Upon meeting a new face, Lucky will wag his tail, walk up to the person, and nuzzle in for some pets.
And for the next two months, he’ll be meeting new face after face at the Yarrow Library as part of Paws 4 Stories. It’s a free program where children who are anxious to read aloud or have difficultly with books can practise by reading to a non-judgmental dog.
And Lucky is just that dog.
But he wasn’t always so calm with strangers, owner Lesia Leversage said. The little chihuahua-cross is a rescue dog. He was one of many found wandering alone as a result of the wildfires in California a few years ago.
That summer, Leversage was one of dozens of people who went to the Vancouver International Airport with the intention of bringing home one of the dogs as part of an adoption event organized by Vancouver-based rescue society Thank Dog I Am Out.
There were about 70 dogs at YVR that day, and she didn’t know which one to pick.
Then she saw Lucky.
He was very skinny and too weak to walk, so a woman brought him over to her.
“He sat on my knee and he leaned against me and looked at me… he looked exceedingly sad,” Leversage recalled. “He seemed to be the most pathetic there. I though ‘why do I need to look any more, I’ll take this one.’”
Within days of bringing him home, Lucky had chewed up her $5,000 hearing aids. Not a great first impression. But together Leversage, along with her other dog Patches who’s a St. John Ambulance therapy dog, worked on Lucky’s behaviour.
Leversage began to take Lucky with her when she and Patches went to visit care homes and people in the hospital. She noticed Lucky enjoyed greeting people and loved the attention so she took him to a therapy dog evaluation at St. John Ambulance.
While they waited and watched the other dogs being tested, Leversage started to whisper words of encouragement into Lucky’s ear. Then it was their turn.
“Every command I gave him, he gave exaggerated obedience,” Leversage said. “He went through every single thing flawlessly.”
Now, Lucky is the chosen dog for Paws 4 Stories which runs every Thursday at the Yarrow Library until the end of March.
Leversage will be staying with Lucky as the children read to him. They can either sit in a quiet corner of the Yarrow Library, or in an adjacent room away from people coming and going.
“This [program] is for children to come and read, to practise and to remove the barrier, especially ones who don’t like to read… and hopefully the dog will help with removing some of the anxiety,” librarian Wanda Lindsay said.
Lindsay recalls the feedback from one mom whose son took part in Paws 4 Stories three years ago.
“His mom said the only time he would read is when he came to read with the dogs,” Lindsay said. “It definitely removes barriers.”
When a child reads with a dog, they start to relax and forget about feeling nervous about reading. If a child mispronounces a word, it doesn’t matter. No one is going to correct them, and Lucky probably won’t notice.
“He has a very loving, friendly heart,” Leversage said.
Registration is required for Paws 4 Stories which is geared towards children aged six to 10. It takes place every Thursday until March 26 at the Yarrow Library from 2:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. There are two time slots available each day. Children are asked to come ready with a book to read.
Call 604-823-4664 or drop by the Yarrow Library to sign up.