Lake County nonprofit encourages students to read with the help of therapy dogs

Latest therapy dog, Toby, retiring, training 4-month-old puppy to take his place

A Lake County man continues to help children read one “tail at a time” with his nonprofit Read to Sydney.

LAKE COUNTY, Fla. – A Lake County man continues to help children read one “tail at a time” with his nonprofit Read to Sydney.

Thom Battisto started the organization, which focuses on letting students interact with a therapy dog while reading a story, more than 10 years ago with his original therapy dog, Sydney.

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Since then, Read to Sydney has expanded and includes a mobile library as well as eight lending library boxes, all sponsored by Kiwanis Club of Clermont.

Read to Sydney visits local schools and libraries. Battisto told News 6 that their pop-up library is completely self-contained and they can set it up indoors or outdoors depending on your needs.

“A lot of children, they’re embarrassed to read out loud. They have dyslexia or some type of reading issue. So reading with a dog, a dog is nonjudgmental. A dog is not going to laugh at them. They don’t realize if they’re saying a word wrong,” Battisto said.

And while Sydney is no longer with us, her legacy lives on with Toby. We first introduced you to Toby back in 2018.

“Toby is a great little therapy dog. He actually started with Sydney, who was our first therapy dog, and has been working with Read to Sydney for 10 years. He’s my personal dog and he just loves the kids,” Battisto said.

Battisto said Toby is hanging up his vest in February but is already busy training his successor, a 4-month-old Pomsky named Sunny.

“So he is with Toby everywhere we go. He goes to the stores with me to socialize and I think he’s going to be a good therapy dog,” Battisto said.

If you’d like to learn more about Read to Sydney or to request a visit, you can do so online here.

About the Author:

Julie Broughton's career in Central Florida has spanned more than 14 years, starting with News 6 as a meteorologist and now anchoring newscasts.