Nursing home, students, animals thrive together

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Furry friends and people young and old are benefiting from their interactions thanks to two Cape Girardeau programs.

Students from Prodigy Leadership Academy travel weekly to the Humane Society of Southeast Missouri to read to the dogs and cats waiting for adoption.

The weekly visits, rotating between two groups of students, began toward the end of last school year. Prodigy teacher Jessica Pederson was tipped off to the idea when a parent sent her a link to an article on the subject, and she approached the Humane Society. Charlotte Craig, board president of the Humane Society of Southeast Missouri, was skeptical at first because she thought there wasn't enough space, but "it's caught on like wildfire," she told the Southeast Missourian.

"I like taking care of the dogs and that they usually don't get to do this stuff very often, and then my teacher started it and I kind of liked it," Channing Pattengill, a fourth-grader, said. "They like to listen to us. If we get in here first and we start reading they'll be barking real loud, and then when we keep on reading they'll get quiet like right now."

Craig pointed out that there are emotional and physical health benefits provided by the animals. And while the objective is to help students practice reading, Pederson said it's about more than that.

"It's just so mutually beneficial," she said. "There's positives for both ends, for the kids to learn how to serve animals and open their mind to that perspective."

Meanwhile, the Missouri Veterans Home gets visits from Pet Pals on alternate Wednesdays.

Dogs are brought in to interact with the residents. Laura Hurst, coordinator of Pet Pals who has been involved in the Cape Girardeau Pet Pals program for 15 years, has witnessed the behavioral transformations of the residents when the dogs are near.

"You put a dog in front of them, and they never forget how to pet that dog, or how to love him," she said.

We're sure the dogs love the interaction, too.

The benefits of interaction with animals seems like a great idea in both situations. We hope these programs continue to thrive.

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