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Listening dogs help Staffordshire pupils read out aloud
Staffordshire County Councillor Michael Oates and Tony Nevett from READ with Danny the dog and nine-year-old Alyson
Danny the greyhound trained for five months to become a listening dog

At a time when many councils are cutting back on library services, Staffordshire County Council is investing in an innovative way to help school children improve their reading.

Greyhounds Danny and Batman were guests of honour at Glascote Library in Tamworth where they helped local pupils brush up on their reading.

So-called 'listening dogs' are said to help build confidence in children and overcome their fear of reading aloud.

The scheme originated in the USA.

This one-off session was run through Reading Education Assistance Dogs (READ), a nonprofit organisation whose aim is to improve the literacy skills of children

In what was the first event of its kind in the Midlands, Danny and Batman curled up alongside children from Oakhill Primary, Glascote Heath, and Lakeside Primary School in Tamworth.

Animal assisted therapy

Children read to listening dog
Batman the dog is a sucker for children's stories

Tony Nevett, who has a degree in animal assisted therapy, trained the dogs after hearing about the success of the programme in the United States - where there are currently around 1,800 listening dogs.

He said: "Danny and Batman are greyhounds, which makes them particularly suitable because they have a single coat of hair and therefore are less like to trigger allergies, but any dog can be trained as a READ dog, they just need to be placid and good with children.

County Councillor Pat Corfield, Cabinet member for Culture, Communites and Customers, said: "This may seem like a shaggy dog story but it has a serious purpose.

"The idea is that children will lose their fear of reading aloud because the dog is a non-judgemental, friendly, audience."

Although this event was a one-off, there are plans to do more in the autumn and even extend it to other areas of Staffordshire.

Staffordshire County Council insists that no libraries will be closed and it is investing in new technology and services to ensure libraries are used as community meeting places alongside their traditional role.

The first trial in the UK using listening dogs was based in Kent.

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