I Read to Animals – Best Friends Animal Society

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I Read To Dogs

I Read To Dogs

Written by Amy Abern
Photos by Christin Steinbruch, Bev Thompson and Patti Shea

Reading to dogs. And cats. And rabbits. Sure, that’s normal, if you happened to fall down the rabbit hole with Alice, right?

Actually, it’s not so odd. The Best Friends Humane Education department launched the “I Read to Animals” program, an educational initiative created for children to read to dogs, rabbits, cats … even desert tortoises. Since its inception a few months ago, Best Friends has presented “I Read to Animals” in Nevada, Arizona, Utah and most recently, New York.

Humane Ed Program specialist Kim Dalton, Best Friends’ education ambassador Bev Thompson and Best Friends’ volunteer Audrey Hendler offered two “I Read to Animals” programs to many eager, dog-loving children at the Children’s Museum of Manhattan. The youngsters sat down, one at a time, to read to three large mastiffs from the Sean Casey Animal Rescue and three smaller dogs from the Good Dog Foundation. Occasionally, they’d stop to make sure the dogs understood the plot line. Actually, it was just an excuse to spend a little time petting the dogs, rubbing their bellies and soliciting friendly licks on the hand.

Rita London, director of programs of the Children’s Museum of Manhattan comments, “The event was very sweet. I was impressed that, for the most part, the children weren’t afraid of the dogs and picked up books to read to them as if that was a normal activity.”

Thompson agrees. “They really felt they were getting through to the dogs,” says Thompson. “A couple of kids were disappointed because they didn’t have time to finish the stories they were reading, but other than that, the programs seemed to be a big hit with the kids and the dogs.”

The presentation was also a big hit with the parents. Dalton spent some time talking with the moms and dads to find out why they brought their children to this program. It was no surprise to learn that many of them came simply because the family loved dogs, but that wasn’t the only reason.

Reading is fun.
Reading is fun.

One father brought both his children to the event because they love dogs but are allergic, so they can’t have any dogs living with them. He said at least “I Read to Animals” allowed them the opportunity to be with dogs for a brief time.

Another family from Holland brought their son to see the dogs, certainly, but also to help him with reading in English. During his time with the dog, the child experienced difficulty in reading, but never quit, probably because he knew he’d have to give up his time petting the dog.

Dalton said one of the younger participants created his own picture booklet “I Love Dogs and Cats.”

“As an elementary educator for 16 years, it was heartwarming to see the impact of the ‘I Read to Animals’ program for this particular child,” says Dalton. “He wrote it with colorful crayons in his enthusiastic child-like handwriting. It was such a joyful experience because the father was so touched by his son’s accomplishments. I’m hoping the dad will e-mail a copy of the book to me.”

While there are several “read to animals” programs around the country, Best Friends adds an educational element to its version with one of several PowerPoint presentations focusing on a variety of animal welfare issues. Each one ties into Best Friends’ overall goal of living in a time when there are No More Homeless Pets. Dalton says the presentation combined with the activities make a perfect fit to teach kindness and compassion toward animals while, at the same time, gives the children a chance to practice those lessons with real live animals and trained pet teams on site.

“‘I Read to Animals’ not only encourages compassion and kindness toward animals in a safe and supportive environment, but also builds a respect for animals,” says Dalton. “In addition, the program encourages language and reading skills and helps increase children’s self esteem and confidence. Children have the opportunity to read to animals in a relaxed, nonjudgmental, encouraging environment.”

Each presentation is a little different, depending on the audience. For instance, the one used in New York centered on animal adoption. As New York is a large metropolitan city with several animal shelters, it made sense to bring home the message to adopt, not buy.

One of the upcoming planned “I Read to Animals” will be presented to children living on the Navajo and Hopi Indian reservations. Their life experiences couldn’t be any more different from those of children living on the upper west side of New York City. But the fundamental idea that we can create a better world through kindness to animals can be taught in a variety of ways; and that lesson lives at the core of every “I Read to Animals” presentation.

“We are committed to encouraging children across the nation and across cultures to join us in our goal of living in a time when there are No More Homeless Pets,” says Dalton. “With programs like ‘I Read to Animals,’ we are shaping the mindsets of these wonderful young people to think of animals with compassion and kindness. And that’s a great place to start.”

There's something for me, too.
There’s something for me, too.

The concept and curriculum of “I Read to Animals” were developed through the Best Friends Humane Education department. The program not only serves as a learning tool for children, but it also gives our loyal Best Friends’ members an opportunity to do what we keep hearing they want to do: become more involved with Best Friends.

Think about it: If a classroom teacher, librarian or volunteer in Pennsylvania wants to host an “I Read to Animals” event, we need a Best Friends’ education ambassador in Pennsylvania to take on the program. So far, several people from all over the country have signed up for the opportunity to participate. All it takes is a little training through a webinar and $42 to cover the cost of a background check.

To sign up as a Best Friends’ education ambassador to bring “I Read to the Animals” to your area, click here, e-mail kimd@bestfriends.org or phone 435-644-2001 Ext. 4632.

As part of Best Friends’ 25th anniversary in 2009, our goal is to double our membership, so we can double our efforts to bring about a time when all companion animals have a forever home. What can you do to help? Give the Gift of a Best Friends membership to family and friends.

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