Spotlight Cindy Marshall and Kirby

Kirby the reading dog listens carefully as Evelyn Justis, 7, reads a book about cats that she chose just for him. Volunteer Cindy Marshall, Kirby's owner, looks on at Milanof-Schock Library in Mount Joy earlier this month.

Who says you can’t teach an older dog new tricks?

Kirby Marshall, a 10-year-old West Highland Terrier (his birthday was just Sept. 9), recently started a new volunteer job with his human companion, Cindy Marshall: He’s the “animal” in Read With the Animals, a targeted reading program that’s been running at Milanof-Schock Library in Mount Joy for at least a decade.

“We’ve found over the years that students who are having trouble reading, it’s a confidence thing,” says Jan Beatty, the library’s youth services coordinator. “Reading with a nonjudgmental animal, it does amazing, amazing things” for at-risk readers.

The kids get 15 minutes of one-on-one time reading to an animal and its owner — and Kirby is the successor to Rosie, Ben, Maddie, Sampson, Gatsby, Widget and others in a long line of canine and feline reading helpers.

(Marshall answered for herself and interpreted Kirby’s responses):

Family: Husband Marshall; sons Jason and Kyle; stepdaughter Sarah; and, of course, Kirby.

Hometown, and where you now live: I grew up in Ephrata and recently moved to Mount Joy to downsize — looking forward to retiring in the next few years.

Growing up, I thought I’d be: A race car driver. We raced go-karts when I was young, and I loved hanging out at the track and taking the checkered flag around the track.

Number of dogs that have shared your house over the years: We always had dogs, and there (have been) seven from the time I was 1.

Kirby joined your family in: He came to us in November 2007 at 8 weeks old. He was one of four pups. When they were in the yard, he was the one who ventured away from the others, and we liked that independence.

Why Kirby became a reading buddy: I love reading, kids and spending time with Kirby. Having Kirby be part of the reading program is a way to help children gain the confidence to read for pleasure and enjoy all the adventures that can be found in books. He loves the kids and looks forward to spending time with them, and they seem to really like reading to him. He is a very attentive listener.

Cindy’s favorite children’s book: I like the Eric Carle books, especially “The Very Hungry Caterpillar,” a really fun way to learn the days of week and also the life stages of the caterpillar with really bright, colorful illustrations. It was a book that my kids went back to over and over.

Kirby’s favorite children’s book: Kirby likes the Biscuit books and loves to hear about the many adventures of Biscuit. He loves when children read these books to him and show him the pictures. He can relate to the stories.

Storybook dog closest to Kirby’s personality — Clifford the Big Red Dog, Carl the Dog or The Poky Little Puppy: I think maybe Clifford. Everywhere Kirby goes he makes friends and everyone knows him. We stay in a hotel, they know him, and even on the beach he made friends who stopped to see him every day. In our neighborhood we have a cluster mailbox, and he greets everyone getting mail, and they all know him by name.

So, Kirby, what’s your job at the library? My job is to greet each buddy at the door with a tail wag and the opportunity to pet me. I need to make sure they are comfortable with me and know that I am ready to listen. I loved each of my buddies, and I think they liked me. They all gave me treats and said they would come back. I’m looking forward to hearing more stories from each of them.

Kirby, do you have a favorite food? A favorite toy? I love Greenies and cheese, but not Swiss. I have a stuffed Grinch since I was a puppy. He is so big that at first I could only drag him, but now I can carry him around. He is my best buddy and always travels with me on vacations.

Reading dog Kirby

Kirby, who lives with the Marshall family of Mount Joy, is the newest member of Milanof-Schock Library's Ready With the Animals program. He often brings his best buddy, the Grinch, with him when he travels. 

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