Rocky the TheraPet Boxer dog made his monthly appearance as an avid listener at the Grimes Public Library on Saturday, April 1. The “Tail Waggin’ Readers” program occurs on the first Saturday of each month.
Rocky provides a listening ear to children learning to read, as well as comfort to those who aren’t dog owners at home. The 6-year-old Boxer has previously won titles in obedience, but prefers to enjoy the company of others, owner Nancy Kail said.
He was rescued as an 8-month-old puppy due to his previous owners conflict with his activeness. Kail, however, was looking for an active dog for her German Sheppard. After adopting him, Kail began to train Rocky for obedience.
In the Grimes Library, a room adjacent to the front door is the designated TheraPets reading spot. In order to participate in the program, visitors must sign up ahead of time to work out a schedule with TheraPet owners.
“We have some families that do it every single month,” Grimes Youth Librarian, Kelly Gisch said.
“We get new people occasionally.”
The library provides bean bags and blankets for both occupants. Generally, the room is closed off to the public to give readers a sense of privacy.
Upon entering the room, a fourth-grader named Max Aswegan clutches a book in his hand. A colored bean-bag chair, small throw blanket, and wooden rocking chair sit aligned next to one another in the center. The space is open, which allows visitors to play with Rocky after reading time is up.
Kail tells Rocky to sit down after Max takes his seat in the bean bag. Rocky spreads himself out on the blanket next to Max.
“You read to him for a few minutes and then you get a little play period with him,” Kail tells Max.
He nods and opens his book. This is the first time he’s met Rocky.
“They say everything’s bigger in Texas,” Max begins to read. Rocky settles into his blanket.
Kail says Rocky helps keep people calm and lift spirits.
“When you’re learning to read, it’s often difficult,” Gisch said.
After reading time is up, Max is able to play with Rocky.
Eager to move, Rocky obeys commands to sit while Max hides treats around the room for him to find. Later, Kail shows Max a trick where she holds out a stick and Rocky jumps over, receiving a treat afterwards.
“He can do about anything,” Kail said. “It’s just a matter of showing him what to do.”
Besides visiting the Grimes Public Library, Rocky has paid visits to schools, nursing homes, and hospitals. Rocky is able to act as a TheraPet through a certification of from the Animal Rescue League.
“The Animal Rescue League has an assessment we must pass,” Kail said. “We had to pass it in order to start in the program, and then have to be reassessed once a year.”
Rocky had to participate in several tests from the ARL consisting of scenarios he might run into. Some of the tests Rocky went through involved working with individuals in a wheelchair, testing his obedience while toys were left on the floor, as well as his behavior around large crowds of people.
“Generally, basic obedience training and a dog with a good temperament is what it takes,” Kail said.
Besides helping out at the library, Rocky has paid visits to nursing homes, schools, and hospitals.
“A therapy dog is only there for comfort, for petting, they’re just a dog to help people maybe get through things,” Kail said.
Gisch said the program is a success at the library.
“I think people really enjoy it,” Gisch said. “It’s just been a really good program.”