Local orgs help kids grow using animal instincts

Animals are becoming kids’ most popular teachers. Charities pair animals with children to foster relaxation, provide a nonjudgmental peer and teach empathy. Here are three local orgs that harness animals’ good nature to nurture kids.

DOGS CAN R.E.A.D. Children learn faster when they practice reading with a dog, says the Reading Education Assistance Dogs (R.E.A.D.) program in Salt Lake City.

“For many children, an inability to read is not intellectual — it’s fear,” says Kathy Klotz, executive director of Intermountain Therapy Animals in Salt Lake City, which started R.E.A.D. in 1999. “I’ve had kids say, ‘I stutter a little and the dog never makes fun of me.’ “

Paws 4 Healing in L.A. County features R.E.A.D. volunteer-and-dog teams. Santa Clarita sends five teams to the library and community center, says Paws VP David Valantine. If you have a gentle and socialized pooch, contact Paws4healing.org.

SNAKES, DRAGONS AND RATS, OH MY! The Peacock Foundation calls on exotic animals to open conversation with kids in need of support and encouragement.

Started in 2002 by Lisa Peacock of North Hollywood, the foundation operates three to five programs a week, mostly geared to foster and low-income kids and group homes, though anyone can request to participate.

During the six-week lesson plan, each animal has his role: The python generates talk about fear; the rat opens conversation about stereotypes.

Last year, grants from Build a Bear Foundation and Discover a Star Foundation at NBC U helped fund her work, but more is needed. Contact Peacockfoundation.org.

MAN’S BEST FRIEND The Society for Prevention of Cruelty to Animals offers a dog training program to at-risk teens who need to deepen their sense of empathy for others.

For four weeks, the kids train shelter dogs with a trainer. The teens learn tenderness; the dogs become better behaved and more desirable for adoption.

“The kids are doing better in school, they’re not in as many fights and they are more tolerant racially,” says spcaLA president Madeline Bernstein.

A modified course for California’s incarcerated youths is under way and the program is spreading to other states and to England. Info at Spcala.com.

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