“We introduced the concept of Animal Assisted Reading back in 2007 in India when we conducted the first reading session with a dog at the Jungle Book children’s library in Pune. The concept being new, it was a big hit,” recalls Minal Kavishwar, founder of Animal Angels Foundation, a registered Pune-based NGO, which began its Mumbai chapter in 2003. In this initiative, kids who have just learnt to read or who find it difficult to read can read out aloud to dogs. Being trained, these canines are believed to be great listeners. The initiative, which is called Tails of Joy, will be once again conducted this weekend at two Crossword outlets across the city.
“The principle behind the concept is that animals are non judgmental. When children are learning to read, they make mistakes and some have actual reading / learning difficulties. If someone laughs at their mistakes or taunts them for not spelling correctly, their self-confidence goes down and it is difficult for them to progress,” adds Kavishwar, who is also a clinical psychologist and a certified animal therapist. “The presence of the dog creates a loving and accepting environment where the child is not bothered of being judged or criticised. The dog patiently listens to stories read out by children and the facilitator helps the child overcome his difficulties,” she adds. The dogs in turn, are trained so they are tolerant of being petted by strangers, are patient and learn to respond to changes in human behaviour, are tolerant of screaming kids and kids crowding around them.
Another Mumbai-based organisation, which has the same name, also takes on the same cause. Radhika Nair, who is one of the founders of this Animal Angels Foundation, says that animals are effective in motivation for therapy. “We work in different schools with special kids. In one such school, when we were having a session, a child would initially sit on a cupboard when he saw the dog. Slowly, he came around and began to pet and play with it. We saw a difference in him,” she recounts.
“The animals act as a catalyst between the therapist and the patient. Adult patients with mental illnesses face plenty of stigmas. Animals give unconditional love so they are able to relate to them better. With animal assisted therapy we have seen amazing results and it has made a visible difference in every patient we have worked with,” she concludes.
Animal Assisted Reading
Animal assisted reading is part of animal assisted therapy, which is very popular in Western countries and is soon catching up in India as well. This therapy uses animals to help children and adults with special needs deal with their problems effectively. It is especially effective in treating kids with learning disabilities.