By Stephanie Campbell, MLIS
I’ll never forget the childhood trauma induced by the Peanuts animated feature “Snoopy Come Home.” Before the uncontrollable sobbing begins, the major theme/gag involves Snoopy learning of all the places he can’t go: the beach, bus, hospital, and yes, the library.
“No Dogs Allowed” policies are definitely needed in public places, as there are multiple liability issues. As an animal-lover, though, I like that hotels, restaurants, and other businesses seem to be embracing dog culture more and more. But every time I see it, I wonder how these establishments get away with it. Apparently corporate “service dogs only” policies are subject to local enforcement.
In my experience, you have to tread carefully when introducing animals into library environments.
While I’ve worked at libraries that participated in Take Your Dog to Work Day and even allowed staff to bring their dogs to work regularly, this may or may not fly in your community. Similarly, we all know the stories about resident library cats, many of which eventually get evicted.
Early in my career, a regular would bring his dog with him to the library almost daily to pick up books and chat with the staff. The dog was older, leashed, and mild-mannered. They generally visited first thing in the morning when the library was usually pretty empty. But everything changed one day when another regular witnessed this act and became outraged, proclaiming that this revered institution was turning into a kennel. I’m sure you’ve encountered similar Jekyll and Hyde scenarios, where your best friend—a vocal library supporter—can become your worst enemy, threatening to report you to the director, library board, county commissioners, etc.
Not everyone is into animals, and some are downright afraid. Furthermore, allergies present mild to life-threatening problems for many people. Shared public spaces need to be sensitive to these issues. And public libraries are different from retail in that patrons often spend longer periods of time in relatively close quarters.
Behavior policies need to include wording for dogs in the library and unattended dogs outside the library. Unless it’s a service animal, patrons should not bring them inside. It’s also a bad idea to permit patrons to leave animals tied outside, even for a minute or two. We need to look out for the health and safety of pets and patrons, alike.
With all of this being said, how can you jump on the bandwagon and invite furry friends into your library? The keys to success are: make the animal’s presence predictable (and therefore avoidable); limit the amount of time and the location to minimize allergens; and utilize certified therapy animals.
Many public libraries host therapy dog programs for reluctant readers. Practicing reading aloud to a dog can help alleviate the stress that accompanies reading aloud in school. And I recall at least one parent who brought their child not just to get over this fear of reading aloud, but also to alleviate a fear of dogs.
Nursing homes and assisted living facilities have long recognized the soothing effects of companion animals. And I know of many academic libraries that regularly incorporate therapy dog sessions during finals week.
Therapy dog programs are a much easier sell because the predictability factor is coupled with shared liability with the certifying organization. Service animals—even those in training—know how to behave. Alas, Snoopy didn’t.
Oftentimes, “animal-friendly” translates to friendly all-around, which is something all libraries aspire to be. With lots of science and studies to back you up on the “why” and solid policies to enforce the “how,” perhaps you can develop your own program.
Stephanie Campbell has worked for more than 20 years in public, academic, and special libraries. She is an avid gardener, bicyclist, and kayaker. Click here for more.