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'Sad' dog looking for kids to read to him is now all booked up

by Arin Greenwood / / Source: TODAY

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You've heard those stories in which a kid throws a birthday party, and no one comes. Then to make up for it, good people from all over rally to make sure the kid has the best celebration ever.

That's exactly what's happening now for a dog named Sting.

Twice a month, Sting visits a Minnesota library so that young kids can read to him as part of a program called Paws to Read. He's participated for the last two years.

"It's meant to be a fun environment," Ann Wahlstrom, children's librarian at the Ramsey County Library in White Bear Lake, located about 20 miles northeast from Minneapolis, told TODAY. "To give kids a fun, nonthreatening place where they can practice their reading skills to a dog."

Sting's visits usually last about an hour, during which time three kids get 20 minutes each with him.

But that's not what happened during Sting's most recent Paws to Read session last week.

"Unfortunately nobody signed up to read to Sting at the White Bear Lake library tonight," Sting's owner, John Muellner, posted to Facebook on Feb. 7.

He included some photos of Sting looking lonely and forlorn, and urged anyone who might know "a 4 to 8 yr old who would like to read to a dog" to "please contact the White Bear Lake library by phone."

 Sting sat in his usual spot at the library, only no one was there to read to him on that fateful day. John Muellner

It's been an extremely busy few days since. The library's phone has been ringing off the hook with folks from all over the country who are desperate to connect with, and cheer up, Sting.

"People are asking if we could hold the phone to Sting's ear so they could read to him," Wahlstrom said. "The whole staff of a Petco in California called to say they love Sting. It's just amazing, the outpouring."

 Sting with children's librarian Ann Wahlstrom Ann Wahlstrom

Truthfully, Sting doesn't need much cheering up.

The 10-year-old is a former racing dog who retired seven years ago, and now lives life as a pet and certified therapy dog. Until very recently, Sting went about his business, with his usual facial expression, without much public attention.

Muellner describes Sting as "very easygoing."

"Nothing scares him; nothing bothers him," he said. "Not even squirrels."

 John Muellner said the girl in this photo walked up to meet Sting while he and Muellner were out for lunch. "She sat there and pet and hugged him for a full half hour," Muellner said. John Muellner

He and Muellner — who is 56 years old, and works at an electrical engineering firm laying out circuit boards — spend a lot of time together going to dog-friendly activities and eateries in the Twin Cities area. They are part of a therapy program at a local children's hospital. Muellner said the only place he doesn't take Sting, really, is work.

Sting wasn't actually bothered by his empty dance card at the library. There were some kids there who petted him, even if they didn't read, and of course the library staff was plenty attentive.

Sting's facial expression may have given the indication of sadness, but Muellner told TODAY he doesn't read it that way.

"It's his signature look," he said. "It's just his look."

 Sting does have a great smile when he decides to break from what John Muellner describes as his "signature look." John Muellner

In any case, Sting won't find himself alone at the library again for a long time to come.

"He is booked through April," Wahlstrom said.

 Lacey is the other reading dog at Ramsey County Library in White Bear Lake, Minnesota. Ann Wahlstrom

A second therapy dog who visits this library is also close to fully scheduled, and other libraries within the Ramsey County Library network are finding their reading dogs in hot demand.

Wahlstrom said she is just thrilled that the pictures of Sting — sad as they may have seemed — have created a surge of interest in a program she really believes in. She hopes it'll lead to many more dogs being read to by many more kids at other libraries in Minnesota and beyond.

"We love promoting the joy of reading," Wahlstrom said. "The joy of reading to dogs."

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