Talk to the animals: Fur Angels help children build reading skills

Photo by Sue Suchyta

Michael Bellew III (left), an 8-year-old from Dearborn, reads to Sarah, a 7-year-old Labrador retriever / German shepherd mix. Ute Kent (right) and Sarah work together as a pet therapy team.

Photo by Sue Suchyta

Evan Radecki (left), a 5-year-old from Taylor, reads to Sarah, a 7-year-old Labrador retriever / German shepherd mix. Ute Kent (right) and Sarah work together as a pet therapy team.

Sunday Times Newspapers

TAYLOR – Sometimes a friend with a good listening ear may also have four paws and a tail.

At Taylor Community Library, Fur Angels are helping children gain confidence reading out loud – and they never utter a word of criticism.

Fur Angels, owners and their canine companions, are volunteers who come into the library several times a year. The group’s July 14 visit to the library was arranged to be part of the children’s summer reading program.

Eight owners and dogs volunteered for the event, which drew about 50 children.

When children read out loud to Fur Angel pet therapy dogs, Library Director Theresa Powers said, they feel less pressure to perform.

“The animal does not correct them, the animal does not care if the child makes a mistake,” Powers said. “The animal is just there…nonjudgmental. The child gets to read, can practice his expression. Many times children are afraid to read– they’re afraid they’re going to make a mistake. With this they don’t have to worry about it. They just read. The dog doesn’t care and is gentle and loving and soft.”

Justin Radecki, an 8-year-old from Taylor, said he likes to read to the fur angel dogs because they don’t interrupt him.

“We used to have one (a dog),” Justin said. “He was the best dog. He was a German shepherd and a whole bunch of other stuff. He died at nine – he would have been 11 this year.”

Evelyn Morga, a retired nurse from Dearborn, said Ember, a 10-year-old poodle, has been with the Fur Angels since 2004.

“She’s a champion with agility and obedience titles,” Morga said. “She’s also on a dog performance team called ‘Rock and Roll Canines.’”

Morga said Ember does a lot of community work, and she enjoys being around kids of all ages, as well as visiting nursing homes.

Jan Beregszaszy of Taylor has been the director of the Fur Angels since December when founder and director Martha Hall died. Hall started the group in December of 1998.

Beregszaszy and her husband have been involved with pet therapy for almost 40 years. She also trains dogs, teaches dog classes and judges dog shows.

Beregszaszy has been taking Fur Angel dogs to the Taylor Community Library for the past 18 months.

“This program today was a huge success,” Beregszaszy said. “I mean we got here this morning and we had four dogs here and we said ‘we already set a record!’”

She said they hadn’t had much turn out on the weekends, so the children’s librarian suggested they run a program during the week as part of a summer children’s reading event.

She said she was very pleased with the turnout of over 40 children who came in to interact with the Fur Angel dogs.

“We had one (child) who came in today who was a perfect example,” Beregszaszy said. “She went in and read to the dog. And the mom was standing there, and she said, ‘She doesn’t talk.’ But she talked to the dogs; she read out loud to the dogs.”

For more information about the Fur Angels pet therapy, visit their Web site at