2016-08-26 / Front Page

Canine commitment

Cape library wedding goes to the dogs
By Wm. Duke Harrington
Staff Writer


Left, Mother-of-the-groom, Barbara Schenkel, stands with Winston, left, and his new bride Maddie, following their “wedding,” Saturday, Aug. 20, held both to celebrate the Read to a Dog program at Thomas Memorial Library in Cape Elizabeth, and to promote the library’s new partnership with the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland. Above, Eve Mockler, 7, of Cape Elizabeth, signs the guest book following the wedding of Winston and Maddie. (Duke Harrington photos) Left, Mother-of-the-groom, Barbara Schenkel, stands with Winston, left, and his new bride Maddie, following their “wedding,” Saturday, Aug. 20, held both to celebrate the Read to a Dog program at Thomas Memorial Library in Cape Elizabeth, and to promote the library’s new partnership with the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland. Above, Eve Mockler, 7, of Cape Elizabeth, signs the guest book following the wedding of Winston and Maddie. (Duke Harrington photos) CAPE ELIZABETH — The dog days of summer are the perfect time to get married . . . especially if you happen to be a dog.

On Saturday, Aug. 20, Rachel Davis, children’s librarian at Thomas Memorial Library in Cape Elizabeth, officiated at what may be the most unusual ceremony of her career – the wedding of Winston and Maddie, two dogs in the library’s Read to a Dog program.

“Do you, Maddie, take Winston, to be your library-wedded husband, through vet visits and skunk baths, though car rides and belly rubs, for the rest of your days?” Davis asked before a hand-made arbor on the library’s front lawn.

Maddie, upon hearing her name, almost appeared to nod, and, so, Davis went on, declaring the pair to be, “hound and pooch,” and telling Winston, “You may now lick the bride.”

The pair then got matching, decorated collars as wedding rings, and put their paw prints to a marriage license.

“This may not be the most unusual thing I’ve seen done at a library, but it’s in the Top 3,” Library Director Kyle Neugebauer said at the reception. “It’s definitely one of the most unusual, but also the most fun.”

The mock wedding was held both to celebrate the library’s longstanding Read to a Dog program, and its new partnership with the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland.


Andy Brooking, 10, gets some touch-up work to his face painting from Aurora Cobb, an employee at Cape Elizabeth's Thomas Memorial Library, Saturday, August 20, prior to a special "dog wedding" planned by Brooking and staged by the library, to celebrate both its longstanding Read-to-a-Dog program and a new partnership with the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland. (Duke Harrington photo) Andy Brooking, 10, gets some touch-up work to his face painting from Aurora Cobb, an employee at Cape Elizabeth's Thomas Memorial Library, Saturday, August 20, prior to a special "dog wedding" planned by Brooking and staged by the library, to celebrate both its longstanding Read-to-a-Dog program and a new partnership with the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland. (Duke Harrington photo) “We thought this would be a good way to help kick that off as well as to get them some exposure for the good work that they do at the same time,” Neugebauer said. “I’m really amazed at all the people who turned out.

“Of course, we’re still all about books, and all about learning, but we like to take a fun twist on things, because libraries are not just a place to store books, they’re also a place to reach out and make connections with other great organizations in the community,” Neugebauer said. “We try to bring people in where they can interact not only with those organizations, but also meet their neighbors.”


Maddie, a 9-year-old black lab, and her owner Sarah Boss-Sullivan, relax during a reception held Sunday outside Cape Elizabeth's Thomas Memorial Library following Maddie's "wedding." (Duke Harrington photo) Maddie, a 9-year-old black lab, and her owner Sarah Boss-Sullivan, relax during a reception held Sunday outside Cape Elizabeth's Thomas Memorial Library following Maddie's "wedding." (Duke Harrington photo) As part of the new partnership, Felicia Mazzone, humane educator at Animal Refuge League, will lead an Animal Advocates Club for students in grades five through eight, every second Tuesday at the library, starting Sept. 13.

At club meetings, Mazzone will teach youngsters how to care for animals – bringing a different one, from cats and dogs, to rabbits and lizards, each week – while also guiding different projects and hands-on activities.


Kaitlin Evans-Bodenrader, left, age 7, and Eloise Hackett, 5, work on masks to wear at a special "dog wedding" staged by the Thomas Memorial Library in Cape Elizabeth. (Duke Harrington photo) Kaitlin Evans-Bodenrader, left, age 7, and Eloise Hackett, 5, work on masks to wear at a special "dog wedding" staged by the Thomas Memorial Library in Cape Elizabeth. (Duke Harrington photo) Based in Westbrook, the Animal Refuge League adopts out more than 4,000 animals each year (about half of them cats), serving 14 towns, including Cape Elizabeth, on an annual budget of about $1.2 million, Mazzone said.

Still, despite the many fundraisers the nonprofit participates in each year in pursuit of its mission, Mazzone said last week’s dog wedding was a first. About 60 people showed up, with parents dropping off “wedding gifts” of dog food for the Westbrook shelter and kids using craft items to make toys for shelter animals, which will eventually go home with them when they are adopted.

“We do all sorts of events, but never a dog wedding, so I’ll check that off my list,” Mazzone said. “I think this is just amazing. I love the idea of having a really fun, engaging event for the kids, but also doing things, like making the toys, which will also be really helpful for us, too. It’s a good mix.”

Both Davis and Neugebauer, as well as Mazzone, credited 10-year-old Andy Brooking as the mastermind of the event.

A participant in the dog-reading program since first grade, Andy came up with the idea after seeing a photo of Winston and Maddie with paws crossed, almost as if they were holding hands. Exceptionally creative, Andy soon began to craft stories of Winston and Maddie’s life together if they could somehow get married.

“I made stories about all the great adventures they would have together, and all the places they would go, like their honeymoon to New York City,” he said, following the wedding, which, he added, “Was so beautiful, I was crying at the end of it. I still tear up every time I think about it.”

“Dramatic would be his middle name, if he could change it,” said Andy’s mother, Jenn Brooking, with a laugh.

Andy, she says, has a penchant for theater. A participant in Stages, Portland’s performing arts academy for children, he’s almost beside himself with excitement to be entering Cape Elizabeth Middle School in the fall because it has a drama program. Part of the original impetus for the dog wedding idea, she admits with a grin, was the idea that the newlyweds would see the sights of New York on their honeymoon, including taking in a Broadway show or two, which Andy would naturally also get to see, as chaperone.

Theater, Brooking said, seems to be a draw for a lot of autistic children, including her son. While bright lights and loud noises might seem naturally off-putting to children with sensory reception issues, theater actually helps autistic children cope and thrive, by taking putting to an advantage their innate abilities, Brooking said.

“Autistic children almost think and talk in terms of a script, so theater is a natural extension of that,” she said.

But the scripts Andy was developing quickly evolved from his own child-like self-interests, he says.

“I then had this idea where Maddie and Winston could get married so we could have an experience for kids of attending their first wedding, and that way they would understand more about what’s going on when they get to go to a real one,” he said.

For Andy, the Read to a Dog program at Thomas Memorial Library has been a boon. Born with autism, he was still nonverbal at age 3. He was also deathly afraid of dogs.

“Whenever I would see one I would always run away. Or, I would try to, but my mom would always catch me,” he said.

The Read to a Dog program began about five years ago, Davis said, based on research showing the presence of a dog can help young readers hone their skills.

“It’s a great way for kids who are maybe reluctant readers or a little shy about reading out loud to practice, because the dogs are completely non-judgmental,” Davis said. “They curl up and sit in their kids laps and get petted while the kids read. It’s also a good incentive to read. We have a lot of kids whose reading skills have really improved because they look forward to reading to the dogs and actually practice at home for the dog.”

For Andy, his mom says reading to a dog soon evolved into “talk-to-a-dog” as, during his weekly visits to the library, Andy would have long conversations with Maddie.

“We thought the exposure to a therapy dog might be helpful for his fears, and he just became really close to Maddie and her family, bringing treats to them on Christmas Eve and things like that,” Brookings said. “I think the program also helped him with social skills. A dog is much less judgmental than a peer, so he was able to feel much more comfortable. As you can see, from being able to talk to the dogs, being nonverbal is not a problem now. He’s very expressive.”

Both Winston, a 7-year-old golden retriever, and Maddie, a 9-year-old black lab – yes, it’s a May-December romance, she’s really robbing the cradle in terms of dog years – have participated in the dog reading program for a little more than three years, about as long as Andy has been attending.

Winston’s owner, Barbara Schenkel, said she was encouraged to put him though the six months of training required to join the Alliance of Therapy Dogs – a necessity for entering public buildings – after taking him to an event at the Animal Welfare Society of West Kennebunk.

“Everybody fell in love with him and said he should be a therapy dog. Well, I’d never even heard of such a thing,” she said. “But I soon found out about the research that shows how dogs relax children who are reluctant readers, and we’ve done it ever since.

“The schools do the majority of the work, but we act as a good supplement,” Schenkel said. “I think this is a great program. The library does great job and, of course, we have a great new facility now.”

Meanwhile, Maddie’s owner, Sarah Boss-Sullivan, says she understands from personal experience why reading to a dog can be so important to a child.

“This program is special to my heart because I have a reading disability – dyslexia,” she said. “One of the things that turned the key for me with my reading as a child was that I had a teacher who let me hold her cat. I still remember it, how holding the cat, just from the love and support an animal gives, and the support of this teacher, just really helped me so much. So, I always wanted to offer than to another child.”

Maddie has a perfect pairing for Andy, Boss-Sullivan said, because she is so calm.

“She’s almost the perfect therapy dog. She has a lot of ‘chill factor’ going on, and she and Andy just developed a really nice connection,” she said.

Once word filtered to Davis about the stories Andy had been developing, fantasy-wedding plans soon turned to reality.

“When I found out from his mother how much Maddie was a part of his life – that he talks about her all the time and how he had been planning this wedding – I thought, well, why not, why can’t we do that?” Davis said.

And that’s how one little boy’s need for a trusted friend turned into a fundraiser for animals in need across the region.

Meanwhile, during the planning phase for the wedding, Andy got a surprise from his dad – a trip to see “The Lion King” on Broadway, which had been central to his “honeymoon extravaganza.”

Now, Andy says, he’s hatched a new plan. As part of their post-nuptial life, Winston and Maddie should still take a trip, he said.

“I think they should go to Disneyland,” he said, leaving unspoken the obvious need for a young tour guide.

“What can I say, he’s a great kid,” his mother said. “When he gets an idea he really runs with it.”

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