Students’ literacy skills improve thanks to Reading Fur Fun
By Jim McGaw, East Bay Newspapers
EAST BAY – Jacob Unger would read to his three cats if only he could get their attention. “One cat’s a scaredy-cat and another one’s a mean cat and the other one got hurt in a fight with the scaredy-cat,” explains the first-grader at Bristol’s Guiteras Elementary School last week.
But Jacob loves sharing a good book with Bosun, a 9-year-old golden retriever owned by Pam Kirk of Portsmouth. He greets his shaggy friend with a smile and a quick belly rub, then picks out a book, “A Polar Bear Can Swim,” before plopping down on a beanbag chair.
Jacob, however, will have to wait, for Bosun’s in an excitable mood this morning. He’s got his leash in his mouth, his tail is wagging furiously and he moves quickly to greet any visitor who enters the room. Finally, his master cajoles her over to Jacob with a little gentle force and some tried-and-true bribery — a bone-shaped biscuit.
Bosun lies down next to Jacob, who then regales the dog with a litany of facts about polar bears and other animals and insects. “Honey bees can make honey, but a honey bee can’t make milk,” reads Jacob, as Bosun sits up and pants.
Bosun provides Jacob an attentive audience, which is the whole point of the Reading Fur Fun program run by the Potter League of Animals, with help from local volunteers. Modeled after a program that originated in Utah, it was designed to help “reluctant readers” who aren’t always comfortable reading in front of a group of people. At the same time, these children and their classmates learn about respect and safety procedures around animals.