Josée Bélanger with Pacha during the Paws and Tales program at the Vancouver Island Regional Library in Sooke. The program helps students practice their reading skills.

Josée Bélanger with Pacha during the Paws and Tales program at the Vancouver Island Regional Library in Sooke. The program helps students practice their reading skills.

Dog-eared reading program helps struggling kids

Paws and Tales allows children to bone up on reading skills at Sooke Library

Every Wednesday afternoon, big smiles fill the room at the Vancouver Island Regional Library on Anna Marie Road whenever Pacha, a therapy dog, comes to visit.

It’s time for children to read with Pacha.

The large Australian labradoodle is typical of his breed: friendly, energetic and good with families and children.

Pacha’s owner and handler is Josée Bélanger, a registered nurse. Together, they volunteer with the Pacific Animal Therapy Society, Sooke Rotary Club and the library with the Paws and Tales program.

Pacha’s day begins with washing, grooming and getting ready for the library visit. Bélanger knows the routine well, having volunteered with Pacha and another dog at the library and other locations in Greater Victoria for the last two years.

When Pacha and Bélanger enter, library staff and children welcome them, pausing with a pat and a little chit chat.

The pair go to a tiny room at the back of the library where the reading begins.

Paws and Tales is a program that uses therapy dogs to encourage reluctant readers. When a calm dog is lying beside the child who is reading, then the child is reading to a non judgmental, warm and accepting friend, Bélanger explains.

Back in the classroom, children will snuggle up to Pacha on a blanket with book in hand and read aloud. Pacha will listen attentively, sometimes roll over to get his belly scratched or his ears patted.

“He helps motivate the children to read – and they just fall in love with him,” Bélanger says.

Sooke library manager Adrienne Wass says the Paws and Tales program is another opportunity to promote reading. Some kids struggle with literacy, others face issues with reading aloud.

The Paws and Tales took a break last year when the program’s lead dog, Timba, died of congestive heart failure. Pacha was already part of the program as a “junior partner,” as Bélanger likes to point out, and is now ready to take on the role full-time.

The library welcomed back the pair with the Sooke Rotary Club agreeing to manage the program and schedule appointments.

Sessions for the Paws and Tales literacy program are by appointment only, please email Jean Lister at jeanlisteris@gmail.com.