VERSAILLES — Olivia Cassidy knows that when you're reading a book to someone, it's important for them to be able to see the illustrations — even if the listener is a dog.
So as she settled in to read a picture book to Lexi on Saturday afternoon, Olivia, 8, placed the book on the floor, right in front of where the golden retriever lay resting her head on her paws.
Olivia and Lexi were participating in the Paws to Read program at the Woodford County Public Library.
The monthly program allows students in kindergarten through fifth grade to hone their reading skills by reading to therapy dogs.
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Olivia's grandmother, Linda Cassidy, said Olivia spent the night with her in Mount Sterling on Friday but wanted to be sure to be back home in time to attend Paws to Read on Saturday.
"It's very important to her," Cassidy said. "She loves it."
Bookie Wilson, assistant youth services librarian for the Woodford County library, noted that the dogs aren't judgmental about mispronounced words or halting delivery.
"This is a wonderful way for kiddos to practice their reading in a safe, warm environment," Wilson said. "Everybody needs a boost in their confidence, whether you're a stellar reader or not."
The dogs are all pets whose owners are part of the Central Kentucky chapter of Love on a Leash, an organization that provides therapy pet visits to schools, hospitals and nursing homes.
Lexi's owner, Lisa Freeman, who helps coordinate the Paws to Read program with the library, said she loves watching the dogs and children interact, and she said reading to a dog has been shown to help children improve their reading.
"You can hear them lose their inhibitions when they're sitting with the dogs," said Deborah Mitchell, who brought her sons Ryan, 6, and Jacob, 8.
Ryan, who read Goldilocks and the Three Dinosaurs to Lexi, said he likes reading to his dog at home.
"Sometimes I think she drools on the book," he said with a grin.
Woodford County Youth Services Librarian Becky Watson said the program started in 2008 and is one of the library's most popular activities for elementary-age children.
"Part of our goal is to keep them coming year-round," she said, noting that the program attracts lots of kids during the winter months, when visits from school-age children might not be as frequent.
Wilson said Paws to Read generally draws 12 to 15 children and four to 12 dogs.
On Saturday, the children rotated among six dogs, who seemed to enjoy the event as much as the kids.
"She's perfect for this," Allyson Clark said of her 5-year-old samoyed, Claire. "She has this special gift. ... She loves children."