MARQUETTE - People stopping into the children's section of the Peter White Public Library Thursday evenings may be met with a furry surprise.
The library has once again started up its "Dog Nights at the Library" program, which runs from 6 to 7:30 p.m. Thursday nights and offers area children a chance to sit down and read to a dog.
All participating dogs are therapy trained and a part of the SuperiorLand Pet Partners club. Mary Lee Kirkum, who owns four therapy dogs, all English Springer Spaniels, has been taking her dog, Summer to the library since the program's inception. And for four years prior to the "Dog Nights" program starting up, Summer was read to individually by children at the library.
Gwen Rickauer, 7, reads to Summer, an English spring spaniel owned by Mary Lee Kirkum, of Marquette. Summer and Kirkum participate in a weekly program at the Peter White Public Library called “Dog Nights at the Library,” in which kids read books to dogs. (Journal photo by Jackie Stark)
"I show this breed and once they're done with the dog show, they need something to do," said Kirkum. "This breed has a very good temperament. They love people. They love to be out with them and they need a job to do, and this is what they want to do."
Jeni Kilepla, youth services librarian, said the library used to offer a Pet Partners program in which children could sign up to read one-on-one with the therapy dogs.
"We were finding that the service wasn't really used and we thought, 'Why not bring a bunch of Pet Partners together on one night and offer it and let people drop in,'" Kilepla said. "It's really grown...
"Some kids don't have pets at home for whatever reason, but they love dogs, so getting to come to read to them is just exciting. It's also neat because the dog is so attentive the entire time," Kilepla added. "When you're reading to someone, you want them to be listening. You want to know that they're going to laugh in all the right places and a dog just has that personality where it seems to, even though it can't talk to you, and so I think a child can really feel encouraged in their reading, when they're reading to a dog."
The program is meant to provide children with a chance to read out loud without fear of judgement from the listener.
"We have had some kids who struggle to read and we have had some kids who are excellent readers who bring chapter books," Kilepla said. "They just really love to read to dogs. We have a lot of variance with that. The dogs, they provide positive feedback for kids and for their parents. Some parents want to sit with them and listen."
Krys Rickauer, of Marquette, has been bringing her three daughters, Greta, 11, Grace, 9 and Gwen 7, to the library for every "Dog Nights" evening since the fall.
"They like the dogs, they like reading," Rickauer said. "We had a pet dog and it passed away, and so it kind of keeps the connection with dogs for them."
Greta Rickauer said she looks forward to reading to the dogs every week, since its not something she gets to do anywhere else.
"It's (enjoyable) reading to a dog," said Greta Rickauer, 11. "You don't get to ever do it."
Dog owners in the program volunteer their time to bring the dogs to the library. but they say they enjoy it just as much as the kids do, and even as much as the dogs.
"This is my free time. It's all volunteer," Kirkum said. "I love my dogs. I love to share my dogs and do activities with the dogs. They're part of me. They're my extension."
For more information on the program, contact the library's Youth Services Desk at 226-4323.
Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242.