Once a month, the Mulberry Street Library hosts R.E.A.D. with Mudge, a special program in which children read aloud to a registered therapy dog and licensed handler. Named in honor of the national Reading Education Assistance Dogs program and Cynthia Rylant's beloved boy and dog books, Henry and Mudge, Mulberry's Street's team is made up of the wonderful Kimberly Wang and her amazing dog Theo. We recently caught up with Theo's owner Kimberly...
What kind of dog is Theo?
Theodore is a mutt, and a delightful mix of Border Collie and Greyhound. He has the black and white markings of a Border Collie, and the height, long torso, and "origami ears" of a Greyhound. (I call them "origami ears" because they fold back ever so nicely in curious ways.) And his personality traits are a fun combo platter of both breeds.
When did you get Theo?
I found Theodore at a shelter in New Jersey, via the website Petfinder.com, about six years ago. Petfinder is a great place to locate dogs that are up for adoption at shelters and rescue organizations nationwide. It took months of reading doggy profiles and calling shelters to find the right pooch. I knew I wanted a bright, personable dog whom I could train do to therapy and service work. When I saw Theo's photo and spoke to the shelter manager, my intuition told me that he was the one! He was only about eight months old when I brought him home. He was a wild child back then. Nippy and hyper and completely untrained, Theo had no familiarity with basic commands and found leashes very irritating indeed! But he's a hard worker with a strong desire to please, and persistence, patience, and lots of love paid off for us both.
When did Theo start working as a therapy dog, and why did you choose to work at libraries?
When Theodore and I first met, he was still a youngster, and very much like a teenager in temperament. So, he needed not only training, but time to settle into his life with me, as well as his newfound adulthood. It took a little over a year of focused and consistent training to get him ready for the tests he needed to pass to become a therapy dog. And by then he was about two years old.
At first, Theo volunteered at a children's hospital, and helped support and encourage kids through difficult physical therapy sessions. He then helped out an adult hospice facitility, and went about socializing with folks and brightening their days with his goofy smile.
I have been an avid reader since I was a child, and Theo has always loved libraries and bookstores (so many friendly people!), and like me, he adores children. So, volunteering as a reading dog was a natural choice. We worked together with the lovely Susie Heimbach, the children's librarian at Mulberry Street, to start a R.E.A.D. program there, and that was our first foray into reading with kids. And what a wonderful experience it has been!
What do you think makes a good therapy dog?
A good therapy dog is naturally friendly and eager to connect with unfamiliar folks. He also has the ability to make instant connections with people in a way that is both calming and encouraging. Many of the best therapy dogs are intuitive beings who can sense when people need support or attention and know just what to do without being told.
Being gentle and respectful of people's personal space and fears is also important. And finally, he must have a strong connection to his owner or "handler," so that he'll feel comfortable in any situation and follow instructions even in stressful or challenging situations.
To reserve a space in the R.E.A.D. with Mudge program, please call the Mulberry Street Library at 212-966-3424.
To learn more about Kimberly and Theo, check out Kimberly's blog. Kimberly says, "I love sharing Theodore's adventures with his friends and fans. Since Theo is a service dog as well as a therapy dog, he travels most everywhere with me, and that means he sees and meets people from all walks of life. He enjoys visiting museums, offbeat events, and unique establishments in New York City, Vermont and beyond. I love that he always seems to connect with the most interesting people and other animals as well. So, the City Dog Country Dog Blog is our way of sharing a little bit of the sunshine and smiles that Theodore enjoys in his daily life!"