Vancouver library loans out dogs in poetry promotion for 15-minute outings

Anna Boekoven, right, and Ashten Black, from Saint John Ambulance therapy dogs, read to a dog named "Pig" at the Vancouver Public Library in downtown Vancouver, Friday, Sept. 13, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward

VANCOUVER - You can take out almost anything from libraries these days, but this one requires a leash.

Eight therapy dogs will be available to borrow from the Canine Library on Saturday for 15-minute outings as part of the Vancouver's Poetry in Parks initiative.

On Friday, Anna Boekhoven put her arm around Pig the dog as she read him his favourite poem.

The six-year-old border collie nuzzled her face, then settled down for the reading, his head resting on his crossed paws.

Boekhoven, who is the volunteer co-ordinator for the therapy dog program at St. John Ambulance, finished reading the poem, "Where the Sidewalk Ends" by Shel Silverstein and Pig looked up at her and perked his ears.

"You liked that, didn't you?" she cooed to Pig.

Candie Tanaka of the Vancouver Public Library said the event will give people an opportunity to sit with a dog and a handler and either read from provided material or bring their own.

The Vancouver Public Library holds a poetry program in the city's parks every year, and this time they wanted to do something different, she said.

"The main focus, according to the park board, was to foster better relationships between dog owners and non-dog owners in dog parks. There's some animosity there," Tanaka said.

So, they decided to combine their "human library" with the Paws 4 Stories program and came up with a "Canine Library," she said.

Ashten Black of the therapy dog program at St. John Ambulance B.C. and Yukon said the event is similar to a literacy initiative.

"We strive to spread a moment of joy to those who want it," she said. "Our dogs are non-judgmental, and we find that reading to a dog is both very comforting, but it is also a little disarming."

It's a lot more fun to read to a dog, Black said, adding canine companions are very accepting of mistakes.

St. John Ambulance also wanted to provide a chance for people living in Vancouver, especially those who may not have a dog or are new to the city or country, to spend time with a furry friend, she said.

"All shapes, all sizes, all breeds and all levels of fluffiness" will be at the Emery Barnes Park, Black said.

She's not sure what books the dogs prefer although that could be unique to every dog, she added with a laugh.

"I don't think they are too picky," she said. "I know my dog, Pig, prefers poetry. He likes the short and the rhythm of the poetry."

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