It turns out that man's best friend can do more than play fetch and roll over.
The ability to read can determine a great deal about the immediate and long term future of a child's life.
According to a survey by the U.S. Department of Education, the Institute of Education Sciences and the National Center for Education Statistics, both Alamance County and the United States claim 14 percent of adults (16+) who cannot read.
One national program is trying to improve reading skills and confidence through the use of pet therapy. "Paws for Reading" is a national program that allows children to read aloud to a registered therapy pet, usually a dog, in order to improve their reading skills.
The sessions are free and typically last 15 minutes.
The May Memorial Library in Burlington, N.C. has been hosting the program for five years and has had hundreds of children visit with one of its five therapy dogs each week, according to Wendy Burgess, Children's supervisor for the Alamance County Library System.
The five registered therapy dogs are on a monthly rotating schedule.
Children are encouraged to read aloud to the dogs and interact with them if they wish.
One of those dogs is Shaka, a 4-year-old rescue dog that was given a second chance at life after being adopted by Kathleen Johns.
"I knew that the border-collie piece picks up lessons really quickly and wants to please you. But he has the loving nature of the lab. His personality is just this wonderful loving nature and the combination seems to be a really good thing for a therapy do," Johns said.
Johns describes herself as "the human on the other side of the leash" and together with Shaka, the two have been volunteering with "Paws for Reading" for three years.
As a former preschool teacher Johns finds her passion with helping and encouraging kids in their reading.
She said the program is unique in its organic and relaxed approach to reading.
"Being in a situation that's not judgmental and they feel kinda loved, it really makes a difference," Johns said.
According the Johns and the program website, the action of kids reading aloud to dogs also has health benefits including:
- helps children focus better
- improves literacy skills
- provides non-stressful, non-judgmental environment
- increases self-confidence, reduces self-consciousness
- lowers blood pressure
- improves cardiovascular health
- releases endorphins (oxytocin) that have a calming effect
The program is aimed for children ages 5-12 and is offered every Monday and Saturday afternoons during the school year at the May Memorial Library.
Children are encouraged to come often in order to keep up their reading skills. The program is also offered locally at the Graham and Mebane Public Libraries.
To sign up for a reading session, call one of the local libraries:
May Memorial Library: 336-229-3588 ext. 256.
Mebane Public Library: 919-563-6431
Graham Public Library: (336) 570-6730