Shelter reading day a hit among students and animals

Students from St. Mary’s School made some furry friends at the Estevan Humane Society, on Wednesday. Students in various grades were bused to the shelter to read to the dogs and cats in residence there.

Agnes Garrioch, a teacher with St. Mary’s school, said she and a number of other teachers at St. Mary’s were inspired, researching buddy programs being carried out by other schools and animal shelters in the U.S.  In light of that, teachers at St. Mary’s arranged to hold a similar event.

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“It helps kids improve their reading skills, and when they read to the animals, they get support, comfort and are able to do it in a non-judgmental and non-evaluative environment,” said Garrioch, who noted that such an environment can be very helpful creating self-confidence in their ability to read. “It also helps the animals they’re reading to get socialized, get used to human presence and prepare for when they are brought to forever-homes. The sound of the human voice is comforting and soothing to animals.”

Students from Grades 2 to 7 gathered in the pens and holding areas for both cats and dogs, reading an assortment of books of their choice to a largely enthusiastic audience. The cats were sitting with rapt attention, and the dogs were delighted, albeit a little hyperactive in a couple of cases, to have the company. Garrioch noted that the experience was a positive one.

“Some of the students were letting Waylon, one of the dogs, go up and lick their hands. Some of the animals were shy at first, but were comforted and started to come forward from the backs of their cages,” said Garrioch. “The kids were able to hold Smokey, one of the cats. Each student had their own book to read. Some of them were even showing the animals pictures from the books — it was really cute to watch.”

Another advantage Garrioch saw in the trip was the interest in adopting and even helping out at the shelter, that a significant number of students showed after reading to the animals.

“I think it’s just great to see them all interacting with the animals. It’s great to see them reading, and to see that connection between children and animals,” said Garrioch. “This is the first time our school has done it, and now there are other schools onboard. It’s definitely an activity that benefits everyone involved. It helps the students be expressive, when reading.”

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