Paws To Read brings together young readers, shelter animals

Paws To Read brings together young readers, shelter animals

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Paws To Read brings together young readers and furry friends in need of a home at the Fayette County Animal Shelter. Last weekend’s event, spun off from a group started at Fayetteville Elementary School, brought out a huge crowd. (Staff Photos by Christopher Dunn)

IMG_7879-6Started by a local school club, a new project is helping the community embrace the amazing animals at the county shelter. Saturday’s Paws To Read event brought a huge crowd of children and their families out to the Fayette County Animal Shelter to read and provide companionship to the dogs and cats of the shelter.
What began as an event for Fayetteville Elementary School’s Animal Lovers Club has branched out into a community event. The project was started by Shannon O’Hara, a first grade teacher at FES, combining her love of teaching, reading, and animals.
“I have been volunteering at the shelter since June of last year. The first time I went to walk the dogs, I took my 11-year-old son with me. We didn’t know what to expect when we walked in the door. Seeing all of the homeless dogs and how excited they were to see us brought tears to my eyes,” remembers O’Hara. “We both fell in love with every dog there and ended up spending a big portion of our summer at the shelter walking and playing with them all.”
When school returned in the fall, she was placed on a school clubs committee, and she had a great idea.
“I had a vision. I wanted to combine my two favorite things, my students and my shelter babies,” says O’Hara. “I presented my ideas to my principal, Tabatha Lawrence, and she loved it. So began the FES Animal Lover’s Club. We have 20 members, and we have been meeting at the shelter once a month since November. My students and parents love it!”
The community quickly caught wind of the group and wanted in.
“When I started my school club, it never crossed my mind that other kids and parents would be interested, but, with the shelter posting the pictures on Facebook, it really opened everything up. I’ve had people that I don’t know, that live in different states, send me messages asking how I started it and what advice I could give them on starting something like it in their community,” says O’Hara. Paws To Read came about as a collaboration between O’Hara and Rani Rathburn, department head for the shelter, on how they could create a group open to the public so more children could enjoy reading to the animals at the shelter.
“With this group I hope to bring a greater awareness in our community to the shelter and the problem in the overpopulation of pets because of not spaying and neutering,” says O’Hara. “I also hope to put a spotlight on all of the wonderful animals there that are in need of a home and family. But, the biggest goal is that while these animals are in the shelter, I want them to feel safe and loved, and the children are a big part of that.”
The children love reading to the animals, and the animals love it too.
“I have seen a great calm in these animals while listening to the soothing voices of these children, and it gives me chills,” says O’Hara. “The dogs and cats actually listen and become more relaxed. You can see the love in their eyes. And, just think, while all of these amazing things are happening, the children are becoming  better readers and learning to love reading even more.”
Rathburn loves that it gives people a chance to see that the shelter can bring smiles.
“One of our main goals is to improve the impression people have of a county animal control shelter,” says Rathburn. “To help the animals and educate people on why we have this (overpopulation) problem and how we can solve it, we really need public support and to open up communication. One of the first steps is to come to the shelter and see the animals and meet the staff and see how well they are being taken care of and create a sense of belonging and stewardship.”
Paws to Read is a huge tool in shining a bright light on the work being done at the shelter.
“Seeing families and so many children eager to come for a positive experience is fantastic and takes us right in the direction we want to be going. We all know how important educating children is to promote change in the world,” says Rathburn. “On a lighter note, it’s just so darn cute to see the animals getting all this attention.”
While the children and O’Hara’s club obviously play a big role in making Paws To Read successful, they’re not the only ones.
“The Fayette County Animal Shelter has the best volunteers,” says O’Hara. “This event couldn’t have taken place without them. We love these dogs as if they were our own, and we want them to feel that love until they get a family of their own to love them like we do.”
For more information on how to get involved with Paws to Read, contact Shannon O’Hara at sskohara1@aol.com. The Fayette County Animal Shelter is located at 1262 Hwy 74 South in Peachtree City.

Christopher Dunn

Managing Editor Christopher Dunn has been with the Fayette County News since 2011, in addition to running Fayette Victory magazine. He is a graduate of Fayette County schools, as well as a graduate of Georgia State University with a degree in journalism. Follow him on twitter @fayettesports.