Skip to main content

The City Journals

How a dog named Greta has been helping kids to read at Millcreek Library

Mar 23, 2020 02:40PM ● By Hannah LaFond

Therapy dog Greta, pictured with children’s books in the Millcreek Library. (Provided by Angela Mastaloudis)

By Hannah LaFond | [email protected]

Each month the Millcreek Library is visited by Greta, a leonberger. A library might seem like an odd place to find a full-grown dog, but Greta feels right at home. She’s a registered therapy animal and part of the Reading Education Assistance Dogs (READ) program, which works to help children’s literacy and communication skills. 

READ was started in Utah by Intermountain Therapy Animals in 1999. It has now reached all 50 states and 26 other countries. The basic concept is for children to read out loud to a registered therapy dog. This has been found to reduce stress around reading and increase young readers’ confidence and ability.

Greta’s owner, Angela Mastaloudis, described the benefits of the program to the Millcreek Journal when she said, “Reading to dogs creates a fun environment and helps to create a positive association with reading from an early age… It offers children a chance to practice reading out loud in a safe, judgment-free environment, which is especially important for young readers that are shy, lack confidence in their reading and/or do not have the opportunity to practice reading out loud in other settings.”

When Greta arrives at the library she waits patiently and quietly with Mastaloudis. While she’s in the library, any child is welcome to stop by and pet and read with Greta. She’s a naturally gentle dog with a calming presence, but like any registered therapy animal she’s also been through obedience training to help her thrive in this environment. Along with the dogs’ training, their owners are required to take classes on how to work with their animals in a variety of situations. To work with the READ program, Mastaloudis also took classes on education, acting as a literacy mentor, and the benefits of reading to a dog.

After training, they started volunteering at the Millcreek Library in 2017. It seems to be the perfect fit for the pair of them. This year they received an Outstanding Service Award from Intermountain Therapy Animals. 
Over the years, Mastaloudis has seen the effect reading with Greta has firsthand. Many children keep coming back to read with Greta each month and she’s seen their abilities improve. She described one boy who came in with his friends but was too shy to read out loud. It wasn’t until his friends left and he was alone with Greta and Mastaloudis that he had the confidence to read.

“He went and picked out a book about pizza and read it to Greta without hesitation. He was so brave and so proud,” Mastaloudis said. “For me, there is nothing more rewarding than the child that is reticent about reading when they arrive, but end up having so much fun reading to Greta that they ask to read a second book or even better, make a regular habit of visiting the library to read to Greta.”

Mastaloudis has become so passionate about the program they’re going to begin volunteering on a regular basis at the Holladay Library as well. She also hopes to get involved in school READ programs at some point in the future. 
“I am especially passionate about the importance of early childhood education, especially when it comes to reading. I believe it sets children up for lifelong success in all aspects of their lives,” Mastaloudis said. 

You can normally find Greta on the first Saturday of each month from 3 to 4 p.m. at the Millcreek Library, check out slcolibrary.org to see when libraries reopen. All libraries are currently closed due to the coronavirus outbreak.