GENESEO -- Trips to the library have become "Paw-Some" events thanks to a black Labrador named Rock.
The therapy dog belongs to Bill Menendez, a retired Geneseo grade-school principal.
He and Rock, 17, visit Geneseo Public Library every Thursday to lead the Paw-Some Reading With Rock program.
Visits last from 4 to 5 p.m. during the school year and from 10 to 11 a.m. during summer months.
The Paw-Some program encourages children to read aloud to Rock in a safe, stress-free environment. It also focuses on the benefit of human-animal relationships.
Paw-Some readers have fun while boosting their confidence and improving literacy and communication skills.
The program is open to all ages. Registration is required at the library.
Rock provides a gentle presence and support for the children at a crucial time in their learning as they develop reading skills, Mr. Menendez said. Children spend 15 minutes reading individually aloud to Rock while petting and interacting with him.
Rock is an experienced good listener. He was 3 when he started helping students at Southwest Elementary School in Geneseo, where Mr. Menendez served as principal, until retiring two years ago.
After retiring, he and Rock were invited to participate in the library's reading program.
Mr. Menendez first learned about the benefits of having a therapy dog at school in the late 1990s, and visited some schools in Iowa that used the animals.
Rock came from a Concordia, Kan., center for training and placement of service dogs, Mr. Menendez said. "He lives at our house and grew up with us and our two children."
Mr. Menendez called Rock "a gift from God," adding how "he has always been there, and his friendship is a gift."
Many kids share that opinion.
"I have kids in their 20s who ask about Rock when they see me," Mr. Menendez said."He spent time with kids in all of the classrooms, and had a special relationship with the kids with special needs.
"Some kids who had refused to read, would open up to Rock. They liked to read to him. They also would talk to him and share their fears with him.
"His presence gave them a confidence in reading. He never corrects them. He accepts them and puts his muzzle on their lap and they gain confidence that way."
Erin Bowers, 6, called Rock "a nice dog, and I like to practice reading with him." She and her sisters, Megan Bowers, 8, and Alison Bowers, 10, daughters of Scott and Kristie Bowers, of Geneseo, participate in the reading program. They don't have a pet at home, so they enjoy the chance to sit and read to Rock.
Mr. Menendez said he saw many positive results through the years from kids reading to Rock.
"He was another avenue of opening a door between me and the student population," he said."Rock has a calming influence on kids and adults, and the kids at school, who may have not read before, would feel comfortable lying beside Rock and reading."
When Rock attended Geneseo schools, he became attached to certain classrooms and teachers, such as Penny Ford's second-grade classes at Millikin Elementary School.
"At Southwest, he would always go to Lynn Meyers' classroom, and when we visit the school, he still goes right to her class," Mr. Menendez said.
Although Rock had some favorites, he spent time with almost all of the staff and students, Mr. Menendez said.
"He knows who likes him and who is afraid of him, and he won't go near the kids who are afraid of him," he said.
Rock's only dislike is for police, Mr. Menendez said. Rock got pretty jealous when police brought a K9 dog to school, he said. "From that day on, whenever he sees a police car, he barks at it."
Otherwise, Rock's "an easy-going, friendly guy," Mr. Menendez said."I believe the Good Lord expects us to be good to one another," he said, adding how Rock has been a good helper and listener to children he's met.
Bill Menendez Birth date: Sept. 13, 1956. Family: Wife, Deanne Menendez; daughter, Katherine Menendez, Atlanta, and son, Tom Menendez, Dallas. Hometown: DePue, Ill. Education: Master's degree from the University of Illinois, Champaign. Experience: 34 years in education, Favorite Scripture: Matthew 7:25-34. Favorite Biblical character I'd like to meet: "Jesus of Nazareth." Hobbies and activities: "Reading a lot, travel, history." Peak Experience: "Marriage and family; friendships at Southwest School." Pit Experience: "Wife, Dee, going through breast cancer." One thing I feel strongly about: "Treating others with consideration and kindness." I wish I knew how to: "Really control my temper."