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Watauga Humane Society’s Reading for Paws program has completed its fourth summer of operation. The program focused on children reading to cats and kittens as well as socializing them. Each child had an opportunity to spend up to 30 minutes with one or more cats or kittens per day, Tuesday through Thursday, at the WHS Adoption Center; during this time, the children read from books that they had selected. In most instances, once the animals were accustomed to the sound of the children’s voices, the animals climbed onto the children’s laps and purred quite contentedly as the children’s stories unfolded.

During the span of six weeks, 49 children read from 156 books and devoted a total of 81 and a half hours reading to the shelter’s cats. Readers ranged in age from 7-10 and read from books appropriate for their age level. Each child who completed five visits to the adoption center received a certificate of recognition and a Reading for Paws t-shirt at the pizza party held at the conclusion of the program. Special recognition went to the reader and adult mentor with the most visits. In this case, Leah Harmon and her mother Alice had 20 visits, and Leah read a total of seven books.

The Reading for Paws program is intended for children in grades 2-8; its purpose is to promote children’s reading skills and interests while also providing a means for socializing some of the 130 cats and/or kittens that the adoption center typically houses. The program is based on research carried out at Tufts University in Massachusetts which found that pets can be considered a form of human support and that human/animal interactions make the learning process more comfortable and enjoyable for children; the research also showed that children with special needs demonstrate increased use of language and have improved social interactions when with animals. Additionally, animals can offer a non-evaluative presence that provides support and comfort to individuals without judging them.

Watauga Humane Society Board of Directors Vice President Charles Duke, said, “Reading for Paws has been one of our most successful educational outreach programs and complements nicely our in-the-classroom visits with animals that we make available during the year to all of the elementary schools in Watauga County. We look forward to offering Reading for Paws again next summer.”

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