Story by Bella Wexler, Photos by Gina Hansen & Allison Wexler
The atmosphere at Pima Animal Care Center (PACC) is warm and welcoming as eager children and parents file into the volunteer room. Long-time volunteer Lynne Stott describes the animal shelter’s mission: “to serve the community and provide care for homeless animals.” Thanks to the PACC Tales Read-to-a-Pet program, people of all ages have the opportunity to uphold that. All they have to do is show up, pick out a book, find a lonely animal (cat or dog), and read. What better way to give back to the community than by showing some love for homeless creatures? According to regular PACC Tales participants and newcomers alike, there is truly no better way.
Gina Hansen, PACC’s Volunteer and Outreach Coordinator, organizes the Read-to-a-Pet program. Gina works to maintain the many extra features that make this shelter so relevant to Pima County. Just as our pets are the hearts of our families, PACC is the heart of our community, tying people together through the universal connection we feel with our animals. Gina knows every regular reader in the PACC Tales program and welcomes newcomers with open arms.
For instance, siblings Emilee Shepard (5th grade) and Koltin Shepard (1st grade) kicked off their first visit by reading to Kora and Keanna. They have three dogs at home, two of which were adopted from PACC. After falling in love with PACC’s mission, the Shepard family became volunteer dog walkers and are thrilled to have the opportunity to read to some canine friends as well, according to mom Crystal. Emilee enjoyed reading to Kora and other pets because, not only did it help her “practice reading and get smarter.” but it also “just makes them (pets) happy.” Like his sister, Koltin loves this program. “We have to be nice to dogs,” says Koltin, “and read to them to make them happier!”
It was Ethan Erickson II’s first time reading to a dog at PACC, although his family has been involved in promoting animal welfare. Ethan’s mom volunteers with Tucson Ruff Runners as a frequent dog walker. Now, Ethan volunteers to help homeless pets as well.
Twelve year-old Reese Tyburec has been a diligent supporter of the Read-to-a-Pet program because she believes it is essential to spread awareness about how to help and empathize with pets. She feels encouraged by the consistently positive reactions from animals. According to her mom, Reese started volunteering last August to fulfill community service hours for school. Their family adopted from PACC. At home, Reese plays music for her own dogs to calm their nerves and make them feel secure. She aspires to be an actress who upholds her value for animal welfare by exercising pet activism.
Another regular reader and volunteer is Lynne Stott’s grandson, Elliot. Elliot has been reading to PACC pets for ten months. He reads to his own dogs because reading helps animals “get used to your voice and socializing.” Lynne noted that the renovation last year improved PACC greatly. The shelter added a state of the art clinic thanks to fundraising from Friends of PACC, staff computers, and lighter and more welcoming kennels. “The biggest difference is not in the building, it’s in the programs,” said Lynne. Programs include: activities for senior dogs, TopDog training to increase “adoptability,” the Humane Education Program which teaches kids about responsible pet ownership, PACC Tales Read-to-a-Pet program, and even clicker training sessions for cats!
Lynne has witnessed the benefits of Read-to-a-Pet first hand. As a volunteer, she has had to coax anxious animals out of their kennels for walks and socialization. Once, she met a dog who was too afraid to leave the kennel. After reading with him just three times, he came out with his tail wagging! Lynne has been instrumental in helping Gina maintain this reading program ever since. Regarding the power of reading to animals she exclaims, “I don’t know how it works but I know it works!” PACC Tales builds mutual trust and confidence; it bridges the gap between two- and four-legged minds.
Read-to-a-Pet is open to anyone when the shelter is open; parents must chaperone children. While this is a popular activity for kids, it also benefits adults learning to speak English or seeking an opportunity to practice with a non-judgmental audience. Gina invites everyone to stop by. Participants receive a prize every fifth visit. There is no better opportunity to feel good while doing good than to sit down with a good book and brighten a homeless animal’s future.
Gina Hansen hopes to establish more programs to benefit youths including: Homework with Cats Club, or Creative Journaling with Cats Club to promote education, writing, and bonding with pets. To find out more information about Pima Animal Care Center’s programs and how to get involved contact the Outreach Coordinator, Gina Hansen: firstname.lastname@example.org