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By Alex Oliveira
Hometown Weekly Reporter
Tucker is a seven-year-old collie-shepherd-something. “When his ears go back, he kind of looks like a greyhound,” said Tucker’s owner, Adam Cutter, “but we really don’t know.”
Tucker is a trained therapy dog, he has brown inquisitive eyes, and when he’s not comforting residents at rehab centers and retirement homes, he listens to kids read at the Needham Library.
It sounds strange, but it’s an idea that is fairly popular in the library community. Paula Dugan, the Children’s Supervisor at the Needham Library, actually borrowed the idea from a library where she previously worked.
“A lot of libraries have done read to dog programs, it was something that was done at another library where I worked,” said Dugan, “and it was something I was very interested in doing here.”
Bringing a dog like Tucker to a library is targeted largely at kids with reading disabilities, or those who are simply nervous about reading aloud. Tucker, sitting tall, watching silently, and unable to chide children for reading too fast, too slow, or to hound them for mispronouncing words, is a listener with whom kids can build their reading confidence.
“Basically, it gets kids excited about reading. They enjoy reading to the dog. It makes reading enjoyable,” said Dugan. “If kids are just learning how to read, if they’re shy about reading out loud, or if they’re having trouble, it really helps them to want to read and develop their skills and practice. A dog listens. He’s attentive. He doesn’t say, ‘Oh, you didn’t read that right!’
“But lots of kids just like doing it because of the dog,” she added with a laugh.
With a bowl of water and a bag of treats at the ready, Tucker watched quietly as a boy flew into the room with a book under his arm. Looking up at Adam, the boy said, “This book has a cat in it, do you think he’ll mind?”
“He gets along with most animals,” Cutter responded.
“What has he liked in the past?” another boy asked.
To which Cutter responded, “He’s flexible.”
As the kids settled cross-legged on the floor, Tucker meandered over, gave their faces a sniff or two, stuck his nose in the open pages, then took a seat bolt upright across from the reader. Without fail, Tucker started each session this way.
The kids settled into their reading, which included books like “The Magic Treehouse Seven,” or “Back to School, Weird Kids Rule.” At times, Tucker began to slowly meander about the room. A sniff here, a drink of water there, then back to his seated attention.
When a reader stumbled over a word and Cutter leaned in to help, Tucker would follow suit. “Encyclopedia” Cutter said. “Bermuda.”
Silently, Tucker seemed to agree: “I concur."
The name Tucker comes from Kentucky - that’s where Adam and Rebecca Cutter derived the name from for the five-month-old mutt they found in a New Hampshire shelter seven years ago. The Cutters always talked about wanting him to become a therapy dog, and about two years ago, they finally started training him.
“We did it about a year and a half ago, but we talked about wanting to do it for a while. My wife really, really loves him. He makes us feel good, so we figured, why not share that with everybody we can? And everybody really, really loves him.”
Silently, Tucker seemed to agree.