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Adoptable animals encourage welfare and literacy through unique library program

A group of kids huddled together as they chatted and read with McKenna Watt at the St. Paul Municipal Library on Sept. 7, along with a four-legged friend.

ST. PAUL – A group of kids huddled together as they chatted and read with McKenna Watt at the St. Paul Municipal Library on Sept. 7. At the same time, they were also joined by a four-legged friend – Kodi from the St. Paul Animal Shelter – as their reading buddy. 

The Pawsitive Reading Partners is a project promoting animal welfare, and human-animal bonding, while creating a positive and fun reading environment that encourages literacy for children of all ages, explains Watt, who organized the project for her practicum.  

Watt is currently in her second year of post-secondary education at Lakeland College, studying Animal Health Technology. 

“The human-animal bond is supposed to reduce stress, depression, and anxiety for people. Animals also benefit throughout this, because they get to socialize and interact with people in a positive environment,” says Watt. 

Watt hopes the project will encourage children to want to read.  

“I decided to do this because... I like animals,” she acknowledges, and she enjoys seeing how animals help bring joy to people. 

In addition to her love for animals, she recalls having struggled to read out loud in class when she was a child. “I was pretty self-conscious about that... and I always had animals at home.” 

Animals are great listeners, and they are not judgmental, she says.  

“So, I thought maybe other kids that are in the same position as I was in would benefit from going out and getting to read to animals. It’s a fun and stress-free environment. It’s not judgmental.” 

Watt approached the St. Paul Animal Shelter and the St. Paul Municipal Library, feeling a little nervous that maybe the program would not work out. So, it was a surprise for her when both entities agreed to work with her. 

“Everyone was really excited about it,” says Watt, thanking the organizations for their support. “I’m really grateful that everyone let me use their facilities and dogs for this project.” 

Monique Poulin, program coordinator at the St. Paul Municipal Library is excited to see what the program will accomplish. 

“It’s such a great idea to bring the community together and have kids - and anybody - learn how animals can support us,” says Poulin. 

After receiving clearance, Watt began putting the pieces in motion.  

She looked for books in the library fit for children and set up beanbag chairs. Kids can drop in during specific times, choose the books Watt has set aside, or choose their own book from the library.  

“Then, [they] just read the book to the dog,” she explains. “We also had a couple of younger kids who can’t read yet, and some of the older kids were reading to the younger kids with the dogs,” says Watt. 

So far, those involved in the program, appear to be enjoying it. 

“[Parents] thought it was a really good idea... it encourages their kids to go out and read,” and the kids seem to really like it as well, says Watt. 

And while there is a list of set dates and times coming up that people can take part in the program at the library – and getting to know the animals from the St. Paul Animal Shelter – reading to a pet or animal is something that can also be done at home. 

“If you just want to bring [your pet] into your room, sit down with them... I definitely think that would help kids want to read more and be more confident reading,” says Watt. 

The Pawsitive Reading Partners program officially started on Sept. 5 and will run until the end of the month.  

Other scheduled dates include: 

Sept. 12 and Sept. 14 from 4 to 5 p.m. 

Sept. 16 from 1 to 2 p.m. 

Sept. 19, 20, and 27 from 4 to 5 p.m. 

Sept. 30 from 1 to 2 p.m.