The dogs proved they were good listeners.

By Amanda C. Davis

The dogs proved they were good listeners.

GREENFORD — Damian McClish has been a little down since two of his three dogs ran away Jan. 5, but his spirits were lifted Thursday when some furry friends made a visit to his school.

Damian, 10, took part in a “Tales to Tails” program at South Range Middle School, which paired some fourth- and fifth-graders with dogs in the K-9’s for Compassion organization. The event was put together by district librarian Rossana Pluchinsky to promote reading and the human-animal bond.

Fifth-graders in Patty D’Apolito’s class and fourth-graders in Sue Kelly’s class had a captive audience from four dogs in the K-9 program, a nonprofit organization that’s part of the Delta Society Pet Partners Program. The group’s mission is to provide companionship and therapy for those in health care organizations and educational programs.

Pluchinsky worked with the teachers to coordinate lesson plans. Pupils researched their favorite dogs, made posters and wrote papers and have been keeping a journal about dogs.

Emily, an 11-year-old golden retriever, mugged for the cameras but kept her focus on the children as Damian read “The Puppy Who Wanted A Boy” and Hannah Bailey, 10, read “Shaggy Waggy Dogs and Others.”

“Emily, do you think you’d like this story?” Damian asked. The dog, owned by Cheryl Soyka of Canfield, didn’t respond but proved she was a good listener as the boy continued reading.

Damian said the program cheered him up since he’s been missing the two dogs that ran away, a black labrador named Max and a shepherd-husky mix named Madison. He said he’s still holding out hope the two will return soon.

Soyka, who has Emily and a pet chinchilla, takes the dog to St. Elizabeth Health Center to cheer up patients. “Kids are her favorite,” she added.

Pluchinsky said the program provides a relaxed environment for children to read and takes the pressure off for nervous readers. “It’s a fun way to promote reading,” she said, adding she hopes to bring the dogs back later in the year.

Keanu Kalima, 11, read “One Hundred and One Dalmations” to Lucy Sue, a 9-year-old basset hound with the trademark sad eyes and droopy ears. He said he chose the book because it’s one of his favorites. He has two cats at home and one of them doesn’t like dogs. “If I could get a dog, I’d get a wiener dog,” he explained.

Lucy Sue is owned by Cindy Stockdale of Austintown, who takes the dog to schools, the hospital and to visit disabled people and those with Alzheimer’s disease. “It brings the dogs to people who don’t normally have contact with dogs,” she said.

The retired Delphi worker said she enjoys sharing her dog with others, especially when she sees their reactions. “When we walked in this morning, the kids just lit up,” she said. “It puts a smile on everyone’s face.”

Cassandra Wymer, Stephanie Grahovac, Paige Bailey and Shannon McEwan enjoyed a snack after they finished reading. Stephanie said she read to Peri, a miniature wirehaired dachshund, and was happy to find the dog listened well and seemed to enjoy the story.

Peri, whose name is short for Little Peri Winkle, is owned by William Leskanic of Boardman. Since he retired four years ago from the Mahoning County Planning Commission, Leskanic said, taking Peri to schools, libraries and Humility House makes him feel productive.

“I found that Peri was good therapy for me and gets me out of the house to walk,” he said. “I wanted to share that.”

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