It was business as usual on a recent evening at the Moorestown Library. The reference librarian was at her post, the fiction best sellers were artfully displayed. And then there was Kinsey.
Kinsey, a Labrador retriever with enormous spirit, was holding court in the children's area of the library, disarming everyone who passed by with her charms. She practically exploded with delight at the attention, and clearly knew precisely how to steal a scene.
But Kinsey was actually waiting for her real work of the evening to begin. This 4-year-old with the reddish-gold coat is a therapy dog, trained to be attentive to youngsters who would welcome an audience as they read aloud. And Kinsey's owner, the diligent Molly Roy, a sophomore at Moorestown High, was hoping that Kinsey would remember her manners, and the extensive training she received through Therapy Dogs International Inc., a volunteer organization that prepares the dogs for their listening work.
"Kinsey wasn't the best student in the class," acknowledged her owner ruefully. "She was a little bit hyper until she caught on, so while her classmates 'graduated,' she stayed on longer, going to classes every week for about a year. But last August, she passed all her tests," Roy said.
Carroll Old, coordinator of children's programs at the Moorestown Library, was eager to avail the library of Kinsey's services. "The concept is that children who might be shy or reluctant to read in front of others would respond well to the idea of reading to a friendly dog who is there just to listen, not to correct or judge," Old said.
And so far, the program has been a huge success, with bookings one evening a week for 15-minute slots. The current session runs through May 24 on Thursday evenings from 7 to 8 p.m.
For brothers Matthew and Jared MacFarlane, the big night came last week. "I really wanted to do this just to see what it would be like - and I love dogs," said Jared, a fifth grader at the Moorestown Upper Elementary School.
Jared had toted along one of the Harry Potter series to read to Kinsey. As the reading got under way, Kinsey settled down - well, almost. There were a few lapses as Jared tried to redirect his audience's attention: "Will you pay attention, please?" he asked the slightly frisky Lab. And Kinsey, chastened, did.
Matthew, an 8-year-old third grader, treated Kinsey to a whimsical book about animals in rhyme. "Matthew is excited about this - he's not as avid a reader as Jared, so this is really important for him," said his mother, Susan MacFarlane.
She watched delightedly as her younger son sat on the floor in a corner of the children's section and read to his unusual listener, patting her now and then.
By the time Maggie Larkin arrived with her twin sister, Katie, and her parents, Alissa and Rob Larkin, Kinsey was well into the project. A few fidgets aside, Kinsey welcomed the chance to hear little Maggie, a first grader, read her book. "I've never read to a dog before!" said Maggie, eyes sparkling. Katie had had the experience a week before, and had found it quite cool.
At last glimpse, Kinsey was happily resting on her haunches, listening to Maggie and wagging her tail.