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Puppy tales: Shelter dogs make a captive audience for young readers

Reading in front of a group of people can be a frightening experience for just about anyone, but so can being alone and stuck in a kennel.

To help ease each other’s fears, and as part of Nevada Reading Week, more than 70 first-graders from Sewell Elementary School in Henderson and Ronnow Elementary School in Las Vegas read to shelter dogs March 1 at The Animal Foundation, 655 N. Mojave Road.

“We want to encourage kids to read in a no-pressure and safe environment,” said Carolee Rau, executive assistant at Western Governors University Nevada, one of the organizers of the event. “Plus, the dogs love the attention they’re getting, and it exposes them to potential adopters.”

The event was also created with a focus to bolster a child’s self-esteem and public speaking skills.

“The dogs don’t judge us,” said Saige Stewart, 7, a Sewell first-grader. “They were nice and calm. I feel like I want to help them all.”

“Sometimes I feel nervous around people, but the dogs made me feel comfortable,” added Ruben Madrid, 6, a Sewell first-grader who read “My Buddy Slug.”

Children were seen reading enthusiastically and showing the dogs the pictures that accompanied the books.

Caitlin White, 7, also a Sewell first-grader, was one of those students. As she began reading to a dark-haired pit bull, he calmed and decided to lie down next to her.

“I wanted to read to him because he was lonely,” Caitlin said. “I think he likes listening to the stories, and it makes him smarter.”

One teacher said some of her students who are slower learners could become fearful when they need to read in front of the class, but this event helped take them out of their shells.

“I have a few struggling readers in my class, but I saw that many of them were motivated to read today,” said Sara Van Hoose, a first-grade teacher at Sewell. “This event made them try harder and finish their books. I think this will become a very memorable experience for them.”

Students weren’t the only ones to have their nerves calmed by reading in front of their furry audience — the four-legged creatures also seemed to benefit. Many high-energy dogs immediately calmed down after students sat down next to them and started reading their books.

“This is really a nonthreatening environment where kids don’t feel intimated,” said Bryce Clutts, president of DC Building Group, one of the organizers of the event. “Just sitting with the kids and seeing how comfortable they were reading to the dogs and connecting with them was amazing.”

Having human contact not only prepares the dogs for a hopeful adoption, but it gives them the attention they long for as well, Clutts added.

Perhaps the best part is that these dogs also get to hear a “happily ever after” story to revive hope for a forever home.

“I think children are almost on the same level as the dogs,” said Nina Radetich, director of marketing and communication at The Animal Foundation. “I’ve noticed when adults come to help the kids, the dogs will start barking. Kids bring them a sense of calm. They have this special sense of energy that the dogs enjoy.”

To reach North View reporter Sandy Lopez, email slopez@viewnews.com or call 702-383-4686. Find her on Twitter: @JournalismSandy.

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