PORTLAND, Maine — Learning to read takes discipline, patience, and practice. Sometimes the hardest part of that process is reading out loud to an audience. But when the audience has two wings, or four legs and a wagging tail – well, that’s an entirely different story.
As the Humane Educator at Animal Welfare Society, Brie Roche oversees the Rescue Reader program. She’s a certified teacher and had never heard of this job title until she stumbled upon it. “This is amazing! This marries two of my favorite things which is animals and teaching and they go hand in hand in so many ways because the best way to learn empathy and compassion for most people is using animals. We always say if we’re good to our animals, we’re good to our people.”
Rescue Readers are mostly elementary school kids who have the opportunity to practice their reading without the pressure of reading to other people. The animals are simply all ears. “Reading to a cat and a dog is a lot less intimidating, but you’re still building those comprehension skills and still working on your literacy, but in a way that is a little easier,” says Roche.
The Rescue Readers arrive each week and pick out a book. Brie works with each reader to teach them how to approach the animals, and figure out which animals might enjoy a story. The animals benefit too - -they get a calm, positive interaction with a child while they are at the shelter, and for some animals, that alone is therapeutic.
Safety is the top priority – the kids learn basic animal body language, so they know which animals are open to being approached and read to. Rescue Readers brings together animals waiting for their forever home, and students wanting a chance to practice their reading. What they give to each other – is a little time of quiet companionship. Rescue Readers practice reading each Thursday at the Animal Welfare Society in Kennebunk. If you would like to learn more about the program you can reach the AWS at 985-3244 or visit their website at https://animalwelfaresociety.org/.