Pets assist in reading program |

Pets assist in reading program

Provided to the TribuneGolide, left, Rhianna's Reading Buddy, helps make practice fun.

It’s scientifically proven that pets provide healthy physical and mental benefits for people, such as lowering blood pressure and lifting depression. Meanwhile, evidence has been growing that academic performance can be enhanced in the presence of a pet as well. When a child reads to a dog, shyness evaporates and focus intensifies.

In partnership with the Boys and Girls Club, the Lake Tahoe Humane Society and SPCA recently introduced a Reading Buddy pilot program. Selected students read to a dog with the handler acting as a tutor. Reading becomes fun.

Reading Education Assistance Dogs have been appearing in libraries and school districts throughout North America since 1999. READ was introduced by Utah-based Intermountain Therapy Animals and works on the concept that children may find themselves more comfortable reading aloud to a dog than to an adult or peer.

Because a dog doesn’t criticize or correct, the young reader feels more confident. It has been reported that some students begin reading at home to their own pets – fish, bird, cat or dog. Another benefit of the one-on-one session is that if the child has had a rough day at school, it helps him or her to calm down and gives the child a chance to show gentleness with their Reading Buddy dog.

Each student is given a private session of about 15 minutes. The child chooses what book to read on their reading level. The dog listens attentively or passively. The reader is encouraged to interact with the Reading Buddy dog, calling the pet’s name to show an illustration or make a comment. In the role of a tutor, the handler helps with words and their meanings and offers support. It’s a stress-free reading environment. The dog is nonjudgmental and makes no comments other than to respond with perked ears and wagging tail.

For 40 years, the Lake Tahoe Humane Society and SPCA has been providing pet care and safety and humane education in schools. For 15 years, people-pet teams from the Lake Tahoe Humane Society and SPCA have been visiting seniors, including residents of the Barton Skilled Nursing Facility. As support to launch the Reading Buddy program, staff and several of the existing visitation team volunteers have education credentials or child-development experience.

Reading Buddy dogs must pass a temperament and training evaluation and be at least 18 months of age. They must have current vaccination records, be spayed or neutered, and must be licensed in their resident county. Dogs must be well-groomed and healthy. Handlers must pass a background check and have experience with children.

The reading sessions are free to the hosting organization, and there is no cost for the individual child. Designated monetary donations are welcome to provide the selected books which will be used in the program, autographed by the Reading Buddy dogs, then given as rewards to participants.

For more information, contact Liz Maul, Lake Tahoe Humane Society and SPCA outreach and education manager, at (530) 542-2857. Donations may be sent to Lake Tahoe Humane Society, P.O. Box PET, South Lake Tahoe, CA 96158.

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