Figure 1: Reggie the Read with Rover poodle (and his owner's hand.)
Reggie the poodle jumps for joy as he and his owner, Mary Miller, enter the West Bend Library. According to Mary, this is normal behavior for him. “When we walk in the door, he leaps all the way down the hallway, he’s so excited,” she says. This dynamic duo is part of Read with Rover, a program that helps improve children’s reading confidence by letting them read to a non-judgmental canine friend like Reggie.
Mary and her dog have been involved with this program for a total of nine years, since Reggie was just three. Shortly before Mary retired, she reached out to Fair Park Elementary School and asked if any of the teachers would like to begin a Read with Rover program at the school. Their response was an overwhelming ‘yes,’ so Mary and Reggie started reading with the second graders once a week. After six years of working with the school, Mary decided she wanted to extend the program to the West Bend Library so they could work in summer as well. Though they have been in this program for most of Reggie’s life, his excitement has yet to wear off.
According to Mary, his infectious enthusiasm comes naturally for him. She’s had Reggie since he was two years old, but she claims little responsibility for his calm, friendly demeanor. “I didn’t have to train him,” says Mary, as Reggie perches comfortably on her lap. “He’s a naturally mellow dog. He likes everybody.” In fact, he is so comfortable around the children in the Read with Rover program that he sometimes falls asleep on their laps as they read to him. Oftentimes, the child points out that Reggie is asleep, to which Mary replies, “no, he’s not sleeping, he’s just thinking really hard about the story.”
When he isn’t napping, Reggie is a lively, energetic dog. It comes as a shock to learn that he is 12 years old (64 in dog years!) It is evident that the Read with Rover program is what keeps him young. “He’s always happy when I tell him we’re going to the library to read,” says Mary, petting her dog fondly. “He always gets excited and he jumps around, so I think he actually knows what that means.” When they arrive, Reggie turns heads as he and Mary walk to the children’s area. He seems to enjoy this, too; his owner says that “it makes him happy that other people are paying attention to him.”
Being involved with Read with Rover makes Mary just as happy as Reggie. As mentioned previously, she joined the program shortly before she retired, because she “couldn’t imagine sitting at home day in and day out.” After all, she had been a social worker for 36 years, so she wanted to continue helping children in the community, even after retirement. “I try to do as much as I can for organizations and church,” says Mary. “I think it just makes your life better. You meet lots of new people and you have some experiences that you otherwise wouldn’t have.”
For Mary, this is the best part of her job; like Reggie, she loves meeting new people. Read with Rover, which accommodates a diverse mix of kids, is the perfect place to do so. Just last week, Mary and Reggie had a session with a six-year-old, followed by a session with a high schooler. Moreover, they get to meet children from various areas of the world, like Italy and Ethiopia. Mary says that “each one brings something different” to their fifteen-minute sessions; different personalities, different abilities, different ages, different cultures, and of course, different books.
Despite their many differences, Mary thinks that every participant is positively impacted by the program. “I can’t think of any child who didn’t have a good experience,” she states, after a moment of consideration. “It’s always been fun. I think most of the kids enjoy being in the spotlight and having some time that’s just theirs.” This positive atmosphere during sessions is largely created by Mary herself. “I always try to tell the child what a good job they did,” she says warmly. “I think those are the kinds of things a kid needs to hear, even if they’re struggling.” This uplifting approach to the program has certainly worked for her, bringing in more and more children every summer. In fact, Mary says this is the first year that each time slot has been filled every day they come to the library.
Along with boosting confidence and improving reading ability, Read with Rover makes a significant impact on how children view reading. After all, Mary points out that, “any time a child gets a chance to read, it’s got some impact. I think reading is so important, even if it’s the only 15 minutes in the day that they read.” In this way, the program effectively shows children that reading is both important and enjoyable, encouraging them to pick up a book more often.
Want to come visit Mary and Reggie? They will be at the library every Monday this summer, from 9:30 AM to 11:00 AM. There are also afternoon sessions from 3:30 PM to 5:00 PM, where you’ll get to meet either Cathy and Alaska or Amy and Libby. Register for a 15-minute Read with Rover session at the first-floor children’s desk. Reggie will “jump” at the chance to meet you.
Watson, Samantha, and Mary Miller. “Interview with Mary Miller about the Read with Rover Program.” 24 June 2019.