Joie is a new friend of Kenzie Carter and Caden Almon, first graders at Eastside School.

The little dachshund is brought to campus each Thursday for a reading session with the students of Maggie Taylor, classroom teacher.

Love is evident as Karen Smith, trainer, holds Joie while the children reach out to pat a brown head and greet the visitor with smiles.

“I like to read when Joie visits,” said Kenzie.

Caden quickly agrees as they enter a room where each will spend 30 minutes or more reading to the docile animal.

Smith said Joie is a registered therapy dog and part of the Reading Education Assistant Program (R.E.A.D.). The mission of this group is to improve the literacy skills of children through the assistance of registered therapy teams as literacy mentors.

Karen and Joie took an intensive class as part of the Pet Partners’ Therapy Animal Program, which trains and screens volunteers and their pets for visiting animal programs in schools, hospitals, nursing homes, rehabilitation centers and other facilities.

The program was established in 1990 to ensure that “both ends of the leash,” people as well as animals, were well prepared to participate in animal-assisted activity and animal-assisted therapy programs.

Pet Partners’ national network links volunteers with facilities in their own communities that request visiting pets and helps volunteer teams contact facilities to begin visits in new locations.

“Not every dog can become part of the program,” Smith said. “They must be trained before they are allowed to get involved.”

Taylor said she is pleased that Karen and Joie participate in the first grade reading sessions.

She said reading aloud helps a child understand the sounds and builds confidence in his or her ability to become a better reader.

The reading sessions have been so successful, Taylor anticipates another year (2016) with the volunteer team.