Ann Goplen and her reading assistance dog, Midnight, visit the Spring Valley Public Library to share about how they, as a team, help people.  After Goplen read to the children and Midnight sat and listened, the children were allowed to pet the dog.   GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE
Ann Goplen and her reading assistance dog, Midnight, visit the Spring Valley Public Library to share about how they, as a team, help people. After Goplen read to the children and Midnight sat and listened, the children were allowed to pet the dog. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE
It's two wags past Midnight, and somebody's kid wants to read.

Midnight, a 7-year-old border collie-Maremma mix, is just the dog to help. Midnight, is a warm and loving, unconditional listener to whom children can be close and read to so that they eventually develop enough confidence in their reading skills to stay up late with a book and a flashlight.

Midnight, a companion to Ann Goplen, provides children's reading assistance and is a certified therapy dog enrolled in the Pet Partners Reading Education Assistance Dog (READ) program.

"I met him when he was a couple days old, and he grabbed my heart. I had lost a blue heeler at the beginning of August, before he was born, and I hadn't planned on getting Midnight, but I fell in love with his budding personality, and I'm so glad he chose me," said Goplen.

The Zumbrota veterinarian appeared at the Spring Valley Public Library last Wednesday afternoon wearing a t-shirt that stated "Sit. Stay. Read," and Midnight was clad in his READ bandanna and a yellow Pet Partners vest that showed the children attending the "Paws for Reading" summer reading program presentation that the two are a working team. They go to libraries and schools, where Midnight sits and calmly listens to children reading, as a way to promote literacy in those who might otherwise be afraid to be wrong while reading to other children or an adult.

They also visit the Ronald McDonald House, hospitals, nursing homes and other places where a little love clad in fur makes all the difference, but, Goplen noted, Midnight's favorite thing to do is read.

"He loves being read to," she told the children.

Midnight was born on a farm near Rushford, and Goplen related that she knew he'd be a faithful friend and listener when she enrolled him in "puppy kindergarten" - an absolute must in order to train her to support him in his work - and then in two levels of obedience training. Midnight went on to two American Kennel Club (AKC) Good Citizenship classes, then he became certified as a reading assistance and therapy dog shortly before his third birthday. Goplen chose Pet Partners because of the organization's reputation for dog-handler accountability.

"They have to be a year to test, and most of them aren't mature enough to work - they're still puppies - but he was ready to roll," said Goplen. "I think he's a gentle giant. He has such a deep soul, he's very intuitive toward the people around him and knows how forward he can be with each kid, and to the physical aspect, he knows how much pressure he can lean with. He loves contact, and he's very people-oriented...he's got more watchfulness and has a more contemplative nature than his mom.

"He likes one-on-one attention, knows that when kids focus on him, it's good, and the sound of their voices is soothing to him. In fact, when he started working, I had to change how I walked him, because if we went past the Zumbrota library, he had to go in and read with kids."

If it were up to Midnight, he and Goplen would spend all day in libraries. "Overall, he usually works two to three days a week on average. We work a schedule during the school year of one to two days a week, not all at libraries - every Friday, we visit pediatrics and hospitals - but we go to four different libraries and go to each library quarterly, but he gets bored if he's not working. "

Thank goodness for that, because somewhere, up late and way past bedtime, there's a little one under the blankets with a flashlight and a book.