“Goodnight Moon,” a classic tale for tots, is also just the book to soothe an old yellow dog.
At the Mukilteo Library on Tuesday, 10-year-old Malia Correia-Boyd opened the lyrical story about a little bunny’s bedtime. She began reading words many parents know by heart: “In the great green room …”
Risa, an 11-year-old yellow Labrador-golden retriever mix, might have been listening, but the sleepy-time tale also appeared to be working. The elderly Lab snoozed at times, even surrounded by wiggly children.
For nearly a decade, Risa and Carmen, both certified therapy dogs, have made weekly visits to the Mukilteo Library. “Read with Carmen and Risa,” says the event listing for 3:30 p.m. Tuesdays on the library’s online calendar.
Kids are encouraged to read to dogs brought by Lisa Akin, a volunteer puppy raiser with Canine Companions for Independence, or by another volunteer.
This week was different. A retirement party for Carmen and Risa drew a small crowd of kids and parents. Carmen, a black Lab-golden retriever cross, is almost 13. The library celebration included cookies and fruit for kids. For the canine guests of honor — Carmen wore a tiny pink party hat — there were hugs and pats on noble-looking heads.
Katherine “Kat” Combs is the children’s librarian at the Mukilteo Library, which is part of Sno-Isle Libraries. Combs said the program that started in 2008 will continue with other — younger — dogs. Several of them joined the party.
“It’s geared for the after-school crowd,” Combs said. Kids who read to the pooches are typically ages 5 to 8, but even teens stop by to greet the dogs. For young readers, the program builds confidence. “No one judges their reading, and they’re convinced the dogs are listening,” she said.
At Tuesday’s celebration, 7-year-old Asher Zugel petted Merced, a big golden dog, with one hand while reading a “Batman Strikes!” book with the other. Mukilteo’s Victoria Tauss, 3, hugged dogs and munched on grapes.
Akin, 62, asked Kayden Blanco to tell her a story as the 4-year-old Mukilteo boy turned pages in a picture book about farm animals. Readers were given souvenir bookmarks, with pictures of the dogs and “pawtographs” — prints created by dogs with inked paws.
Lisa and Danny Akin, formerly of Mukilteo, moved to Redmond after he retired from the Boeing Co. “Risa lives with us,” she said. They have raised a number of puppies for Canine Companions for Independence. Based in California, the nonprofit provides trained service dogs to people with disabilities.
After pups are more than a year old, volunteers return the dogs to the agency for evaluation. Not every animal passes stringent testing to become a service dog. Yet even those that don’t make the cut are in demand as companions or other types of assistance dogs. “When a dog is released from the program, the puppy raiser gets first choice,” Akin said.
Certified therapy dogs, such as Carmen and Risa, visit schools, libraries or hospitals. Akin has taken dogs to the Monroe Correctional Complex and to Providence Hospice and Home Care of Snohomish County.
Along with Risa, the Akins now have three other golden dogs. Merced and Tillman were released by the nonprofit, while Hodor is a pup in training, with a chance to be a service dog.
Carmen, at 12 the library program’s grande dame, will enjoy retirement on Whidbey Island. The old black dog now lives in Langley with Akin’s friend, Nancy Hayes. “As Carmen aged, she didn’t like being around puppies,” Akin said.
While the dogs appear to be Labs, Akin explained that Canine Companions uses mostly crosses between Labrador retrievers and golden retrievers. Describing a golden as “a soft dog,” Akin said Labs are less needy and more relaxed. “They’re very loyal, willing to please and get through all that training,” she said.
Akin will now come to the library only a couple of Tuesdays a month. An Edmonds woman, another puppy raiser, will take turns bringing dogs.
Kids aren’t the only ones happy to see animals in the library. When Akin and her companions walked through the door, library staff members were the first ones petting the dogs.
Jane Crawford, manager of the Mukilteo Library, also volunteers raising dogs for Canine Companions for Independence. “I have raised two and have a third,” she said. Crawford now has Lina, a 5-month-old pup that comes to work with her.
One of the dogs Crawford raised is now with a woman living with autism. Another was placed with a man who has cerebral palsy. Parting with a pup she raised means “a mourning process,” Crawford said, “but you know they’re going to do such important work.”
At the library, the dogs’ work looks like fun. When the furry friends leave every Tuesday, there’s an extra job for the children’s librarian. “I get out a little vacuum to clean up dog hair,” Combs said.
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.
Read with dogs
Children are invited to read with therapy dogs 3:30-4:30 p.m. Tuesdays at the Mukilteo Library, 4675 Harbour Pointe Blvd.
Information about the nonprofit Canine Companions for Independence is at www.cci.org.