By DON FLETCHER
News Staff Writer
It was apparent to the hundred or so youngsters and adults who attended the June 8 installment of Atmore Public Library’s summer reading program that the local book repository had gone to the dogs. And each one loved the fact that it had.
As promised on her website, Michelle Harrell and Michelle’s Magic Poodles —— her cadre of curly-haired canines — provided a “dog-gone good time” for SRP participants and their chaperones.
Children who usually clamor for books or videos, ignored those items until after the last performing poodle had been petted and put in its carrier for the trip home.
The youngsters laughed, clapped and had a hard time remaining still during the 25-minute show as the Gulf Breeze woman and her charges — Emilio, Apollo, Tallulah Jane, Blondie, Pirouette and Sevyn, who was making his Atmore debut — performed comedy routines, acrobatics and other feats.
The popular troupe of poodles jumped through hoops, danced, found hidden items, rolled a cylinder and pushed one another in a toddler-size pedal car, much to the delight of their audience.
Among the throng of tykes enjoying the presentation was Harmony Wagonblast, who is in the early stages of an extended summer visit with her father and grandparents.
The youngster, whose permanent home is in Iowa, moved in several times for a closer look at the animals as they worked and had to be gently persuaded back several times by Harrell and APL Director Hope Lassiter. She also tried to take a test drive in the car the dogs used in the act.
“She’s really having a good time,” said Rae Oglesby, the child’s grandmother. “She doesn’t usually get to do a lot of things like this, so she is really having fun.”
The poodle performance became an interactive experience when Harrell invited several young audience members to participate in various tricks and stunts, drawing an even more vocal response from spectators.
“See, each one of you became an animal trainer for a day,” she told those who took part.
Harrell, who calls herself “Poodle Mama,” used the entertaining event as a tool for teaching animal awareness, the responsibilities of dog ownership and safety around dogs. And, although the show was put on in a positive light, the children and adults also got a reminder that not all dogs are good dogs.
Sandra Lambert of Nokomis quietly told the story of an incident that took place in 2013, when she was surrounded by a small pack of pit bulls with bad intentions.
“I thought my life might end that day,” Lambert said. “When they called me, I wasn’t sure if I could tell the story the right way for the children, so I wasn’t sure I wanted to come. I finally was able to deal with it and tell the story without scaring them.”
Lassiter agreed that the poodle performance ranked near the top in popularity among the special Friday morning programs that highlight the summer reading program.
“All our programs are good, but this one is always a good draw,” smiled Lassiter at the conclusion of the show. “Everybody loves poodles.”
The special presentations will continue this Friday, June 15, at 10 a.m., with the Wild West Rope Show, and the final summer spectacle for this year will be on June 22, also at 10 a.m., when the Portable Petting Zoo comes to the local library. An awards program will be held on June 29.