Go Dog Go! at the Library

by Kelsey Dorado, NYLA Communications & Marketing Manager

People love animals, this is not a secret.  They love cuddling them, learning about them, and having them as companions. Animals can be brought into your library in several different ways, ranging from the simple to the extravagant. Animal programs can be classic, like adoption fairs and reading programs, or unusual like a traveling zoo or featuring a coatimundi. Whatever you choose, your animal program will leave your patrons with fond memories and maybe a little bit of dog hair.

Work with Local Shelters

One way to work with local animal shelters is an adoption fair. Local shelters can bring animals that are looking for homes straight to your library. This has proven to be a successful program for libraries throughout the state and is a good opportunity to start a lasting partnership with your local animal shelter. Libraries like Middle Country and Sachem hold annual adoption fairs for their patrons. Middle Country Public Library’s event can draw anywhere from 500-800 attendees.  
You can also create a club like Middle Country Public Library’s Mutt Club, a volunteer club for teens 6th-12th grade. Shelters work with the club to ensure the animals' needs are met, “if they are in need of blankets we will have our Mutt Club create no-sew blankets that we will bring down to the shelter for donation.”


Use Therapy Dogs

A common way to bring animals into your library is with therapy dogs. Therapy dogs “are dogs who go with their owners to volunteer in settings such as schools, hospitals, and nursing homes” (American Kennel Club).  Both the University Libraries at the University at Albany and the Health Sciences Library (HSL) at the University at Buffalo use therapy dogs to help students destress during exam weeks. The program at HSL became so popular that a therapy dog now comes in one or twice a month, you can find pictures from HSL's event here. The program at the University at Albany is part of a larger campaign called Stress Less UAlbany @ University Libraries.

Therapy dogs are also great for reluctant readers, as was the case with the Newburgh Free Library’s program Pups & Pjs – a Tail Waggin Tutor Special Event. Children are read books about dogs that align with the summer reading theme and then approach the therapy dogs with blankets and pillows and read to them.

Therapy dog programs can vary in size, can be recurring or sporadic, and can be for people of all ages. Haverstraw King’s Daughters Public Library does a weekly program with therapy dogs and adults with disabilities. The positive impact it has had on their patrons has been incredible. An important thing to note is, some libraries have learned that you cannot book therapy dogs from different organizations at the same time. Do your research, learn the differences, and choose the organization that is best for you.  To find a therapy dog organization near you, click here and if you would like to learn more about how a therapy dog becomes a therapy dog, click here.


Make it Educational

Animal programs are a great opportunity to teach your students or patrons something new. They can learn about new animals, habitats, or about problems animals face. MS 88 Peter Rouget’s library worked with Mutt-I-Grees from the North Shore Animal League on a lesson for their 6th graders about homeless puppies.

“6th grade students learned about the problem of homeless animals and then brainstormed ways to help them. As a way to teach digital literacy, we created websites and also talked about the positive power of social media. Some students created challenges like the ice bucket challenge, where students had to do something (like watch cute animal videos or say animal themed tongue twisters) as a way to raise awareness for their cause." (MS 88 Peter Rouget submission)

A popular way to bring animal programs into your library is folding them into your summer reading program. Bodman Memorial did this when they brought in burrowing/digging animals for the summer reading theme “Dig in to Reading”. Their program included snakes, bullfrogs, a tortoise that was decades old, a tarantula, and an albino wallaby. You can find pictures and videos on their Facebook page.

Go Beyond Dogs

Using therapy dogs and collaborating with your local shelters make for wonderful and beneficial programs, but working some different animals into your programs can also be done fairly easily. As you can probably tell from above, animals of all kinds can help create an excellent program for your library.  Some more examples include:

Llamas at Guilderland Public Library Porcupine at Highand Public Library Raptor at Phoenicia Library Coatimundi at Waterville Public Library

You can reach out to local farms near your library, like the llama farm that Guilderland used, or connect with animal rehab centers.

They're Not Just for Kids

Adults love animals, so to avoid adult interruptions, MS 88 suggests making time for adults to see the animals before the program even starts. You can also host programs like the ones at Haverstraw and UAlbany at University at Buffalo that are aimed at college students or adults. The Glen Cove Public Library hosts a program at the end of their adult summer reading 'Living With Wildlife on Long Island' that is marketed as a family event so it can be enjoyed by all ages. The Southeast Steuben Central Library hosts a mental health awareness program that features a turtle, snake, hedgehogs, lemur, pig, stick bug, along with other creatures.

It has also been mentioned that even at children’s animal programs adults are very important. Kids can get very excited, and somewhat impulsive, around animals and it is important that their parents and guardians are there to help them, and you. At the end of the day, one of the most important things is leaving people with a positive experience; having parents and guardians there to comfort their children or to stop them from pulling a dog's tail will probably be a good thing.  

Making it a Success

  1. MS 88 Peter Rouget found that doing work beforehand “really gives them a deeper understanding of the plight of homeless animals as well as a focus and drive.” So, if it is possible, do some lessons beforehand so kids and adults really understand the animals in front of them.
  2. Have pre-registration for this program, because without it you may have too many children and not enough dogs.
  3. Make sure your program is properly staffed, you don’t want handlers to have to help run the program and watch their dog.
  4. Remember, they are animals so they do go to the bathroom at unexpected times. Be prepared!
  5. “If the shelter accepts volunteers at their establishment, have contact names, age requirements, and know about any parental supervision, permission slips or additional applications that may be required” (Sachem Public Library submission).
  6. Insurance! This goes for your insurance as well as your handlers.
  7. Know exactly what you are getting, what animals, how many, how long? Also know what you need to do, do the animals need anything, how many attendees can we have, etc.?