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Learning to Read February 01, 2008 5:52 PM

January 24, 2008 NATION – When it comes to learning to read, experts say practice makes perfect. But what if you're a shy six-year-old or an anxious second grader? For kids like that, reading to an animal may be a better option. Groups dedicated to pairing animals with kids are springing up across the nation. Usually, horses and dogs are chosen to listen quietly as literary youth fumble through books like “Sam I Am” and “The Giving Tree.” So why are animals good listeners? Teachers and animal experts agree – animals don't judge, they don't interrupt to correct mispronounced words, they just listen. For a learning child, freedom to miss a word now and then and feel ok about it can increase confidence. Prior to becoming teachers, the helpful hounds and horses undergo screening similar to that of therapy animals - to ensure their temperaments are right for the job. One Baltimore group called Karma Dogs only uses rescued canines in their organization. The Black Stallion Literacy Project serves Miami-Dade schools, but with horses instead of dogs. Its founder said he once witnessed a horse nudge a small Haitian girl who spoke little English and seemed nervous about reading. But she thought the horse was telling her to begin, and just like that she started reading. As far as getting certified goes, it's a fairly simple process of testing the animal around mildly chaotic situations. Some dogs do need additional training. You may need to pay a nominal fee for that service. Tell us what you think under this story. Post your favorite pet videos at the zootooTV tab. E-mail us your story ideas at or call us at 877-777-4204.  [ send green star]  [ accepted]
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