"I like how the children respond to the whole idea of being compassionate to animals," Locke said. "If they're compassionate to animals, the connection will be made to be compassionate to fellow human beings."
Locke said she notices students behaving more gently toward each other when they read to the dogs. That's especially important at a school like Westport, she said, where about 30 percent of students have special needs and may be more susceptible to bullying.
The program is funded with a $15,000 grant from the The Harry and Jeanette Weinberg Foundation. The foundation's Baltimore Library Project has transformed libraries at 14 middle and elementary schools in recent years.
The SPCA hopes to expand the program to more Weinberg libraries in coming years.
"It's helped some of our more shy students come out of their shells," said Rachel Duden, a program associate with the foundation. "Reading to the dogs and not feeling like they have to be scared has helped them improve."
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