Sitting cross-legged on a blanket on the floor of the Pleasanton Public Library, eight-year-old Chase Karlsson leaned forward to read a book to a pint-size black-but-graying dog named Gandalf II.

A Chihuahua/schipperke mix, Gandalf II is 11 years old and owned by retired Pleasanton police Officer Roy Ficken. Gandalf and Ficken are volunteers with "Paws to Read," a youth-reading program co-sponsored by the Pleasanton Library and the Valley Humane Society.

"This year marks our 10th anniversary," said Pleasanton Library Assistant Reneé Freidus. "We're going to have a celebration, and everyone is invited."

Founded in November 2002, Paws to Read was the first program of its kind in California and has helped more than 7,000 local elementary school children from first to fifth grade to improve their reading skills by reading aloud to dogs in a large, quiet room of the library. The program has inspired many local and national libraries to offer similar programs.

"We offer the program during the fall, winter and spring, as well as for four weeks in the summer," said Freidus.

Youngsters read for 25 minutes, and each week the room accommodates between 18 and 22 handlers together with their dogs. The program partners with local schools, so Pleasanton reading specialists often refer students who may be struggling with reading, though any student is welcome to participate.

Founded by a now-retired library assistant who at the time was volunteering with Valley Humane Society, Paws to Read is the brainchild of Sue Jones who admits she doesn't how or why the program works: "All I know is that there is some type of pinch-yourself, goose-pimpled, hair-on-the-back-of-your-neck magic going on. Something mysterious and enchanting."

So, does the program actually improve reading skills?

According to UC Davis Veterinary Medicine researchers, the answer is "yes." Conducting two studies on third-graders in the Dixon Unified School District, researchers observed a 12 percent improvement in reading fluency in the first study and a 30 percent improvement in the second in comparison to students who did not read to dogs. The success is credited in part to the nonjudgmental attention the dogs offer as the children read.

Parent Jon Dooley has three children involved in the program: Norah, age 9, and twins Kate and Claire, ages 6. Dooley sees the program like this: "The value is getting kids who are just learning to read to enjoy reading, making it fun, while giving them a purpose. The program is a good complement to reading at school and home."

The library invites everyone to attend the 10th anniversary celebration Nov. 10, beginning with a "pooch parade" at 9:30 a.m. at the Veterans Plaza Park at 550 Peters Ave. in Pleasanton. The parade will walk its way over to the library for opening ceremonies at 10 a.m., followed by programs and activities.

For more information, visit the Pleasanton Library website or call 925-931-3400 ext. 8.

Contact Jim Ott at jimott@sbcglobal.net.