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  • Divercity magazine
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A dog's tale

Published 7 May 2024

Mateo and Daizie enjoy a tale as Sue listens.

Daizie the dog isn’t your average library volunteer. She can’t help little hands turn pages or offer up a “well done”. But Daizie’s pawsome presence is helping Port Phillip primary school children develop into confident, lifelong readers.

The six-year-old Schnauzer is a much loved visitor on Tuesday afternoons at St Kilda Library’s free Story Dogs Australia (SDA) sessions. The sessions started after Library Customer Service Officer Andrea devised and set up the program and encouraged her neighbour Sue, a retired dog trainer, to bring Daizie along.

SDA is a non-profit reading support program with two and four-legged volunteers visiting mainly schools and some libraries across Australia. Daizie was the first Story Dog to work in a Victorian library, supporting children to read.

After a playful catch-up with Library staff, Daizie knows it’s time to hit the books when Sue pops her into a SDA vest.

“A child struggling with reading can feel self-conscious. With Daizie, there’s no judgment which is very calming for young readers,” Library Children’s and Youth Services Team Leader Monica says.

“Sometimes there is one hand on Daizie and one hand on the book as they practice reading. It’s incredibly rewarding to see them become more confident as their reading skills improve every week.”

Sue sits nearby as each child reads a book of their choice to Daizie for 15 minutes. “I don’t teach children to read, that’s not my job, As an SDA volunteer, it’s about encouraging children to read. I’ll ask questions or provide positive feedback about their progress.”

The reward for Sue is seeing children walk away with smiles and a love of reading.

Divercity dropped by to see Daizie enjoying an exciting tale about dragons being read to her confidently by nine-year-old Mateo.

“I like coming as I can read all my favourite books to her,” Mateo says, book in one hand with the other patting Daizie.

Mateo’s mother Claudia is delighted at how his reading skills have grown since signing up for Story Dogs.

“He didn’t use punctuation a lot before, he’d just read out big chunks of information. Now he uses pauses and intonation,” Claudia says.

“Sue asks him questions about the story, while Daizie is listening without judgment, so he feels comfortable to stop and think about what he is reading.

“He loves dogs. We don’t have one at the moment so we get our puppy fix for the week when we come to see Daizie.”

While most children – and adults – in the library are drawn to Daizie, it’s not always love at first sight. But just like a fairy tale, there’s a happy ending.

“One boy cried during his first session with us and said ‘I can’t read’. I said ‘let’s look at the pictures and make a story up.’ Now he loves coming,” Sue says.

Sue and Monica remember being deeply touched by a heart-felt gift from a young Story Dogs participant.

“Monica asked me to come in as a girl regularly attending Story Dogs had made a gift for Daizie and I. It turned out she wrote a story about us. It was all tied up and had pictures with diamantes on Daizie. I was teary, it was so beautiful.”

At the end of the session, Daizie jumps off her blanket and is rewarded with a well-deserved treat from Sue. You get the feeling Daizie would do it for the pats alone - and the fun of hearing stories from her new friends.

“She really is attentive, she’ll look up and cock her head,” Monica says

“She’s like a working dog with words,” Sue laughs.

For more information or to book, go to Story Dogs | Port Phillip Library Service

To donate to Story Dogs or apply to become a volunteer, visit Literacy Charities Serving all of Australia| Story Dogs