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Graduate student helps launch unique reading program at local animal shelter

Contributed • Feb 2, 2018 at 10:25 PM

Schools have reading programs. Bookstores have reading programs. And here in Johnson City, even the local animal shelter has one.

It is called the Friends of Lazarus Reading Program and was started by a graduate student at East Tennessee State University. It meets on Tuesday mornings at the Washington County/Johnson City Animal Shelter.

The readers are local homeschooled children, and listening to the stories are the cuddly, furry four-legged animals that call the shelter home.

“This program benefits both the animals and the kids,” said ETSU student Lindsey Swank, program organizer. “These animals do not get a lot of attention, and it is important that they socialize.

“Reading to them really helps with that, and it allows the shelter staff see how well each animal interacts with children.

“Of course, it also encourages the kids to read too,” she added.

Swank is pursuing a master’s degree in special education at ETSU and began organizing the program last year. The group met for the first time in December.

“Animals are used in a lot of therapeutic settings, and I’m very interested in learning about more ways animals and children can work together to benefit each other,” Swank said.

More elementary homeschooled children are welcome to participate, and Swank hopes to recruit older kids to serve as peer mentors and help the younger kids build reading skills.

The Friends of Lazarus Reading Program is named after a cat, Lazarus, which was born with a cleft palate and does not have a nose or upper lip. The cat belongs to an ETSU faculty member and was the focus of a two-page spread in Modern Cat magazine after garnering over 82,000 votes in a month-long contest.

“I am thankful to live in such a great community where the shelter and other organizations, in this case, ETSU are working together to benefit each other,” said Cara Ledbetter, director of the Washington County/Johnson City Animal Shelter.

“The Friends of Lazarus reading program is good for the students that are increasing confidence in their reading abilities and helping to socialize shelter animals at the same time. It’s a win-win, and I’m thankful that we were asked to participate.”

For more information about the program, send an email to [email protected]

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