Six-year-old Richard Langford is all smiles as he concludes his reading session with Caring Canines therapy dog Zip during a Read-2-Rover event at Chesterfield County's Central Library on June 18. According to Richard's mom, he showed no excitement for reading prior to that event. "When he heard about this program, he wanted to come to the library at 8 o'clock this morning," she said. "I had to remind him that it was tonight, but he still wanted to come really early so he wouldn't miss it." Also pictured is Lisa Godfrey, Zip's owner and a certified dog trainer. The two will be participating in the Read-2-Rover program that's being introduced at the Fort Lee Community Library on July 15. (Photo by Patrick Buffett)

FORT LEE, Va. (July 4, 2013) -- Zip won’t kiss you, but he delivers a pretty sweet hug, according to owner Lisa Godfrey.

He’s also a good listener and loves the attention he gets from little kids. Those characteristics are important for the “Caring Canines” that participate in the innovative Read-2-Rover program that will make its debut at the Fort Lee Community Library on July 15 at 5 p.m.

“Just thinking about it gives me goose bumps,” said Godfrey as Community Library Director Bobbie Carr sitting nearby nodded her head in agreement. “I know the program has become pretty popular in the civilian community, but I think we’ll be the first ones to introduce it at an Army library. We’re also excited about bringing something new that’s fun and educational to the parents and children at Fort Lee.”

Carr said Read-2-Rover will add another exciting element to her facility, and it should bring more attention to other kid-centric functions like the Summer Reading Program that starts with a kickoff event on Tuesday and continues through Aug. 13 (see accompanying column). The library also offers a pre-school story time every Wednesday at 10:30 a.m.

When asked to share her experience with Read-2-Rover, Godfrey – an Army Logistics University employee – noted that she’s fairly new to the program but has already witnessed its positive effect on kids.

“I remember one child at the Chesterfield Library who was very meek and timid, and just seemed scared of reading aloud in front of anyone,” she said. “The chance to read to the dogs, however, was a different story. She shooed her mom away and totally got into it. The same thing happens with most kids – it’s an environment where they don’t feel like they’re being judged on their reading ability. The dogs don’t care if they make a mistake or struggle with certain words.”

According to newspaper reviews found online, Read-2-Rover is “ideally suited” for children who struggle with reading or other issues that make them uncomfortable when speaking in front of others. “The comfort and companionship of the therapy dogs helps to turn something stressful into an activity that is fun and soothing,” read one report.

Godfrey noted that all the participating dogs (four to five will take part in the Fort Lee program) have gone through specialized training and must be certified as “canine good citizens” and “therapy dogs” before they’re allowed to join Read-2-Rover activities.

“We know our dogs – their temperament, how they handle stressful situations, how they behave around kids,” she said. “It’s that knowledge that gives us the confidence to participate in this program. We’re not going to put our animals in a situation they’re not trained for or that makes them overly stressed. When parents see this program in person, they’ll completely understand … there will be a lot of wagging tails and sprawled out canines that just love every minute of the attention they receive.”

Admitting that she gets a bit emotional when she thinks about the program – how it all came together, the enthusiasm of the dog owners who offered to participate, and knowing what it will mean to the kids and their parents – Carr said it’s certain to be a “crowning achievement” of her facility if it garners the anticipated attention of families in the Fort Lee community.

“We want them to feel a sense of ownership of the library; that we’re here for them,” she noted. “And that’s all ages … we see infants and pre-school-aged toddlers who come in with their parent, but we haven’t seen a lot of the grade school-aged youths in the community. It’s unfortunate because we have a great collection for first grade through teenagers, but the facility is really under-used.

“That’s why this is a blockbuster moment for us,” she continued. “It’s going to bring us visibility and, hopefully, a lot more parents will be encouraged to come here for not only this program but our other activities, like the Summer Reading Program.”

Carr then provided additional details about Read-2-Rover registration. The program is open to any child in the community up to age 12. Parents are asked to call the library by noon on the day of the event to sign up their children. Up to 15 youths will be accepted for each session. The program will continue every third Monday of the month from 5-6 p.m. The Community Library is located on the second floor of the ALU on 34th Street, near the new Army Lodging facility.

For details, call (804) 765-8095.