For kids learning to read, sharing a story with a therapy dog can be a real joy

By Viola Flowers for The Suffolk Times

ORA THE YELLOW Labrador retriever might be the best-read dog in town. 

The nine-year-old therapy dog has happily fallen asleep to over 300 stories read to her by children in elementary schools and libraries as a certified Tail Waggin’ Tutor with Therapy Dogs International. 

Dora is fearless in her professional story-listening, lightly snoring through big vocabulary words or mispronunciations. The only thing she is afraid of is going down the Mattituck-Laurel Library stairs. 

Mattituck-Laurel Library offers time for children to practice their reading and speech skills to a TDI therapy dog in the library’s conference room about once every two months. Kids can sign up to read a story of their choice to one of the many TDI therapy dogs the library has hosted for the past 10 years. 

Open to kids of all ages, the Tail Waggin’ Tutor program gives kids a safe, nonjudgmental space to practice reading aloud to a furry friend. 

“We don’t put any age limits,” said Karen Letteriello, director of the children’s programs at the library. “You can be 4 years old and come read with the dog because it’s all about the comfort level of reading.”

‘Dora listens to stories from anyone, from those that can read or those that can’t.’


Karen Maier, Dora’s owner and handler, said the only time Dora will perk up during a story is when the reader pauses or stops at a word they don’t know, almost as if she’s asking, ‘What did you stop for?’ 

“Dora listens to stories from anyone, from those that can read or those that can’t,” Ms. Maier said. “The little ones can look at picture books and just tell a story, it doesn’t matter.”

However, both Ms. Maier and Ms. Letteriello noticed that recently kids are reading better than ever, especially compared to before the pandemic. Ms. Maier said she is “blown away” every time she comes.

Monika Harkin, a 7-year-old in the second grade, is no exception. She confidently read two books to Dora last Thursday, “Uni the Unicorn,” and “What you need to know about dogs,” a book she wrote and illustrated by herself.

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