Humane Society reading program goes to the dogs
Goldie, a floppy-eared, sad-eyed Saint Bernard mix, sniffs the back of Mary Shumaker’s hand and lays down on a mat.
Mary, a student at the Lake Tahoe Environmental Science Magnet school, picks out the book “Buddy Unchained.”
In the next moment, she begins reading out loud, but her audience – Goldie – has stopped paying attention. The pooch seems to be more interested in the camera near its wet nose.
But Mary perseveres, and Goldie lights up, especially when the docile dog is shown pictures from the story.
“Look, Goldie, look,” Mary says, turning the book for the animal to see.
Goldie and Mary, 8, participated in the Reading Buddy program last week at the Boys and Girls Club of South Lake Tahoe. The Lake Tahoe Humane Society established the program to help children improve their reading skills.
Most children who read at a lower level are intimidated by their peers, explained Liz Maul, Humane Society outreach and education manager. Kids aren’t as nervous reading to a dog as they can be with another person, because dogs won’t criticize them.
Goldie’s owner, Dawn Armstrong, acted as Mary’s tutor last week, helping the child as they read to the dog.
Four children participate in the program at the Boys and Girls Club. Each child reads to Goldie for 15 minutes once every Thursday. The program started Jan. 17, Maul said.
So far, Goldie is the only dog in the program, but that’s about to change. Three more dogs will join the ranks this week, Maul said.
Mary said she likes reading to Goldie.
“Goldie gives me a lot of memories of dogs in my family,” she said.
Mary doesn’t have a dog at the moment, but she said she loves her cat Sharpie.
In the story Mary read last week, the main character, Buddy the dog, narrates the tale. Goldie’s life is similar to Buddy’s. Goldie – categorized as a rescue dog by Armstrong – spent two years of her life chained in a yard, and, like Buddy, was rescued and taken into a shelter.
The program not only helps children strengthen reading abilities, but it also teaches them how to be kind to animals, Maul said.
All the books children read in the program emphasize the humane treatment of animals. Maul doesn’t include unrealistic stories about animals in the program. Stories in which animals converse with each other, for instance, aren’t options, because she wants students to learn facts about animals.
Maul said the program will encourage teachers to rely on Reading Buddy to help students with specific reading challenges. If students must improve reading comprehension or vocabulary, the program can focus on those areas.
Maul explains the concept this way: “We’ll ask (the student), ‘Can you tell Goldie what happened (in the story)?’ Or ask them to explain what a word means because Goldie doesn’t know.”
To participate in the program, dogs must be spayed or neutered, vaccinated, undergo an animal-behavior evaluation and be older than 18 months, Maul said.
Dog handlers must pass a background check and have experience with children. The handlers assist children while reading to the dogs.