- February 28, 2018
At the end of 2006, Sharon McKelvey saw a picture of a puppy in the newspaper.
A woman who owned a dance studio had been fostering dogs from a kill shelter and had her students working with the dogs for about eight weeks to train them in hopes of finding the animals forever homes. McKelvey decided to visit the small puppy that had caught her attention.
Not long after that initial visit McKelvey had a new puppy named Carly.
McKelvey describes her new dog as energetic but "terrified of everything" and she soon decided to start Carly in agility and obedience classes. The classes began paying off and about seven years later, during an obedience club meeting, McKelvey found inspiration from the guest speaker, the president of the Reading Education Assistance Dogs Paws program.
The program brings in teams of therapy animals and their owners to sit with children as they read to help them learn and enjoy books. McKelvey signed up herself and Carly and before long the pair had found a new activity they both enjoyed.
"She liked getting out and doing things and it was just wonderful," McKelvey said. "She just loved the kids. It makes you feel so good that it's been so meaningful to them."
McKelvey said the program has been beneficial because when the children sit with Carly they don't feel judged or criticized and can instead focus on patting their furry companion and reading their books. McKelvey said it also instills confidence in the children who spend time reading with Carly, but not always in regards to books.
McKelvey once had a little girl who was afraid of dogs that had started reading with Carly. Each time the girl visited, she would sit closer and closer to the dog, eventually being able to pet her and feel comfortable. Last year, that same girl, now a teenager, returned to the library to visit Carly and this time she had news — she was getting her own dog.
"Theres a chance to build confidence when you read to a dog because they listen to and you're allowed to pet them as you read," Lauren Bridges, head of youth services for the Port Orange Regional Library, said. "It's just a chance for kids to get the experience reading out loud in a safe and comfortable and fun way."
Carly is now 13 years old and has had more than one child grow up reading with her since she started listening to children read at the Port Orange library in 2012. Some of those children have had Carly as a reading companion at the library since they were in kindergarten. For many children, the READing Paws program has been a staple as they learn outside the classroom.
"They need encouragement these days to read books," Jessica Hamilton, whose daughter had been reading with Carly, said. "I think having the dog to look forward to is like an award for them."