As her trainer guided her to sit next to the 7-year-old squatted on a pillow with a book, Stella Blue, a lab-pit bull terrier mix slowly lay on the floor. The dog looked as if she were ready for a bedtime story, although it was before noon on Monday.
At the Buchanan- Haralson Public Library, located in the old county courthouse, Stella Blue has a special job — to encourage kids to read by reading books to the dog.
Gabriel, the seven- year-old, began reading Stella Blue a book that he had chosen from a selection of pet-centric stories laid out by Library Manager Jana Gentry. He held up the book to show Stella the pictures.
“I love this,” said his great-grandmother, Lisa Cartee, watching the exchange with a smile.
Stella Blue is a therapy dog trained in 2019 to be a reading therapy dog through the Alliance of Therapy Dogs, said her owner Sandy Bolan. They have in the past visited schools in Carrollton, Villa Rica, and Temple, but this was Stella’s first time at this library, Bolan said. Their volunteer work had been interrupted by pandemic restrictions, so now they both are eager to return to their work with children, she said.
“I’m a big advocate for literacy,” Bolan said. “So, anything I can do to help kids with their reading skills and enjoy, just delve into a book and lose themselves like I’ve been doing since I could read, then I’m all for it.”
In addition, she wants to dispel the fear that many people have of big, black dogs like Stella Blue, Bolan said. Pet adoption groups have a hard time finding new homes for black dogs. Stella Blue had languished in a shelter for about two years before Bolan adopted her, her owner said. Seeing the dog react with a friendly tail wag and dog kisses lets the children and their parents see that big, black dogs can be loving pets, Bolan added.
Bolan and Stella Blue are volunteers with CAREing Paws, a nonprofit in Newnan that coordinated the visit to the library. The CAREing Paws website states that CARE stands for Canines Assisting Rehabilitation and Education. CAREing Paws offers training for pets and their owners and manages visits to nursing homes, hospitals, libraries, and schools, according to their website.
Gentry said that two CAREing Paws volunteers were visiting the library on Monday as part of the summer reading program, Tails and Tales. The visit fits right into the animal theme of the program, and it is a great prelude to the adopt-a-dog event later in the month, which will allow children to adopt stuffed dogs, she said.
“Dogs, you gotta love ‘em,” Gentry said.
The children there Monday morning agreed. Audrey McDonald said her daughter, Sophie McDonald, was delighted when she heard about the event at the library.
Sophie, 9, read three books to Stella accepting licks and nibbles with a giggle and petting the dog as she lay next to her.
“She’s doing the summer reading program and when she saw that this was something she could do, she got so excited,” McDonald said of her daughter. “She loves animals.”