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Beacon's Reading to Dogs Program Featured on King 5 News

MONTESANO, Wash. -- Every Thursday, a class of eager 3rd graders comes into the library at Beacon Elementary School for the weekly reading lesson.

Daylon picks Maggie, a mutt who doesn't like water but loves adventure stories.

Haley picks Mitsy, a 12-year-old toy poodle who promises she's listening even with her eyes shut.

Patrick walks over to Maggie, a Shetland sheep dog who prefers fiction.

There are 20 students in total who spend 15 precious minutes each week reading to the dog of his or her choice, thanks to a corps of dedicated volunteers and their canine companions.

"Reading is like playing a sport," said Marlene Vahl, a retired teacher at Beacon who started the "reading to dogs" program a couple years ago. "The more you practice the better you get. But practice is easier to do if it's fun."

Students like Daylon, Hayley and Patrick all say the same thing: They love reading to dogs more than reading alone or reading to people because the dogs just sit and listen.

"Dogs don't stop you in the middle of the story," said Haley. "By myself, it's lonely. With a dog, they just keep me comfortable."

Patrick admits he doesn't like reading alone very much; however, after he started reading to dogs at school, he found a new hobby he enjoys at home: reading to dogs.

"I think it made my skills get higher when I read to dogs," said Patrick.

The school picks students who teachers think may benefit from the program, according to teachers.

Vahl, who taught kindergarten and 2nd grade at Beacon Elementary before retiring, says she's changed her appreciation of teaching techniques after observing kids reading to dogs.

"In our eagerness as teachers and parents to make sure they're reading just right, sometimes we interrupt more than we should," said Vahl. "Sometimes it just works better if you can just let it be, and let them read and enjoy what they're reading."