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Dogs often can be better listeners than people.

Children will have the opportunity to see this theory play out as they can engage Autumn the dog by reading to her at the Wauwatosa Public Library, 7635 W North Ave.

Parents registered their K5- to fifth-grade child for the opportunity to read aloud to Autumn for a 10- to 15-minute period either Monday, March 20 or Monday, April 3. Those dates are full, but children's library supervisor Anne Kissinger said the library will be adding more dates in the future.

Benefits of dog therapy

Autumn's owner and Tosa resident Beth Collins said research has shown that reading to a dog has three main benefits, including social, emotional and the reading itself.

"I am a certified speech-language pathologist," Collins said. "I work with a variety of students with disabilities, and it's always been a goal of mine to incorporate animals into my own practice and have a therapy dog of my own."

The emotional attributes include instilling confidence, calming and having less fear of being judged for any mistakes made by the reader. The social qualities for children include learning kindness and empathy and practicing communication skills.

Autumn is a 3-year-old true "Alabama mutt," said Collins, and is a combination of German shepherd, Australian cattle dog, Australian shepherd, boxer and chow. Collins wanted to know Autumn's genetic makeup and had her tested.

Autumn previously served as a service dog for a woman in Alabama for three years before developing epilepsy and being relinquished by her owner. She was rescued by a local rescue organization that serves southeastern Wisconsin and lived in a foster home until the Collins family found her in an online biography and knew they had to meet her.

"We loved her so much that we decided to adopt her," Collins said. "She has been seizure-free for almost four months now, and has been the best addition to our family."

Autumn gets certified

Because of Autumn's kind and gentle nature, Collins began to have her interact with her students with disabilities and thus they decided to seek certification for her as a therapy dog. After Autumn was certified in December, she also achieved the distinction of a "Canine Good Citizenship" award. The next step was to locate a venue for Autumn to do her thing.

"After doing some research, I realized that Tosa did not yet have a program of its own," Collins said. "After contacting several employees, the library was interested and asked me to bring Autumn in. I'm so grateful that the Tosa library was so willing to allow me and Autumn to come in and start up a program that is so meaningful to us."

Collins said there is plenty of research that has been done regarding the communication skills of people and animals and that people with "disfluent" speech often become fluent when speaking to an animal.

"There is nothing that comes close to the love and kindness of a dog," Collins said. "Unwavering loyalty and pure happiness can be found with just a simple wag of a tail. I've always wanted to bring that joy to other people and in other avenues. Because of my love of language, this reading program is the perfect fit to bring language, reading, children and animals together."

Collins has a 1-year-old daughter and a 5-year-old French bulldog at home and said they are the best of friends.

"It's no coincidence that my daughter Stella's first word was 'doggy,'" Collins said.

Autumn and Collins also appear and volunteer at other local organizations, including Penfield Children's Center and Ronald McDonald House. The pair are also beginning bimonthly visits to Autumn West, a safe haven for homeless individuals.

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