Sergio, a 10-year-old corgi, lays on his side, seemingly listening as 8-year-old Kristie Tatka reads him her favorite dog story and gently kneads his fur.
"Sergio just loves the attention," said his owner, Byron Newcomb of Bloomingdale.
A certified therapy dog with Therapy Dogs International, Sergio is a regular visitor to Brandon Health and Rehabilitation Center on Oakfield Drive in Brandon and Delaney Creek Lodge assisted living facility on South Lakewood Drive, Brandon.
And recently, the amiable corgi has been making regular visits to the 1906 Bloomingdale Ave., Valrico, as well.
In a program called Tail Waggin' Tutors sponsored by Therapy Dogs International, Sergio and other therapy dogs assist children with their reading skills by simply listening to stories.
"It's especially helpful for children who are a little shy about reading out loud," said children's librarian Kim Eversole. "Reading to a dog just helps put them at ease and allows them to practice their reading skills."
It's a perfect venue for Samantha, a 5-year-old labradoodle that enjoys being around kids, said her owner Cathy Mithaug of Brandon.
"Sam's been a therapy dog for three years. She works a lot at Shriners Hospital and with children who have cancer," Mithaug said. "She just loves the attention from the children."
The meeting room at the library was filled with children June 8, awaiting their turn to read to one of the dogs. Eversole said it's become a very popular program. The children simply choose their favorite dog story and read quietly to the dogs. Those waiting their turn are invited to color dog pictures.
"It's amazing to see how the kids respond to the dogs," Newcomb said. "And I really think Sergio enjoys it."
Eversole said reading to the dogs not only builds the children's confidence but makes them more interested in reading.
"The dogs are nonjudgmental with the kids," she said. "They don't laugh when a child makes a mistake. They are patient listeners and the children don't feel so inhibited."
Tatka, who only has cats at home, couldn't wait to read to the dogs.
"It's a lot of fun," she said.
John Newman also brought his children — Owen, Keegan, Isabel and Joshua — to the library so they could take their turn reading to the dogs.
"It just seemed like a good activity to do on their first day of summer," said Newman, adding that the kids' grandmothers have already planned a summer filled with activities for the children, including more of the free programs at the library.
"We love coming to the library," said Kristie Tatka's mom, Laurie. "I've been going to the library since I was a little girl and now we're taking our children to the library. My husband and I both love to read and we want to pass on that love to them."
Tail Waggin' Tutors will return to the library Friday, July 13 at 4 p.m.