By Stephanie Clue 
BELLEVILLE – Reading can be ruff, but a program at the Belleville Public Library and John M. Parrott Art Centre  is looking to help change that.
Paws for Reading  is a program where children read aloud to therapy dogs to improve reading and communication skills. The children have individual sessions with the dog and their handler in the first-floor program room at the library. They each get 20-minute time slots with the dogs.
The program is offered through the local St. John Ambulance  branch, which has been operating the program in the Quinte area for the past six years.
Sandra Gordon is a volunteer with St. John Ambulance and her golden retriever, Bella, has been a certified therapy dog since 2008. Gordon and her husband adopted Bella in 2005, and over that summer they decided to put her in the therapy-dog program:http://www.qnetnews.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/selection-from-sandra-gordon-interview-2.mp3 
Gordon and Bella have been coming to Paws for Reading for the past two years. She proudly recounts one success story:http://www.qnetnews.ca/wp-content/uploads/2015/11/selection-from-sandra-gordon-interview-1.mp3 
The program runs at the library on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday evenings.
Paws for Reading was started 10 years ago in Delaware by retired public-school teacher Lynne Robinson and her dog, Boo.
Joyce Fowler, the therapy-dog program co-ordinator for the Quinte area, has been with the program since 2007. She said via email that the program has been successful for the children involved in it.
“Some children have increased their reading skill by three levels in a year, while others have gained confidence in reading aloud in a group setting which they would not do previously,” said Fowler.
She described the therapy dogs as good reading buddies for struggling readers.
“They listen attentively, allow children to read at their own pace and never criticize or laugh. They allow the children to relax and have fun reading in a non-judgmental environment,” she said.
Suzanne Humphreys, the co-ordinator of children’s, youth and readers’ services at the library, said the program has been popular in the community, but the library would like to make some changes to it.
“One thing that we are going to change is to have the Paws for Reading sessions go on for longer, because if the children coming in are reluctant readers the families don’t necessarily want to take a break. They want to keep going, keep practising their reading.”
Registration for the winter session will open at the beginning of December.