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Dana Point Library program gives kids confidence in reading aloud with help of canine friend

Jehsica Castle, 12, reads a chapter book to Venus, a therapy dog, just moments after meeting her for the first time. Photo: By Jacob Onofrio
Jehsica Castle, 12, reads a chapter book to Venus, a therapy dog, just moments after meeting her for the first time. Photo: By Jacob Onofrio

By Jacob Onofrio

Reading to others can be quite an intimidating task for both beginning readers and children. However, thanks to the Dana Point Library, kids now have a program aimed at making the task of reading aloud a little less scary.

In collaboration with nonprofit organization Beach Animals Reading with Kids, or BARK, kids of all ages can visit the library and practice reading aloud to Venus, a 4-year-old Labrador/Golden Retriever mix who is kind as can be and loves a good story.

“Often times (kids) feel less threatened when reading to a dog,” said Maggie Villalobos, Dana Point Library’s children/teen librarian.

Venus’ owner Theresa Barnes originally raised her to be a service dog, but after noticing how well trained and socialized she was, Barnes decided to look into therapy work. Theresa and Venus have been volunteering with BARK ever since.

“Venus is a very low key, calm dog; so when the kids read to her, she often falls asleep or, if they pet her, she’ll just put her head in their lap,” Barnes said.

Whether the child has trouble reading aloud or just wants to spend time reading with a new friend, Venus has proven to be a great companion for young readers. Local reader Jehsica Castle had her first visit with Venus on a recent Wednesday afternoon, and right away the two appeared to be best friends; Venus treated her like family.

“This is my first time reading to a service dog,” Castle said. “The dogs are nice.”

“We have kids of all ages reading,” Barnes said. “Some of the kids are already very proficient readers and enjoy the idea of sitting and reading aloud to the dog. Others may be struggling a little, so the dog can motivate them. Dogs tend to make people feel more relaxed.”

Kids can visit Venus at the Dana Point Library and read to her the first Wednesday of every month from 3 p.m. to 4 p.m. Time slots are 10 minutes each.

Since its formation in 2007, BARK has had 170 volunteers and their dogs visit more than 100 different schools and libraries across both Orange and Los Angeles counties. In addition to visiting these locations, BARK also visits senior living facilities, VA hospitals, and even helps de-stress college students during mental health days.

For more information about Beach Animals Reading with Kids, visit

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