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Big, happy boy

click to enlarge JON KELLEY

Boston, an 8-year-old purebred yellow Labrador retriever, once was on track to become a Canine Companion service dog. But he couldn't pass the second level of training due to his high prey instinct. (Not a positive trait when you're supposed to be tethered to a wheelchair.)

Fortunately for him, four years ago the Penrose Library was looking for a few American Kennel Club "Canine Good Citizen" volunteers for its new PAWS to Read program. The literacy project pairs trained pups and their owners with local kids needing a little extra help with reading skills. According to Jean Bishop, Children's Services specialist, dogs are non-judgmental and calming and allow children to feel comfortable and confident.

So how does Boston fit in?

"He's just a big lovebug," Bishop says. Owner David Mullin believes his dog's soulful eyes not only help kids with their reading, but with their feelings.

Perhaps Boston is just connecting with their struggles. Currently fighting a tumor on his heart, he's been in and out of intensive care. Just as the kids take their pages word by word, Boston takes his life day by day.

And on each of those days, he's still learning. Boston's love for chasing cute, fuzzy, fast-moving animals has meant the librarians have had to barricade the children's department's resident bunnies when Boston visits. According to Mullin, however, even though Boston still charges the rabbits, he now knows when to stop.

Seems you can teach an old dog new tricks.

Kirsten Akens

Photo by Jon Kelley


PAWS to Read

Pikes Peak Library District

Drop-in reading with dogs at Penrose Library, Wednesdays from 3-4:30 p.m., Saturdays from 11 a.m. to noon.

Reading opportunities offered across the district. Visit ppld.org for more information.

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