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For Kids Uncomfortable Reading, This Dog is Listening

Ziggy the therapy dog helps children gain confidence and practice their reading skills.

Ziggy loves stories.

He can sit for hours just listening to a tale or two.

As part of the BARK Therapy Dog program (Beach Animals Reading with Kids), Ziggy the French Bulldog sits quietly as children read him stories. The volunteer organization brings dogs to libraries and schools to help build self-confidence through reading experience. While kids might find reading aloud to classmates intimidating, reading to a dog puts them at ease, said Mary Knab, Ziggy’s handler.

“Kids who have trouble reading embrace it because there is no judgment,” Knab said. “They get a feeling of belonging.”

Knab, who lives next door to Ziggy and his family in Aliso Viejo, worked as a nurse in the Air Force and currently spends a lot of time helping the homeless in South Orange County through the Hands of Grace program.

“I just have to serve,” she said.

Knab was encouraged by her neighbor to participate with Ziggy in the program. While the dog has always had a calm nature, Knab said he did have to undergo some training before he was allowed in the program. He passed the final test, which included ignoring hot dogs that were thrown in his direction.

Ziggy and Knab currently read to children at the Foothill Ranch Library. The group usually consists of 12 children and six dogs. The children, who read 5-7 minutes at a time, rotate between the different dogs for about an hour. Once they’ve completed their short stories, they often receive a sticker from Ziggy. As time passes the children become more comfortable in the group setting, Knab said.

“You see the kids develop a sense of empowerment overtime,” she said.

Knab said one of her favorite experiences has been watching one of the little boys in the group who was very shy, but has grown and gained confidence over time. If his story ends early, he tells Ziggy about his adventures with the neighbor dog. Ziggy is his favorite BARK dog.

As long as Ziggy is still up for it, I will go,” Knab said.

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