Reading with Cleo

Feb. 02, 2013 @ 10:38 AM

Four-year-old Kyla Frasier goes to Little Troopers day care. But on a recent Tuesday, she was visiting Perry Memorial Library in Henderson and had a chance to read with Cleo.

Cleo is a golden retriever who is trained to listen to children as they read, part of her training as a therapy dog in a program run by Julie Griesinger and her husband Roger.

On alternate Tuesdays, Cleo comes to the library in Henderson to listen as children read. On other Tuesdays, she listens to children at Warren County Memorial Library.
Kyla doesn’t really read yet. But she likes picture books. She selected an appropriate book to share with Cleo. Its title was “Ten Little Hot Dogs.”

Kyla held the book on her lap and opened it toward Cleo, just as her day care teachers do, so Cleo could see the pictures. On each page, Kyla counted the hot dogs — from one hot dog on the first page until she counted 10 on the last page — as Cleo watched silently.

Kyla’s mother is Latoya Frasier, who works as a scheduler at the federal prison in Butner.

Zane Brooks, 11, came to the library to browse for books with his father, Bruce Brooks, pastor of Peace’s Chapel Baptist Church in Oxford. When Zane came over to pet Cleo, he was invited to read.

Zane, who attends Crossroads Christian School, selected “This Book Is Haunted.” Neither he nor Cleo seemed scared by the spooky book.

Kennedy Taylor, 5, is in kindergarten at Dabney Elementary School. She read “David Goes to School” to Cleo. Turning pages and correctly pronouncing even the most challenging words, she entertained Cleo from cover to cover.

She was at the library with her mother, Jacqueline Taylor.

The Griesingers breed the golden retrievers for therapy in the Warren County community of Elberon.

“We have 10 golden retrievers right now,” Julie said. Three, including Cleo, are trained as therapy dogs, which prepares them to work in a variety of environments and with different kinds of people, including young readers.

“I’ve been breeding golden retrievers for 18 or 19 years,” she said, “especially after I retired in 2009.”

A therapy dog is trained to respond to a series of commands, be comfortable with strangers and listen to their owners.

“It’s definitely a temperament thing, a calm demeanor,” Julie said of developing a therapy dog. “Cleo was very easy to train.

“They must also be comfortable around walkers, canes, children and loud noises.”

Cleo has been entered in dog shows sponsored by the United Kennel Club, where she has earned two titles — “novice” and “advanced” — and is working toward “excellent.”

Griesinger said eight of her dogs have won the champion designation in UKC shows.

On her visit to Perry Library, Cleo demonstrated results of her obedience training. “Stay,” “sit” and “come” are just a few of the commands she understands. In the toughest routine she demonstrated, she lay with paws extended while Griesinger placed a treat on one paw. Cleo eyed it but did not move. Then came the command, “OK!” and she snatched the treat and chewed it up, demonstrating more self-control than most humans when presented with an enticing treat.

Griesinger grew up in Alden, N.Y., a small town east of Buffalo. She earned a degree in music education from the State University of New York at Fredonia and taught instrumental music for six years before taking time off to raise a family of three boys.

She continued her education to become a registered nurse. She moved to North Carolina in 1991 and worked at Rex Hospital and in nursing homes.

For 14 years Griesinger worked at Vance-Granville Community College, where she coordinated the nursing assistant program.

After she retired in 2009, she was able to devote more time to breeding and training golden retrievers and sharing them with the community.

Reading with Cleo can help children overcome their shyness about reading aloud. While all of the children who read to Cleo on that recent Tuesday were quite fluent, children who are self-conscious about reading in front of other children or an adult seem more at ease reading to a dog.

It’s easy to see why. Cleo doesn’t criticize. She doesn’t correct their pronunciation. She just listens. And that’s what oral reading is all about: a reader and a listener.

Contact the writer at dirvine@hendersondispatch.com.