By Courtney Clark

The Jacksonville Humane Society is a temporary home to many canines and felines whose lives are enriched by the caring staff and volunteers before they go to their forever homes. And the animals aren’t the only ones benefiting from the shelter.

Kids aged eight to 13 are invited to participate in Pawsitive Reading, an after school program where students read to the shelter animals every Wednesday. The program is designed to be mutually beneficial for the youth and for the animals. Students will be able to practice reading out loud in a pressure-free environment (and where the audience won’t judge) to build their confidence. The animals, through this human interaction, can also experience improved confidence and comfort. Reading can also calm the animals, which helps them “show” better when potential forever families are searching for a new pet.

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Lindsay Layendecker, the development manager at the humane society, has been involved with the shelter since September of 2015. She says the Jacksonville Humane Society wanted to start the program when they heard about it from another shelter.

“We’re really big on animal enrichment here,” she said.

Anything that benefits the animals and makes them feel more comfortable so they have a better stay at the shelter is prioritized and supported.

Previously, Layendecker was an English and language arts teacher so she recognizes the significant impact the program can have on youth as well as the animals. Kids are less intimidating to the animals than larger adults, and animals tend to come to the front of the kennels when they feel more comfortable.

Homeschooled children are also good candidates as the program provides an opportunity for them to socialize and get out of the house.

When kids arrive to read, their various books from home in hand, Layendecker is sure to give a quick and effective safety lesson.

If the kids like their fingers, she explains to them, don’t put them in the cages: “Sometimes the dogs and cats get confused and they think, ‘Oh it’s a cookie’ and they’re gonna chomp on it.”

From here, the children can decide if they want to read to dogs or cats. Each room has a fun label: Cat Cabana, Kittyburg and Big Tabby Island house the cats, whereas Puppy Vedra Beach is where the kids will find small dogs. Outdoors, the bigger dogs line a hallway and can be heard throughout the shelter as if asking for someone to read to them, too.

When young readers see the kittens staring wide-eyed through their cage, causing the readers to light up with excitement, it’s easy to tell Pawsitive Reading is fun for both parties.

Layendecker said the program has been running since the 2013 – 2014 school year from October to May. To sign up or to donate, visit

Photo by Courtney Clark

A young reader gains confidence while kittens are soothed as part of the Jacksonville Humane Society’s Pawsitive Reading program.

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