It was storytime once again at the Aiken County Public Library on July 9. Only this time, the children were the storytellers.

Every Tuesday in July, students from a kindergarten to a fifth-grade reading level gather at the library to practice their reading skills.

However, instead of reading aloud to teachers, they read aloud to furry friends of different shapes and sizes – also known as therapy dogs.

The name of the program is Paws to Read.

For at least the last six years, SPCA Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare has hosted the Paws to Read program at the library and Millbrook Elementary, the Aiken Standard reported in January.

July 9 was the second day the library has held the program this year.

There are seven dogs that attend all four time slots, Kimberly McSpadden, children’s librarian, said.

Some children come every week and, therefore, form a close bond with the dogs.

“It takes sort of a couple weeks for them to get use to the new dogs,” McSpadden said. “By the end of the four or five weeks, if they come every week, you see them laying across the dogs, hugging on them. Last week, some of them even turned the book to show the pictures to the dogs. So they are interacting with them.”

To set up for their readers, the volunteers took their dogs and scattered around the room. One laid out a blanket, as others sat on the floor. The remaining volunteers sat in chairs.

When the children came in, they examined the room and went to the dog they wanted to read to.

Nine-year-old Madison Willing chose Cavalier King Charles Spaniel Ava and her owner Cindi Steinmetz.

Steinmetz has been involved with the Paws to Read program for six months.

“Ava loves people,” she said. “(This is) good for her, and it’s good for these guys.”

During Steinmetz’s time with the program, she’s seen some truly struggling readers.

“I’ve had some kids make up the whole story,” she said.

But with Willing, it was different.

“I use to be really bad, but this is to help my reading,” Willing admitted to Steinmetz.

“Well, you are doing a really good job,” Steinmetz said.

And, with that, Willing went to go get her second book of the 20-minute session.

Seven-year-old William Hill had read Rob Scotton’s “Splat the Cat: The Rain is a Pain” to Lucy Fenstermacher and cocker spaniel Sandy.

After he read the book, he decided to take a break and enjoy Sandy and Lucy’s company.

“You read very well, William,” Fenstermacher said.

Hill is no stranger to dogs, as he has two at home – Trix and Ruby.

He got Ruby two months ago, and his family found Trix on the side of the road.

“Lucky dog,” Fenstermacher said about Trix.

What does Hill think about Sandy?

“He’s fluffy, and he moves a lot,” he said.

Hill received a sticker for his efforts that day.

Anyone can participate in the Paws to Read program, McSpadden said.

“It’s just a way for the kids to feel comfortable and not pressure in their reading especially out loud, which is harder for kids,” she said.

The volunteers are there to listen and only assist when asked, Steinmetz said.

The children can bring their own books or use the books provided, McSpadden said.

The therapy dogs also visit nursing homes and rehabilitation facilities, Steinmetz said.

The Paws to Read program occurs from 11 a.m. to noon.

To sign up, stop by the first floor circulation desk at the library, 314 Chesterfield St. S.W.

For more information, visit

Stephanie Turner has a hand on all areas of production for the Aiken Standard, where she reports, edits and designs pages. She graduated in July 2012 with a journalism degree from Valdosta State University.