month, Carnevale welcomed another addition to Paws and Read, volunteer dog handler Kimber Tanaka and her licensed therapy dog Denver for Saturday sessions. More information on GFL Paws and Read is available at www.guilfordfreelibrary.org.
“We’re really excited to get more children and parents aware of this service that we provide at the library,” says Carnevale.
The children who read aloud one-on-one with Chief and Miley have all different levels of ability and take away different benefits from the program, Howard says.
“There are some kids, they want to see the dogs, but they’re there to read and they’ll play with the dog after—they don’t want any distractions,” says Howard. “And there are some kids who like to hold a book in one hand and pet the dog. One little girl...after every page she reads, she’ll turn the book around and say, ‘Look at the picture, Chief; look at the picture, Miley.’”
As therapy dogs, Chief and Miley join Howard for other volunteer visits along the shoreline. From Monday through Thursday, they’re generally helping somewhere, including regular visits with guests of Strong House, residents at Artis Senior Living in Branford, and, as part of Guilford Interfaith Volunteers’ Friendly Visiting program, Guilford senior residents at home.
“There are some [elderly] who are verbal and talk about the dogs that they had. There’s one gentleman, he’s not verbal, and he’ll pet the dog,” says Howard, adding that the visits seem to spark a welcome memory in the man.
Chief and Miley also are a welcome sight to another person Howard has come to know through volunteering with Big Brothers and Big Sisters, his “little,” a young man from North Haven.
“I don’t take the dogs all the time—it depends on the weather and what we have planned—but he loves the dogs,” says Howard.
Howard moved to Guilford from Long Island in 2000 and began volunteering about the same time. One of his first forays into assisting his new community was as a Guilford youth mentor, serving with that program for about four years.
The Taylors began bringing dogs into their family when their kids were in grade school, and from that first German shepherd, Howard always considered the abilities of each dog and how they might be of service to others. As a Guilford resident, he fostered three dogs for Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Two went on to graduate to service careers and a third “flunked out,” and became a beloved part of his daughter’s family, notes Howard, smiling.
Whether it’s volunteering to foster a dog or finding the qualities in your pet that can help the greater good, dogs can make a difference in people’s lives outside of the family that loves them, says Howard.
“I think it’s important, when you have pets that have certain capabilities, to share that with people,” he says. “That’s important to me, so I share as much as I can.”
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