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DOG WHISPERERS

February 22, 2017

By KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
Rutherford County Schools

Three middle schoolers sit cross-legged in front of cages.

One right next to the other.

Three dogs alternate between sitting and standing. Sometimes they tilt their heads. Other times they might walk away for a moment but not for long and their tails never stop waging in anticipation.

Like a trio of pre-teen dog whisperers, Meredith Anderson, Caitlin Seaborn and Anna Kraft are reading to the dogs.

Animal behavior experts have said reading to pets has a calming effect, according to Lindsay Frierson, public relations media specialist with PAWS of Rutherford County. The more each dog learns to engage with people, the better its chance of being adopted.

The middle school book club from Central Magnet has been regularly reading to the dogs at PAWS since returning to school from winter break. Frierson has named the program “PAWS to Read.”

“It’s supposed to teach them how to stay calm so when people come up not to jump and act crazy,” Frierson said.

“The idea is, when kids sit and read with the dogs, it helps them become more adoptable,” added Sarah Rosenberger-Svarda, co-librarian at Central and the book club advisor. “They quiet down, they calm down and they’re more likely to come to the front of the cages when the kids read to them, but it also helps develop empathy with the kids who are making that bond.”

As responsive as the dogs are, It’s just as easy for the kids to feel attached.

Empathy was a life-lesson for Anderson on Tuesday evening.

She had grown fond of a lab and German Sheppard mix on a previous trip to PAWS.

Luna, named after a character from the Harry Potter book series, was all black with a bright white face.

“She was really pretty,” Anderson said. “I was hoping that she would still be here (Tuesday), but she wasn’t here and I was kind of sad. But, at the same time, I’m happy that she got adopted and she got a family.”

The Central students read mostly books about cats and dogs and other animals.

The books are borrowed from the Discovery School library.

“If I’m reading to a dog that’s small, I’ll read a book about a cat because of the irony of it,” Anderson said.

Frierson said she first heard about the idea of reading to dogs several months ago and had been asked about it a time or two.

However, they hadn’t had the resources to implement the idea.

That’s when the Central book club reached out to PAWS.

Rosenberger-Svarda had found a news clip that first aired on NBC Nightly News and then shared by a friend on Twitter. The segment profiled the Shelter Buddies Reading Program in St. Louis, Missouri.

As she and the members of Central’s middle school book club talked about potential community projects, Rosenberger-Svarda suggested the idea of reading to dogs.

They are also combining their own PAWS to Read program with an adoption day on March 18 at Central Magnet School. The PAWS truck will be parked in front of the school from 10 a.m. to noon.

PAWS will be at the school with six or eight dogs. Ingram Books donated 50 new books from their collection, so the book club can send in upwards of five or six books home with every dog adopted at Central.

“We’re excited to have it on campus,” said Rosenberger-Svarda, who has been bringing her elementary-aged daughter Leia along to read as well.

“Glad we got this implemented. We’ve been trying to get this going and they came at the right time,” Frierson said. “I hope that we can get it to where more schools can be involved.”

PHOTOS / KEITH RYAN CARTWRIGHT
Main Photo: Three middle school book club members from Central Magnet – Caitlin Seaborn in the foreground, Meredith Anderson (middle), and Anna Kraft (far left) – spend 45 minutes reading to the shelter dogs at PAWS of Rutherford County and another 15 minutes with them outside.

Photo 2: Anderson said she equally enjoys reading to the dogs at PAWS as much as she enjoys the few minutes they spend together outside before leaving.

Photo 3: Sarah Rosenberger-Svarda brought along her elementary-aged daughter Leia, who is a very charismatic reader when it comes to reading to the dogs at PAWS. Every day Leia also reads to her dogs at home.