When Rivka and Sruly Laskar came to the John C. Fremont Library on Saturday afternoon (with their mom, Samantha), they were eager to meet and read to a couple of new friends — two therapy dogs named Chili and Sydney. The dogs (and their owners) are volunteers from BARK (Beach Animals Reading with Kids). BARK is an all-volunteer organization that brings trained, certified therapy dogs to local libraries, schools and other organizations to help children improve their reading skills and confidence.
According to BARK, “Students find it intimidating to read in front of classmates, but love to read to the non-judgmental, calming dogs.”
BARK has 163 teams working at more than 100 schools and libraries from the San Fernando Valley to southern Orange County. They’ve been holding regular sessions at our local John C. Fremont and Wilshire branch libraries for several years now.
Steve Silverman, a retired teacher, brought his dog Sydney, a chocolate Australian labradoodle, to the Fremont library on Saturday, where she bonded instantly with the visitors. In addition to the reading program, Sydney is also training to be a “hearing” dog for Silverman, who is deaf. He has taught her to respond to several sign language commands. Silverman showed the kids at Saturday’s session how to sign to Sydney…and then he read Dr. Seuss’ “Fox in Sox” to them in sign language.
Samira Mahjoub Tapia, who attended Saturday’s session with her dog, Chili, a Siberian Husky, said the dogs working with BARK are not only trained extensively, but have to pass about 2 1/2 hours of testing. The tests require them to be able to settle down quickly in new surroundings and remain calm and non-reactive in a wide variety of situations…including passing a hot dog without picking it up, and having children run by them. She says dogs who meet the requirements and pass the tests are so gentle, they’re essentially “bomb-proof.”
Tapia says she has worked at several schools with Chili, and has seen remarkable improvements in troubled students who immediately feel calm and secure with their canine reading buddies.
BARK was founded in 2007, with three dogs in the Long Beach area. It has now spread throughout Los Angeles. Founder Josie Gavieres says BARK would love to have some new human/canine teams in our part of town, since volunteers and their dogs work in the areas where they live. The more volunteers in an area, the more BARK teams available for our local schools, libraries, etc..
To qualify, dogs must be a minimum of 1 1/2 years of age and have a stable, friendly temperament. Each dog must have lived with its handler for at least six months. Handlers must be at least 18 years of age. (Note that a dog can be certified with more than one handler.) Also, BARK dogs must really enjoy people, especially kids, and love being touched by many kids at once – sometimes not so gently. If you’re interested in learning more, see the Requirements page on the BARK website.
The BARK teams visit the John C. Fremont library one Saturday each month…and they’ll be at the Wilshire Branch Library today (Tuesday, January 26) at 4:00 p.m. BARK sessions are free and open to everyone…of all ages.
If you’d like to schedule BARK volunteers to come to your school, library or other organization, contact BARK at [email protected] or (562)235-8835