From the Sonoma Index-Tribune

Heidi Hirvonen

July 24, 2012

Some say, outside a dog, a book is a man's best friend.  And inside a dog, it's too dark to read.  Holly Hill, Sonoma Valley Regional Library's newest volunteer, would probably agree, if she could talk.  Holly, a 12 year old miniature poodle, has been helping Sonoma Valley children make friends with books this summer as part of a pet therapy literacy effort that takes place each Friday from 11 a.m. to noon.

Holly, a trained therapy dog, listens patiently as children read storybooks aloud to her in the afternoon.

"When children are reading aloud, the often feel shy or intimidated," said Fran Hill, Holly's owner.  Reading to a dog gives children the practice they need, helping them build confidence, while also sparing them the fear of making mistakes publicly. The children stop worrying about reading correctly and instead focus on entertaining the dog.

"It works every time," said Hill.

Holly's services are free of charge and are available for readers of any age.  "One particular time, it was really touching," said Clare O'Brien, the children's librarian.  "One little girl - about 10 - agreed to read to the dog and so did her dad.  English was his second language and he was just learning, too."  The program began at the Sonoma library with Barbara Brannon and her dog, Demi, several years ago. This past year, Sonoma Valley Regional Library was unable to provide this pet therapy service to the public.  But this summer, Holly was introduced to the program.  "There is a lot of enthusiasm for reading when she is here in the library," said O'Brien.

O'Brien said she is optimistic that this program will continue throughout the school year.

"She's got the right kind of temperament for this," said Hill.  In addition to being a pet therapy dog, Holly is also a trained agility dog. She often awards the children's reading efforts by performing tricks.

Holly also visits the campers at Pets Lifeline every Friday before her library visit.

Similar pet therapy services are offered at library branches across Sonoma County, and have been considered very successful, according to O'Brien.  "We're so grateful to Demi and Barbara for starting this program and are grateful to Holly and Fran for following in their footsteps, or pawsteps," said O'Brien.

The library is located at 755 W. Napa St.