Joya Breems – Staff Writer
Stanley the Therapy Dog spends much time with his blue, pawprint blanket.
He sits on the blanket during storytime in Maurice, Iowa, surrounded by colorful books, bins of costumes, and constant chatter of children. He sits on it at the Sioux Center Library, where children mispronounce words and tangle his white fur. He sits on it at Dordt University, where lines of stressed-out college students pause to pet him.
Where Stanley is, his blanket follows. Four years ago, Lisa Laird trained Stanley to know the blanket means work. When the blanket is out, Stanley is calm; he does not bark or chase his tail (unless commanded). When the blanket is out, Stanley does not bat an eye at a one-hundred-person crowd, of which he’s seen many, or a toddler tugging at his fur.
Lisa and Stanley form a traveling duo who perform reading activities for children. Notably, Stanley is a therapy dog, not a service dog. As therapy dogs provide emotional support to others, Lisa and Stanley are a certified therapy team, specializing in helping children learn to read.
Before Stanley, Lisa performed as a traveling ventriloquist and did shows at libraries for summer reading programs. She and her colorful puppets did over fifty shows a summer.
Lisa dresses like Ms. Frizzle from the Magic School Bus: big earrings, bright patterns, poofy red hair, and a matching headband to complete her outfit. As a former teacher, her voice commands a room, while still speaking in soft simple sentences.
Now, she is mostly retired from show business but continues doing programs with Stanley.
While the Sioux Center Public Library hosted a therapy dog program for years, their regular-performing therapy team retired in 2018. The Children’s librarian, Judy Dirkse, had seen Lisa and her recent addition, Stanley, perform at the Summer Reading Program. She saw how kids loved coming up to ‘read to Stanley’ after the puppets program ended. Reading with Stanley became an official program hosted by the library.
A brother and his younger sister sat squished into one of the library’s red armchairs for their 15-minute session of Reading with Stanley. While the sister stroked Stanley’s fluff, Lisa read Stanley Dog’s Imagination Game with the brother.
“Look! Stanley has some fun toys,” Lisa said, gesturing to the illustrations. “Can you point to the one with the blue star?”
Both siblings unhooked their hands from Stanley and pointed at the illustration in the book.
“Stanley says, “Zoom.” Can you say zoom?” Lisa said.
“Zoom!” They said, earning a grin from their mom.
“We woke up from a nap to come here,” she whispered.
Lisa wrote The Stanley Books to keep young readers engaged. But children aren’t the only audiences Stanley draws in. Lisa has recently started branching out to college students.
In a corner of the John and Louise Hulst Library, Lisa set up Stanley’s blanket. In that time, over 60 students visited Stanley. The never-ending refrain: “I needed this today.”