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RACINE COUNTY — Through the Read to a Dog program at the Graham Public Library, 1215 Main St., in Union Grove, children are positively impacted by the company of a furry and four-legged friend.

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Rick Torres and his dog Reba at the March Read to a dog program event. – Credit: Emma Widmar

Dogs are commonly known as a man’s best friend, and through this newer program at Union Grove’s library, families are finding they make the best friends for children to read books to, as well.

Reba is a soon-to-be 12-year-old Weimaraner. Accompanied by her owner, Rick Torres, Reba visits the library monthly to volunteer their time to help children advance their literacy skills.

In addition to being a great listener, Reba has earned numerous American Kennel Club (AKC) titles.

She has earned the titles of Canine Good Citizen, Senior Hunter for retrieving, and is also titled Master Hunter, too. Reba even has had success and has become a Dual Champion in the show ring.

Read to a Dog program flourishes

The program came to be in October 2022, just one month after Youth Service’s Librarian, Sara Grabarec, began her job at the library.

“I love dogs. Dogs and books, let’s combine them,” is what Grabarec was thinking. “So I started reaching out to some other local libraries.”

Upon doing so, the librarian connected with Torres and his pooch, who are regular volunteers at various libraries including the Burlington Public Library, the Waterford Public Library, and even Gateway Technical College campuses.

Torres retired from Racine Unified School District as a Mechanical Engineer, and he knows the importance of education.

“This was something that I thought would be a nice way to give back. We’ve enjoyed it ever since,” says Torres.

Overcoming literacy obstacles

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The Neumiller family reads to Reba. The opportunity to read to her at the library ensures that Mason’s books are being read. – Credit: Emma Widmar

“There are so many kids that are so hesitant or nervous to read aloud. They feel like they’re being judged. They are messing up on words and are just not that confident.”

Sara Grabarec
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Mason and Reba completed reading “Hooray for Fly Guy” at the March event. – Credit: Emma Widmar

With Reba’s help, the library allows children and families to come to their facility and read for 15 minutes alongside a furry friend. She’s a nonjudgmental listener, who just wants to help, and doesn’t mind a few extra scratches for being a good girl.

Families are welcome to enjoy storytime by sitting at Reba’s side, petting her, and reading aloud to her. If children are unable to read, they are still welcome to attend and advance pre-reading skills by listening to a story or by describing pictures in a book to the dog.

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An inside look at the Read to a dog program. Present is Rick Torres, Reba, Mason, his mom and the librarian, Sara. – Credit: Emma Widmar

Reba even provides comfort to young adults with disabilities too. Sometimes her presence helps children if they are struggling academically, but also with the punctuality of completing reading assignments.

Reba’s impact

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In attendance for the Read to a Dog program in March were Mason Neumiller, Reece Rushing, and Edmund Kirk.

“This is actually what gets it (reading) to actually be done,” says Mason’s mom, Amanda Neumiller. “It’s a nice service to have here.”

While a small group of attendees attended the March event, Reba’s impact is grand.

“They’re more at ease,” says Grabarec about the students who participate in the Read to a Dog program.

The library welcomes people to check out the program. Call the Graham Public Library at 262-878-2910 to sign up a child, or whole family, for a 15-minute session.

Read to a Dog
Outside the Graham Public Library in Union Grove where the Read to a Dog program is held. – Credit: Emma Widmar

More information can be found on their website or by visiting their Facebook page.

Read to a Dog
Reba is a 12-year-old Weimaraner that volunteers with her owner. Rick Torres, for the Read to a Dog program. – Credit: Emma Widmar

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