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Library goes to the dogs for Tail Waggin’ Tutors program

Posted Sept. 23, 2019

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A young girl reads a book to a dog laying down next to her
A special back-to-school kickoff for Tail Waggin' Tutors was conducted in September at the Central Library.

Furry, four-legged friends Phizz, Honey, Ranger and Gabby are excited to meet pals — new and old — and hear fun stories at the monthly Tail Waggin’ Tutors events from 1-3 p.m. on the first Saturday of each month at the Central Branch of the Fort Worth Public Library.

The next event is set for Oct. 5.

Across the program’s 10 years, an estimated 3,600 children have read at least 144,000 minutes to the dogs — 10 minutes at a time. Children ages 6-16 who read independently can grab a book to practice reading aloud for 10 minutes at a time to each of the patient pooches. Most will read to all four dogs during an event, which typically draw 20-30 children.

Tail Waggin’ Tutors fulfills two of the library’s strategic focus areas: cultivating a community of readers; and also enriching out-of-school time to make learning fun and enjoyable.

“My favorite thing about Tail Waggin’ Tutors is watching children transform,” said Michelle Lara, who coordinates the program at the Fort Worth Public Library.

One girl in particular would keep her head down and not engage with her, she said, taking her time each visit to get closer to the dog, whispering at first. “I was astounded when she appeared one Saturday and spoke to me without hesitation,” Lara said. “She had her book, went right to the first dog and began reading while stroking him. We all melted.”

Phizz and Honey are veterans of the Tail Waggin’ Tutors program’s 10-year run, and all four are certified by Therapy Dogs International. Readers gain confidence and vocabulary skills, as well as an appreciation for the animals, through the program.

Jay and Meaghan Semple began taking their adopted daughter Chloe, who was 6 at the time, in summer 2013.

“I loved the library and wanted that for my kids, too,” Jay Semple said. “I wanted the library to be a special place for our family, and we started going there just about every Saturday.”

On a first Saturday of the month, the Semples saw a familiar face — Vicki Carter — who worked at the Gladney agency that had placed Chloe in their family. Carter was there with her dog Phizz, a Tail Waggin’ Tutor.

Phizz even visited Gladney on Sept. 12, 2013, the day the Semples officially adopted Chloe, who is now 12. She loves to read to her younger siblings — Mae, 7; Grace, 5; and Justus, 2.

“Chloe loved reading from an early age, and reading to the dogs was such a special opportunity,” Jay Semple said. “We love the program, and our whole family has participated as much as we can.”

Melissa Muyskens has been taking her daughter Isabelle to Tail Waggin’ Tutors for more than two years. Isabelle is now in the second grade.

“I always have instilled reading in our home,” Muyskens said. “We have books in every room of our house, including the bathroom. I saw the sign at the library and wanted to help Isabelle learn to read.”

As a first-grader, Isabelle volunteered to read a difficult and lengthy scripture reading to all the 700 students in her school.

“I have no doubt that Tail Waggin’ Tutors helped give her the confidence to do this,” Muyskens said. “The program has been so beneficial to her and her ability to read. She looks forward to reading and petting the dogs, the owners help and encourage her along the way. As parents, we sit back and get to experience her pride; we see her face light up.”

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