Isla Gershkoff reading to animals at the Humane Society.

By Sara Battaglia

What better way to motivate children to read than pairing them up with a furry friend to read to? The Humane Society of Tampa Bay (HSTB) offers a free program called Paws for Literacy that provides children who love animals a time to interact with them while at the same time improving their own reading skills. Children ages 5 and up can read to animals in need of homes who also benefit from the companionship and interaction.

Members of the Coleman family recently volunteered with the program. Danielle, the mom, said, “It brought the animals joy, made my kids glad to read in the summertime and gave them something helpful to do with their time.” Jayden, age 10, said, “My favorite part about reading to the animals was that they seemed happier to have someone spending time with them.” And Micah, a rising second grader, said, “My favorite part was spending time with them and making them happy.”

HSTB will provide stools to sit on, books to read and treats for the animals. Books include animal tales, stories of the animal-human bond, and ones that teach empathy to readers. Children are also welcome to bring their own books. They have the option to read to adoptable dogs, cats or rabbits, or all three.

Education manager Jessica Tiso said, “It helps children with reading comprehension, phonics, literacy skills and helps the animals with socialization.” According to Tiso, the number of participants varies, but in the busier summer months they have an average of 45 kids a week.

The program meets year-round every Tuesday and Thursday from 2:45-4 p.m. The staff at HSTB does ask that children preregister on the website at

The Humane Society of Tampa Bay, a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization, provides shelter for homeless and at-risk animals, adoptions, hospital services and TNVR (trap, neuter, vaccinate and return) services for the general public. The community can help the Humane Society through donating, volunteering, fostering, adopting or participating in programs like Paws for Literacy.

For more information, visit

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