A few days ago, my wife and I—masked up and social distancing—strolled into a wonderful bookshop in a small river town in the far west suburbs of Chicago. It was our little respite under the current conditions, a safe getaway with plenty of hand sanitizer to go around.
Harvey’s Tales in Geneva, Illinois is named after the owners’ dog, a beloved pet whose portrait adorns the wall near the counter at the register. A beautiful animal for a beautiful place, a more-than-century-old home with hardwood floors and high ceilings. We browsed the upstairs, the downstairs, and ordered a coffee and a hibiscus lemonade.
As you might imagine, the shop had a “dog” section. A bookstore called Harvey’s Tales has to have a dog section, right? Books for and about dogs. And around the corner in another tucked-away room on the store’s poetry shelf, a classic that could have easily been in the “dog” section, as well—Mary Oliver’s Dog Songs.
Had to have it.
While I finished my coffee and my wife sipped her lemonade alone together on the outside patio, I read some of the poems to my wife. We smiled. We teared up a bit. And it hit me.
I should be reading some of these to Sam.
Do dogs respond to reading?
Studies have shown that reading out loud to dogs definitely benefits the reader. It’s a way to build self-confidence and reading skills without the judgement. Sam would never judge. Great for kids.
But what about the dog? What do they get out of it?
There are similar studies that show the dog, who loves to be with you, sees the reading time as exclusive time with its best friend, very focused time, at that. Just you and the dog, and a good story. Interesting—when I returned home and read some of the poems to Sam, she sat still and watched me closely. She was attentive, hearing my voice recite Oliver’s words soothed her. Was it me or was it Mary’s great works? Probably more Mary.
For now, Sam seems to like poetry. SciFi, not so sure about. Westerns, hmm? A good suspense novel? Marley and Me? Too sad. The Call of the Wild? Now, there’s one every dog must love. Cujo? Nah. I could always read her my friend’s great book, The Book of Barkley. Or Garth Stein’s The Art of Racing in the Rain.
Or, of course, I could read Walks with Sam to her. But, honestly, she’s lived that story.