Heads turn when Jim strides through Shirley Library with border-terrier Maggie at his heels.
It’s a Tuesday afternoon and Maggie and Jim are here for the popular Christchurch City Council Reading to Dogs programme.
The pair head for the far end of the library where a red mat, a pint-sized armchair and a little dog bed await.
Excited nine year old twins Keegan and Riley Salt are first up. They’ve booked one of four 15-minute sessions with Maggie, who sits obediently while the boys take turns reading Seriously, Do Not Open This Book aloud and petting the patient six-year old pooch.
Jim keeps a watchful eye on proceedings from a distance.
Maggie gives the occasional yawn but she’s a mostly attentive audience. Keegan keeps her on task: “Sit, Maggie, sit,” he whispers when she’s momentarily distracted by a passer-by.
Christchurch City Libraries Reading to Dogs has helped hundreds of children since its inception seven years ago, giving them confidence reading to a dog in a calm non-judgemental environment.
“The programme has been a success from day one,” says Christchurch City Council Animal Management Officer Kym Manuel.
From a pilot programme at Papanui Library it quickly expanded to three locations each Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday during school terms, with sessions booking out weeks in advance.
“Our guiding principle was that the child’s confidence and enjoyment of reading be enhanced and their overall experience with the dog be a happy one, as many children have had scary experiences with dogs in the past,” says Mrs Manuel.
Five dogs are involved in the programme at present with another two currently in training.
All are chosen for their exemplary behaviour around children.
“They live with families and are regularly exposed to children,” says Mrs Manuel. “We have pound rescues and pedigrees of all shapes and sizes!”
Riley and Keegan are sold on the programme.
“I like that you get to pat the dogs.”
“I like that there’s all different types of dogs.”
And it’s helped with their reading.
“Our teachers have seen improvements.”
“I’ve moved up to turquoise.”
“I haven’t moved up but I am really good at reading now.”
The due date for your standard dog registration payment is 31 July.
Dog registration fees help pay for dog bite prevention education services, dog parks, free dog microchipping and other animal management services throughout the city.