BARKS: Encouraging young readers

Published 10:13 pm Wednesday, December 5, 2012

One of my favorite Christmas memories dates back a couple years to when my niece was only 4 years old. I hadn’t seen her in more than a year, but when I returned home for Christmas break, the first thing she did was shove a book in my hands.

I spent most of the break reading her all of her favorite children’s books. It was like a hike through memory lane for me. Most of her books had been my books at one point. When I was young I, too, had lost myself in the rich worlds of the Cat in the Hat, Where the Wild Things Are and Curious George.

Now that she’s 9 years old, my niece has much better things to do than read books with me, or so she tells me whenever I offer. Even though she still reads some of my old books, she now goes on her own adventures. I still look fondly back on those days of introducing her to some of my favorite characters, and I’m grateful I could share a few great books with her.

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Some children aren’t so lucky. Their parents can’t afford books or don’t take the time to read to their children. This means many kids don’t have the reading skills they will need in the future. And some kids just aren’t interested in reading.

That’s where the BARKS program comes in. The program pairs children with certified therapy dogs. Children are able to read to a non-judgmental dog to help cultivate reading skills and self-esteem. Children who are hesitant to read out loud will often have no problem doing so around a dog.

The next session will held from 6:30 to 8 p.m. on Dec. 20 at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, 213 N. Main St.

Run by the Suffolk Humane Society, the BARKS program is just one of the many worthwhile programs the group brings to Suffolk. But as an avid reader myself, I think it’s an important one that doesn’t get nearly enough attention.

I encourage parents to take part in this program. You never know what worlds these dogs will help your child discover.

If you don’t have children, perhaps you would consider donating new or used books to the program. This is the perfect time of year to give back to an organization that has been giving back so much to the city and its residents — both human and furry.

For more information, contact Michele Thames, Humane Education Director at 538-3030 or through email at