Library program pairs dogs and kids together to make reading fun

Donna Fancher (right) and her dog, Harbor. Photo: Courtesy of Donna Fancher
Donna Fancher (right) and her dog, Harbor. Photo: Courtesy of Donna Fancher

By San Juan Capistrano Library Staff and the Friends of the Library

Thinking back to elementary school, some of the scariest moments were being the focus of everyone in the class and having to read out loud. Looking at that sea of faces was enough to trigger a severe case of laryngitis.

But children visiting the San Juan Capistrano Library have found that reading aloud can be something to look forward to because of B.A.R.K., a program that helps children read with confidence.

B.A.R.K. (Beach Animals Reading with Kids) was founded in 2007 and uses certified therapy dogs to help kids increase their reading skills. It turns out that dogs are great listeners and are not nearly as intimidating as a roomful of classmates.

Donna Fancher and her dog, Harbor, have been involved with the library’s “Read to a Dog” program for three years and visit San Juan Capistrano twice a month. Harbor enjoys the attention, petting and tummy rubs and, as Donna describes it, “just relaxes while the children read”—a perfect job for the “very mellow yellow Labrador/golden retriever.”

Fancher spoke with enthusiasm as she shared a variety of heartwarming stories. She talked about a girl in the summer reading program who looks forward to seeing Harbor so she can make progress toward her reading goals—up to three books per visit. Fancher said that sometimes children tell her that they can only read in Spanish.

“I let them know that Harbor understands Spanish, so that is good,” Fancher said.

Research shows that children are often more willing to interact with a dog than another person, because the animal will not pass judgment or laugh at them. Furthermore, when kids read with a dog, they relax and forget about feeling self-conscious or nervous. Soon, they are enjoying the experience of reading instead of dreading it, and even look forward to the next time.

“It warms my heart to observe such positive results,” Fancher said. “Harbor does not have a clue that she is working and giving benefit, because all she needs to do is lie there, while children read, pet and talk to her.”

Harbor and other favorite dogs from B.A.R.K. visit the San Juan Capistrano Library every other Thursday at 3 p.m. The next scheduled “Read to a Dog” session is Thursday, July 20. Please stop by the library, or visit for a calendar of all upcoming programs and events.

The “Branching Out” column is a collaboration between San Juan Capistrano Library staff and the Friends of the Library, a nonprofit that supports the library and its programs by raising funds through its on-site bookstore and special events. For more information on the library, visit or follow @SJCFriends on Facebook.

About The Author Capo Dispatch

comments (1)

  • Thank you for the wonderful article about BARK Therapy Dogs. We have 150 reading dogs in schools and libraries in So Cal. The other team in the photo is Penny Chase and her dog, Henry. We are always looking for more teams to help kids read.

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