By Emma Bowen Meyer
For The Herald Bulletin
DALEVILLE, Ind. —
Sebastian may not speak English, but he still enjoys a good story.
Sitting on the carpet of the Daleville Community Library beside William Hensley, 7, the Shetland sheepdog listens to the tale of a big red dog named Clifford.
“He’s a special dog,” said William, a second-grader at Daleville Elementary School. “I picked ‘Clifford’s First Valentine’s Day’ because it’s about a dog.”
Once a month, Sebastian and his owner, Steve Overmyer, sit on the colorful rug while children read to them. Knowing he has a particularly gentle dog, Overmyer has offered this opportunity for the last four years.
“We heard about other libraries doing this,” he said. “Some children are reluctant to read to an adult or teacher but are more relaxed around a dog. It’s been very successful.”
Children are welcome to choose any picture book they like — even an assigned reading from school.
“Kylee brought an Arrow book from school,” said Candy Hensley of her daughter. “We get to do part of our homework here.”
“Our children love to read to the dog,” said Jessica Clidence, assistant librarian. “Sebastian is so wonderful to sit there and pay attention to what they are reading. It helps to build confidence.”
Not only does Sebastian touch the hearts of children as he interacts with them, he also inspires them through his challenges. Since he had one leg surgically removed after a car accident, he noticeably has to overcome difficulty daily.
“One little boy came in with his mom and they sat on the floor together while he read,” said Overmyer. “When he got back up, all of a sudden he realized Sebastian only had three legs. He turned to his mother and said that he wanted to bring his sister to meet him. She was in a wheelchair.”
Overmyer acquired Sebastian through his affiliation with Sheltie Rescue of Central Indiana. He learned the dog was scheduled to be put to sleep. When asked why he agreed to accept an 18-month-old dog with only three legs, his answer was simple.
“Sometimes the dog chooses the person,” he said. “It’s a two-way street.”
After the last page of the book has been turned, the child gives Sebastian a treat. The 12-year-old dog knows the routine and gets excited when the book is closed. Treats cement the friendship between the children and the dog and watching the relationship grow gives Overmyer joy.
“Sebastian has never been a stranger — he’s a friendly little guy,” he said. “I’ve heard nothing negative about this. Parents will sit near and enjoy watching their child interact with the dog.”