Kelly, 9, and Michael, 5.

Kelly, 9, and Michael, 5.

By Sally Absher

This week we turn our dyslexia awareness focus to Young-Williams Animal Center, and a new program they will be kicking off next month, “Paws for Reading.”

Officials at Young-Williams are excited about the potential for the program to provide enrichment opportunities for their many animals as well as to provide animal welfare education and outreach to a new, younger audience.

Children in grades 1 through 8 will be invited to improve their literacy skills by reading books to cats and dogs at the Young-Williams location on Bearden Hill.

“The animals are non-judgmental and offer a safe, supportive environment for children to practice their reading skills,” said Jeff Ashin, CEO of Young-Williams Animal Center.  “Plus, it provides our animals with company and for cats and dogs, the rhythmic sounds of a soft voice is very comforting.”

Ashin said Paws for Reading will also be especially beneficial to children with learning disabilities.

In fact, Ashin met with Jules Johnson, founder of Decoding Dyslexia TN, to discuss how the program could assist in their efforts.

“This program will provide a non-threatening environment for kids with dyslexia and other learning disabilities to read aloud, something that these kids often lack confidence in,” Ashin explained.  “We hope to encourage kids with a wide range of learning disorders, including autism and dyslexia, to participate.”

Last Thursday, Johnson, Jennifer Nagel, and Julie Porter brought their children by the center for a trial run. The kids had a blast, and the animals enjoyed some extra attention!!

The Paws for Reading program is still in the planning stages. Because it is a completely new program,

Young-Williams is looking for volunteers to serve on the committee to help define the program. Cats are a natural fit for the program, but small dogs may also be candidates.

They are also looking for donations of books for young readers. Children who wish to participate may bring their own book to read, but the center hopes to develop a small library to encourage kids to try different books.

Ashin said this program will provide a much requested opportunity for younger kids to volunteer at the shelter. Currently, shelter volunteers must be at least 16 years old, which eliminates the opportunity even for kids in 9th and 10th grade to get community service hours.

More information about the program and opportunities to volunteer will be available at Young-Williams’ Furry Fall Festival set for Sunday, Oct. 26 from noon until 3 p.m.  The festival, which is free and open to the public, will include a host of booths and activities for pets and their families to enjoy.