The COVID-19 pandemic has put libraries nationwide in uncharted territory. We miss our customers, we miss interacting with them, and we miss hosting programs that educate and inspire.
We've created this blog series, Stories from Before, chronicling the stories of customers who ♥ all the Library offers, be it Storytime or Summer Reading, Books By Mail, English Language Classes, and much more. We hope these uplifting stories can help us all get through these challenging times and think about a brighter future.
Books, a furry friend, and slobbery kisses: Read to a Dog canine, Homer, inspired countless young readers
Sadly, Homer, the subject of this story, recently passed away. We will always remember him.
Judy, Homer's human, describes him as the poster dog for Heinz 57. He is 1/16 each American Bulldog, Greyhound, Australian Shepherd, Cattle dog, and Shihtzu. The rest is unknown origin. In his eight years as the resident Read to a Dog canine, Homer and Judy traveled more than 8,000 miles from their home in NW Tucson to the centrally-located Himmel Park Library.
It was worth every single mile.
Once a week, when they arrived at the Library, Homer would hop out of the car, enter through the back door, and make his rounds of ‘hellos’ to staff and customers.
“Homer’s arrival was something everyone looked forward to. Most weeks it sounded something like this… ‘HI HOMER!’ followed by a, ‘Oh, hi Judy,’” she recalls fondly.
Over the years, Homer encouraged approximately 3,600 eager readers! “He was a great listener,” says Judy, “but he also made a great pillow. He loved snuggling up to the kids.”
If a lot of kids were waiting for him, he would sit in the middle and the children would take turns. As they went around the circle, Homer would get up, mosey over, and snuggle the reader.
Homer watched quite a few kiddos grow up. Colby, who started going when he was 6, came for a few years, but his family moved to Seattle. After the move, every summer vacation in Tucson with Grandma included a visit with Homer. Siblings Emma and Noah loved reading chapter books to Homer, and there was another child who, after reading a page in a picture book, would hold up the book and show Homer the illustrations.
Judy’s fondest memory is watching the kids’ progress. “They would usually start out a little scared and unsure about reading, and then over the years they’d bloom into great readers! It was absolutely wonderful to watch.”
Homer’s journey to becoming a Read to a Dog ambassador was natural. When Judy rescued him from Pima Animal Care Center (PACC), she knew he was meant to help others. “He was about 3 years old and had the gentlest soul.” She enrolled him in therapy dog classes. To no one’s surprise, he aced the VIP training program at the Humane Society.
Judy found a list of opportunities for therapy dogs, and was intrigued by the Read to a Dog program. “My kids and grandkids lived close to Himmel Park Library, so altogether it seemed like the perfect thing to do,” she says.
Before he started, though, there was one thing that had to be done. Homer was to meet Boomerang and his human Marty, the first Read to a Dog ambassadors at the Library. Judy remembers, “Homer had big shoes to fill, so it was important that Boomerang and Marty approved. They met and, as the saying goes, the rest is history.”
Judy says, “The Read to a Dog program was always the highlight of our week. We count the Himmel Park Library staff and community as part of our family. We’d do it again in a heartbeat.”
In 2018, at age 14, it was time for Homer to retire. While he no longer covers Library staff in slobbery kisses and nuzzles young readers, Homer is enjoying his time at home with his humans and canine siblings, Corkie, Jewel, Nacho, and Sherman.
Do you know lil' ones who love dogs? There are so many great books featuring loveable canines!