Therapy dog brings happiness to many

WEST UNION, Ohio | Looks can be deceiving and even intimidating, especially when you are 125 pounds of fur and teeth.

But to hundreds of his closest friends in Adams County, Leroy is a gentle giant whose mission is to help brighten the day of children and the elderly.

Leroy began his career as a therapy dog when he was 18 months old. Now 4, he is a patient and laid-back great Pyrenees dog that stands almost a yard tall from his feet to the top of his head. He is more than a yard long, and with 4-inch fluffy white fur, he creates a massive presence in any room.

Across the nation, the popularity of therapy dogs is increasing. Certainly, Leroy’s popularity is on the uptick. When he enters a room, he is greeted with smiles, hugs, some “Wows” and the occasional “Oh my, is that a dog?” As he walks down the hall at the Adams County Manor Nursing Home in West Union, strangers and friends greet him with immediate pets and even hugs.

Don See, a nursing student visiting the Manor said, “I know what my dog means to me. It seems to bring people here out of their shells.  He just make you feel good.”

Leroy has been visiting the Manor nursing home and has been the star at the children’s reading program at the Peebles branch of the Adams County Public Library for more than two years.

“He brings smiles everywhere he goes. I think it is very rewarding and I get to show off my dog … he is so special and he is just awesome,” said his owner, Sherri Perkins.

She and Leroy listen to children reading every other Wednesday at the Peebles branch for more than hour. In a private corner, the library has set up a space for the program where children can confidently read to the dog.

“He seems to calm people and children … sometimes he falls asleep while they are reading,” Perkins said. She listens quietly too, unless a child looks up for advice on a difficult word.

Other times, Leroy has his head right beside the child’s and almost seems to be understanding every word. That was the way it was Wednesday when Kenny Rogers IV, 7, of Peebles, was reading to him. He has been coming to read to Leroy since he was 4.

“I think he likes it when I read to him. I like it,” Rogers said.

Emma Stanhope, 7, is home schooled by her grandparents, Dennis and Karen Stanhope.

“I love coming here and reading. He listens to me read. I like that … and he is so pretty,” Emma Stanhope said. Her grandfather said Emma is reading at a third-grade level.

A study held by the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine at Tufts University, Mass., at local libraries showed how children who practiced reading to the dogs stuck with the program more than those reading to people, but they are still investigating if the children’s reading improved.

However, in Adams County there has been a very successful student as a result of the library reading program. He began reading to Leroy when he was in third grade.

His grandmother, Shirley Pell, first heard of therapy dogs while vacationing in the Myrtle Beach, N.C.

“I saw a program about the dogs on television and thought that might help my grandson with autism but he just wasn’t ready for Leroy at that time. But Jacob is the success story. He wasn’t doing very well at all in reading while in third grade. And worse, he didn’t want to read. I had been so worried. I knew if he didn’t like to read he wasn’t going to do well.  But now he is getting all A’s and B’s in fifth grade,” she said.

Pell found Perkins while surfing online and arranged for her to talk to the Adams County Library Director Harold Showalter.

“Everything fell in place then. Jacob went every week for about eight weeks. His grandfather and I were really excited the day he asked for a book while we were in Walmart. Now he likes to read,” Pell said.

“Reading to the dog was better than reading to somebody. I’d rather talk to the dog. He doesn’t tell you if you make a mistake,” Jacob said.

“I think this was the best thing that ever happened to the reading program in Adams County,” Pell said, who was the director of the West Union Public Library for 16 years. She retired in 2004.

Her husband, Robert Pell said, “When it comes to grandmothers, there is no stopping them when they are on a mission to help their grandchildren.”

“I think my other grandson might be ready to meet with Leroy now. He loved the dog, and he is getting more sociable now,” Shirley Pell said.

Sherry Thompson, Peebles library program coordinator, said, “It just gives me shivers when I think about Jacob’s success at overcoming his reading problems by reading to Leroy. This program has been so successful. The children just love it.”

Leroy reads every other Wednesday at the Peebles Libray begining at 3:30 p.m. Parents can reserve a time by calling             937-587-2085       or visit online at

Visit Leroy and his family on line:

Copyright 2012 Ledger Independent. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Posted in Local on Thursday, February 23, 2012 10:00 pm Updated: 5:50 pm. | Tags:

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