Peninsula Community Library director Vicki Shurly remembers well the day Bear applied for a job. He jumped up, slapped his paws on the counter and wagged his tail.
“I’m not really a dog person,” says Shurly. Unfortunately, Bear, a rambunctious, two-year-old golden retriever/border collie mix needed the work.
“I got Bear as a 10-week-old puppy from the Roscommon County Animal Shelter, and I remember my vet saying, “You need to find him a job or he’ll find one for you,’” recalls Bear’s owner Paula Kelley, an Old Mission Peninsula resident.
But when Kelley pitched the idea of hiring Bear to work at the Peninsula Library as a reading therapy dog for kids, Shurly was skeptical. “My first thought was, ‘You’re kidding me,’” she says.
So how about that jar of dog treats that sits on her desk today? “He has totally won me over,” she says of her furry – and much valued – staff member.
Until now, he’s been paid in dog bones, but tomorrow Bear will be paid in extra long pats and rubs at the library’s Farewell Bear party. After six years of being a doggone good listener and friend, the Peninsula Library pooch is hanging up his work vest for good.
Despite a perhaps less-than-stellar first impression, Bear has had a stellar career. He became a registered therapy dog through the Delta Society (now Pet Partners) and is also certified as a Reading Education Assistance Dog (or READ). He has been a mainstay at the library and Old Mission Peninsula School since 2006.
Now 8 years old, it’s time for Bear to move on to other endeavors, says owner Kelley – primarily more playing and more napping.
Bear’s resume includes hundreds of hours spent with preschoolers through elementary school students as part of reading groups and one-on-one reading time with individual students. For struggling or reluctant readers, a dog lying nearby – even cocking his head as a student reads along – creates a non-threatening, non-judgmental environment. “He helps instill a joy of reading,” Shurly says.
“People are Bear’s best friends,” says Kelley. “That’s a key component to his work.”
In addition to reading work, Bear also helped teach local kids how to safety approach an unfamiliar dog and other dog safety tips. One thing he’ll definitely miss: the treats Mr. Randy the custodian would sneak for him from the cafeteria. “We used him as an example of how NOT to approach a dog,” Shurly says with a chuckle.
But perhaps most, Bear will miss his treats from Shurly herself – her desk the first place he went when he got to work, and his last stop before he left.
Bear’s farewell celebration is tomorrow, Saturday, from 10 a.m. to noon, at the Peninsula Community Library. He will appear with storyteller and local dentist Dr. Fred Arnold, who will read one of his all-time favorites, City Dog, Country Frog by Mo Willems. Bear will then “read” Art Dog by Thacher Hurd and will create some paw print art, as will his friends in the audience. A dog bone cake (for humans!) also will be served.