Read to Animals

Alannah Swann, 4, and Maya Chase from Sweet Potato Kids Children's Community Center read to kittens during a monthly visit to the Baltimore Humane Society in Reisterstown to practice their reading skills in Read to the Animals program. (Photo by Karen Jackson / April 24, 2014)

When "The Best Nest" by P.D. Eastman was read to two cats at the Baltimore Humane Society on Read to the Animals day April 24, the reader got two different reactions.

"We thought cats might like a book about birds," said Erika Dailey, a preschool teacher at Sweet Potato Kids, a Randallstown-based child care center, who read the book along with TaLeey Warren, 4.

"Baby Cakes was very attentive and came up," Dailey said, looking at one of the cats. "I think we put Poe to sleep."

On Read to the Animals day, select residents of the Baltimore Humane Society, including three rabbits, cats, kittens and dogs, were treated to an hour of story-telling by 10 children from Sweet Potato Kids. The preschoolers, ranging in age from 3 to 5, read from books they had made as well as published books brought from the child care center.

Wendy Goldband, director of marketing and public relations for the Humane Society, which is located in Reisterstown, had wanted to launch a Read to the Animals program for more than a year.

"The idea behind it is it improves reading skills because animals are nonjudgmental for kids," Goldband said. "It is a good way for them to practice."

The animals benefit from the interaction with the students, Goldband said, even though they stay in their cages.

"It is comforting for them to have someone read to them," Goldband said. "The animals may or may not have had experience with children. It is a great source of interaction."

Sweet Potato Kids group was the first to particpate in the shelter's Read to the Animals program.

"Transportation is a major issue for many [groups]," Goldband said. "Timing is a really a problem, too."

That's because after-school programs at many schools — a time when children might take field trips — coincide with feeding time at the shelter when "we're gearing down," Goldband said.

Michele Hall-Davis, founder/CCO of Sweet Potato Kids, said Read to the Animals "is a win-win for everybody."

The April 24 launch of the program came just two days before National Kids & Pets Day on April 26.

Entering the dog kennel, the children were greeted by barks of all kinds echoing in the room. And while it never got completely quiet during the program, many of the dogs settled down when chairs were pulled up and the children whispered their stories to them.

"I think it is great," said Katie Dixon, shelter program director. "We're excited. It's really good for the animals' well being."

Plans are for the Sweet Potato schildren to visit the society once a month. Goldband also is hoping other groups will be able to come and read.

"[The students] were very well behaved," Goldband said. "I hope to do it all year."