Closing the book on his career

A beloved regular at the Port library, Diesel the therapy dog is going blind and will retire after years of offering an unconditional ear to young readers

DIESEL THE THERAPY DOG was dressed to impress as he sat next to his owner Michelle Adasiak and Port Library Director Tom Carson as he prepares to celebrate his retirement next week as the Niederkorn Library’s reading companion. Diesel and Adasiak have been coming to the library for the last two years so children can read to the 86-pound German shepherd-husky mix. Photo by Sam Arendt
Ozaukee Press staff

It’s not unusual to walk into the Niederkorn Library in Port Washington and find a large dog snuggling with a youngster who’s reading to him.

Sometimes, the German shepherd-husky mix would be dressed in costumes, anything from a simple boa to a suit and tie. Other times, he would be au naturel with only his collar to accent his black and brown coat.

But the accessory most desired was a youngster with a book.

That is until now. Diesel the therapy dog, who has been a pal to children at the library for the past couple years, is closing the book on his career.

The library is hosting a retirement party for Diesel from 4 to 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 12. Library Director Tom Carson said Diesel has become a beloved member of the staff since his owner, Michelle Adasiak, began bringing him to the library.

Reading to dogs has been a popular service in many libraries for years, Carson said, noting the animals listen intently to children without interrupting.

“It provides an environment for kids who struggle with reading to read,” he said. “You know the power of a dog. They’re so kind and they just lay down and listen.”

And, he noted, promoting literacy and reading — skills that are learned in childhood — is the mission of a library.

“Anything we can do to promote this is a win,” Carson said.

Diesel, he said, “is a great buddy. He’s so kind. You just look at him and he’s very sweet. He’s very calm and very well trained.”

Diesel has always been a calm dog, Adasiak said, making him an ideal reading buddy.

“He’ll lay on the ground and let a baby crawl on him,” she said.

Adasiak said she rescued Diesel and his eight brothers and sisters when he was just 6 weeks old. While most of his siblings were adopted, Adasiak kept Diesel and his sister Kia.

Because Diesel is so gentle, he was trained to do a number of things, most notably to be a therapy dog.

“He was very eager to learn,” she said, noting she and his trainer worked with the dog until he was 2.

Diesel started as a reading dog at the Cudahy library in 2018, and has also worked with autistic children at the Sensory Club in Pewaukee.

Adasiak said she had worked with Jamie Mercer at Cudahy, so when she moved to Mequon two years ago, she called Mercer, now the head of youth services at the Niederkorn Library, to see if he could join the library staff in Port.

It didn’t take long for the youngsters to take a shine to Diesel.

While some children were scared initially, the 86-pound dog proved himself by just being himself.

“He’s one of those dogs, no matter where I take him, people are drawn to him,” Adasiak said. “He’s not a fast-moving dog. He’s just one of those dogs who has those eyes that say, come pet me.”

And, adding to his appeal, she said, she sometimes will bring costumes to the library so youngsters can dress him up.

“That really got the kids comfortable with him,” Adasiak said, noting she has more than 20 costumes, everything from  superheroes like Batman and Superman to the Minions to tutus and boas.

“The girls especially love to dress him up,” she said. “They would like it best when I brought fairy wings, the boas and tutus. And he would sit there as proud as can be, balancing a crown on his head, smiling.”

He’ll be wearing his suit and tie to his retirement party, Adasiak said.

During the pandemic, when people couldn’t get together, Adasiak said she read to Diesel online and the children could participate virtually.

“He’s got his own Facebook page,” she said.

But Diesel prefers visiting the library in person, Adasiak said.

“He gets so excited,” she said. “He knows when it’s time. When I go to the costume bin, he jumps like a puppy. He’ll run around, nudge me, raring to go.”

Not only is Diesel an attraction for children, he’s a magnet for adults, too, she said.

“I had one pregnant lady who would sign up for time with him,” Adasiak said. “She would sit on the floor and pet him.”

For a time before the pandemic, she added, Diesel would visit residents at Village Pointe Commons in Grafton, but that fell through as Covid-19 took hold.

But now it’s time for the 8-year-old dog to retire, Adasiak said. He’s going blind, and right now can’t see past the tip of his nose.

“He’s starting to get startled when people come up to him,” she said, adding that people need to talk to him before approaching the animal so he’s ready. “I don’t think he would bite anyone but I don’t want to take that chance.”

“He’s learning how to play and be a dog now. He never did that before. He always wanted to work.”

He and Kia are fast friends and that’s helping ease the transition, Adasiak said, adding Diesel is adjusting well.

And, she said, she’s got another dog she’s training as a therapy dog.

“She’s a little sassy and stubborn,” Adasiak said. “Training is going a little slow.”

Carson said the library is looking forward to getting another therapy dog, but for now they want to give Diesel the sendoff he deserves.

“We’re going to miss him,” he said. “He’s been a great friend to a lot of the kids who come to the library.”


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