April 04, 2012 - A lurcher visited the local library to help little ones with their learning.
RIGHT: Laying on Fern is Lakeville kindergartner David Hall. Reading to the pooch are (from left) Daniel Axford kindergartner Dylan Summers, OES third-grader Hunter Thornton and Avery Bruce, 4, of Oxford. Photo by C.J. Carnacchio. (click for larger version)
It sounds like something out of a Dr. Seuss story, but that's what happened at the Oxford Public Library on Saturday.
As part of the "Read to a Dog" program, some children honed their skills by reading aloud to a lurcher named Fern.
A lurcher is a cross between a sighthound (such as a greyhound) and another type of canine such as a pastoral dog (like a collie) or terrier.
Lurchers originated in Ireland and parts of Great Britain because during the Middle Ages, only the nobility were legally allowed to own purebred dogs. Crossbreeds were unwanted except by peasants, who often used them to put meat on their humble tables.
"The peasants trained the dogs to go and poach game from royal property," explained Oxford resident Susie Black, who adopted Fern about 2½ years ago.
According to www.celticlurchers.com, the name lurcher comes from the ancient Romany words "lur," meaning thief, and "cur," meaning a mixed breed of dog.
Fern is 90 percent greyhound. As for the remaining 10 percent, Black is not sure. "I think it's collie," she said, noting that lurcher is not a recognized breed today.
Whatever the mix, she's 100 percent gentle. That's why Black took the time and effort to have Fernbecome a registered therapy dog.
"Her disposition was just so perfect for it," she said.
Once a month, Black brings Fern to a nursing home in Lake Orion where she delights the senior residents.
"She just loves them," Black said. "They're all sitting down and she goes around all by herself and puts her face in everybody's lap.
"It's such a wonderful thing. People get such a great fix out of just putting their hands on a dog."
But as much as Fern enjoys her visits with senior citizens, she relishes her time with kids even more.
"She loves children," Black said. I have a boarding kennel and when people come to bring in or pick up their dogs and they have children with them, she just melts."
That's why her involvement in the library's "Read to a Dog" was such a natural fit.
"She's so at ease with them," Black said. "What you see is what you get."
Kids who are shy or slow readers often feel judged or intimidated by classmates and adults. Experts say reading aloud to a dog is a proven method to improve reading skills because a canine is a non-judgemental listener who won't get impatient, laugh or correct a child if he or she makes a mistake. In the end, reading to a dog helps build a child's confidence.
Given her rough start in life, visiting libraries and nursing homes is the perfect way for Fern to spend her days.
Before she came to live in Oxford, Fern was involved in an illegal sport in which lurchers are used to chase live prey in an open field, while spectators bet on which dog will be the first to catch and kill the animal.
"It's underground, just like dogfighting," Black said.
This was a tough and brutal existence for Fern. "She came to me with scars on her," Black said.
Fortunately, Fern was rescued in Kentucky by a group called Retired Greyhounds as Pets (REGAP).
Black was originally only going to provide a foster home for Fern, but she fell in love and decided to adopt her.
"She's just a peach," she said.
Dogs are a big part of Black's life as she currently provides a loving home for two other canines (full-blooded greyhounds) while running a boarding kennel called A Good Spot (2900 Gardner Rd.). Her facility is capable of housing up to 25 pooches while their masters are away.
"All the dogs get lots of individual attention," she said. "Everybody has an inside pen and an outside pen. I have three fenced-in grass yards. My philosophy is 'let's make the dogs as happy as possible in the situation they did not choose.'"
For more information about A Good Spot, please call (248) 628-6119 or e-mail email@example.com.
CJ Carnacchio is editor for The Oxford Leader. He lives in the Village of Oxford with his wife Connie and daughter Larissa. When he's not busy working on the newspaper, he enjoys cigars/pipes, Martinis/Scotch, hunting and fishing.