At the Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA, or PHS/SPCA, we believe strongly in the bond between humans and animals and have seen firsthand the healing power of animals. It’s well known that an animal can help relieve stress and depression, but perhaps not so commonly known is that animals can also improve reading skills.
In 2010, PHS/SPCA launched a reading program for kids 5 years old and up called Paws For Tales. This innovative program assigns therapy dogs and their handlers to 15 public libraries and five schools throughout San Mateo County to help youth improve their reading skills. The premise of the program is quite simple, but extremely effective and heartwarming. The children choose a book and proceed to read out loud to a therapy dog for 10 minutes at a time. Not only does this help the child with reading, it improves public speaking and builds self-esteem. Plus it’s fun.
Our Paws for Tales program currently has 23 teams of dogs and their handlers. All have gone through extensive pet therapy training to determine the dog’s temperament, personality, and patience, and prepare the handlers to do this type of work with their dogs. The dogs also have to undergo a thorough veterinarian exam and stay up to date with all vaccinations. The dogs in our program range from young adults to seniors, small and large and various breeds. Once they receive a pet therapy certification, they are ready to participate in sessions. Therapy animals are different from “service” or “assistance” animals, and are defined as such. Therapy animals are people’s pets that are certified and trained to provide comfort and support to people in the community. Service animals are working dogs trained to perform specific tasks relating to their owner’s disability.
Through our Paws for Tales program, we’ve witnessed kids who were afraid to read out loud completely transform. A dog is a nonjudgmental audience, and being able to read to a dog helps ease fears and provides a calming, safe environment for the child.
The success of our Paws for Tales program led us to expand the program to the dogs available for adoption at our shelter in Burlingame. Two years ago, we started Shelter Tales, an initiative where youth ages 8 to 12 have the opportunity to read to our shelter dogs.
Held on the third Saturday of every month, this program is aimed at boosting humane education, building reading skills, and soothing the shelter dogs. We charge a $10 fee per session and provide the reading books. The child sits outside the dog kennel and reads to the dog through the glass door. Our shelter dogs look forward to Shelter Tales and are often found pressing against the glass door to listen to the child reading a story. What may seem like a simple event is aiding the child by working on reading comprehension. The shelter dogs benefit greatly from Shelter Tales, too. By being exposed to children in a calm and nonthreatening way through Shelter Tales, the shelter dogs see children as friendly, and their chances of being adopted by a family with small children improve.
One of the children involved in our Shelter Tales program said: “I like spending my Saturday morning hanging out with the dogs and reading to them. I feel more relaxed after I’m done reading, and it’s nice to see the smiles on the dogs’ faces. My favorite part is when I’m reading to a new dog that at first is shy and scared, but after a few minutes, he comes up to the door to be closer to me.”
Caroline Knapp, author of Pack of Two: The Intricate Bond Between People and Dogs, wrote in her book: “Dogs possess a quality that’s rare among humans — the ability to make you feel valued just by being you — and it was something of a miracle to me to be on the receiving end of all that acceptance. The dog didn’t care what I looked like, or what I did for a living, or what a train wreck of a life I’d led before I got her, or what we did from day to day. She just wanted to be with me, and that awareness gave me a singular sensation of delight.”
We couldn’t agree more with her. It doesn’t matter how old you are, or your reading level. Dogs love us exactly as we are, and at PHS/SPCA we wholeheartedly reciprocate that love.
For more information about our dog reading programs, visit PHS-SPCA.org. It’s a great way for kids to improve reading skills and humane education.
Buffy Martin Tarbox is the communications manager for the Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA. She lives in San Francisco with her husband and their cat, Vivian.
Shelter Zone features a different shelter and rescue group each month. To contribute, contact Editor@BayWoof.com.
Doggie in the Window
Ace is a curious and loving 2-year old neutered male rat terrier mix. Ace is neutered, microchipped, and fully vaccinated. His ID number is A839741.
Emma is a 1-year-old spayed female white Pit Bull Terrier. She’s a gentle soul who enjoys long walks and cuddle time. As a young dog, she’s also very playful. Emma is spayed, microchipped, and fully vaccinated. Her ID number is A834960.
Jackie is a gorgeous spayed 2-year old female German shepherd mix. She’s a bit shy, so she’ll need a dog-savvy adopter who can help her overcome her shyness. Jackie is spayed, microchipped, and fully vaccinated. Her ID number is A838468.
Margo is a very sweet but shy 5-year-old spayed female Chihuahua mix. She warms up quickly once she gets to know people and always has a smile on her face. Margo is spayed, microchipped, and fully vaccinated. Her ID number is A833536.
Phoebe is an 8-year-old spayed female Chihuahua mix. She’s a lap dog who loves to just hang out and spend time with her humans. She has excellent leash manners. Phoebe is spayed, microchipped, and fully vaccinated. Her ID is A835099.
Main article photo by: Photo courtesy Peninsula Humane Society & SPCA