Kids Read to Therapy Dogs Through Program That's Gone Virtual During Pandemic

“Dogs are not critical when kids make mistakes. So, I think it helps give them confidence"

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A fun program in the D.C. area gives kids the opportunity to read to therapy dogs. 

The D.C. nonprofit People Animals Love (PAL), switched from in-person to virtual meetings, and sessions are booking up fast. To meet demand, PAL is adding 120 reading slots next week.

Sessions are free and done over Zoom. In Bethesda, 8-year-old Zac Wancjer and his mom Dana told News4 the sessions give them something to look forward to.

“Zac is a huge dog-lover,” his mom began to say. 

“And a huge reading lover!” Zac interjected. 

“So the combination of the two has made it the perfect activity,” Dana Wancjer continued. 

Before the pandemic, PAL visited 30 D.C.-area libraries. The nonprofit coordinates about 500 individually owned dogs, and a few cats, to provide comfort to people in places including hospitals, schools and prisons. 

Now children are practicing reading virtually. Sessions start with introductions involving the entire group. Then each child goes into a virtual breakout room and reads to a therapy dog and their handler. After about 12 minutes, they switch and read to another dog.

“Dogs are not critical when kids make mistakes. So, I think it helps give them confidence, and it’s also a lot of fun,” Dana Wancjer said.

PAL Volunteer Kerri Schepers says the sessions have been rewarding and give parents a much-needed break. 

“They don’t have to be responsible for 30 minutes of a 16-hour day, in this time of COVID. So, I think for them, it gives them a little bit of relief and their child learns something at the same time,” she said.

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