READ program brings excitement to Minot library

Siblings Hunter Ashley, left, and Josie Ashley, center, read to licensed therapy dog, Quincy, with gentle guidance from handler, Theresa Flagstad, right.

The first Tuesday of every month dog handlers Ann Jussero and Theresa Flagstad bring their specially trained canines to the Minot Public Library (MPL) for a unique reading experience. The Reading Education Assistance Dogs program (READ) encourages young readers to strengthen their skills by reading to therapy dogs.

Children are invited to read to the dogs in 15-minute intervals on a first-come, first-served basis. With the last event, June 6, being the first during summer vacation, there was an influx of participants. The program had a line of 19 children patiently waiting for their turns to read. Popular book titles included “The Giving Tree,” by Shel Silverstein, “The Pidgeon and the Hot Dog,” by Mo Willems and “In a People House,” by Dr. Seuss.

“It calms the kids down and they’re more relaxed with animals than they are with (peers) because they’re non-judgmental. Some of the kids will come in fidgeting and the second they start petting the dogs, they quit fidgeting,” said Flagstad, a long-time volunteer for the local READ program. Flagstad retired from the North Central Human Service center, where she worked with individuals with developmental disabilities, which she said is what inspired her to start volunteering with her therapy dog, Quincy.

The READ program was developed by Intermountain Therapy Animals, a Utah-based nonprofit organization that is dedicated to enhancing quality of life through the human-animal bond. READ was launched in 1999 with the intent to create a safe, relaxing and non-judgmental environment to encourage children to practice reading. The dogs are specially trained, tested, registered and liability-insured animals who volunteer with their handlers as a team.

“It’s not just the reading. Both of us encounter kids that are stressing out at school, and we’ll go in and do a one-on-one. It’s just marvelous,” said Jussero. Aside from the READ program at MPL, Jussero and Flagstad, alongside their canine companions, volunteer at the Minot Air Force Base Library, Edgewood senior living center, Minot State University and several local elementary schools.

The READ event typically happens the first Tuesday of every month from 4-5 p.m. at MPL’s Imagination Station in the children’s department. The next event will be held Thursday, July 6, from 4-5 p.m. because the first Tuesday is the July 4 holiday. MPL invites readers of all ages to participate in this program.


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