A chapter has ended for Sketti, the therapy dog who for five years listened to scores of children read countless stories at the Texarkana Public Library.
Because of health problems, Sketti no longer will participate in the library's Pages with Poochie program, which makes a specially trained dog available to be a patient, welcoming audience for young readers. Librarians are searching for Sketti's successor.
Cataract surgery last year and a struggle with diabetes have sidelined Sketti, who will be 13 years old on July 4.
"We can't seem to get her diabetes under control right now, so she's just not up to it," Sketti's owner Gayle Cates said, adding that when she feels better, Sketti may still occasionally visit the library.
A stray who appeared at Cates' home unexpectedly, Sketti right away seemed well-suited for a lot of close contact with people, especially children.
"She was just a puppy, very happy, very active, and just had a natural talent for the therapy dog work. My mother was a retired school teacher, and she said, 'That dog needs to work with children reading.'
"It was obvious when she got around children that that's where she wanted to be. She would work the crowd just like a politician, just walk around and make everybody feel happy and good," Cates said.
Children were comfortable with Sketti because she was so affectionate with them, Cates said, recalling the encounter that convinced her Pages with Poochie was really worthwhile.
"The one that got me was a little boy maybe about eight. He came into our little area at the kids' place and he threw his book bag down on a desk, sat down, and he was just crying, crying, crying.
"So we walked over there, and I told him that Sketti was a therapy dog and she liked for people to read to her, and of course that took him by surprise. He was interested, but he was still crying. And he came over and sat down, and Sketti got in my lap so she could look at the book with him.
"A tear rolled down his cheek, and she licked that tear and nuzzled him. And I was hooked. He started laughing, and everything was fine. He was so happy when he left," Cates said.
Programs such as Pages with Poochie give children a positive association with reading, encouraging them to practice their skills, according to Therapy Dogs International.
A dog such as Sketti provides children "a non-judgmental listener and furry friend to read to that won't laugh at them if they make a mistake or stumble over a word, but rather lie next to them and enjoy the story," the group's website states.
TDI certification is one requirement for the dog or dogs who will take over for Sketti, library Director Jennifer Strayhorn said. The staff at PetSmart on Richmond Ranch Road provide therapy dog training.
Pages with Poochie dogs must also have records of up-to-date immunizations, and their owners must provide photo identification. For more information, call the library at 903-794-2149.
However well-trained the library's next dog is, it may be difficult to find any who likes the work as much as Sketti did.
"Sketti loved the job that she had, and she would prance in the library like she owned the place. Everybody knew her name, and she looked forward to going to work," Cates said.
"She did have a good following. We'll miss them. We thoroughly enjoyed it."
On Twitter: @RealKarlRichter