R.E.A.D. to Pepper

Reading to therapy animals encourages kids to read

Childhood literacy statistics are astounding, and for that reason, it’s one of the main areas of focus for us at PAFE. 

Most students who fail to reach grade-level proficiency in reading by third grade will continue to struggle throughout their education and be at higher risk of dropping out. Getting kids to read and enjoy reading at a young age is critical and forestalls more significant issues further down the road. 

Reading Education Assistance Dogs (R.E.A.D.) is a creative program we are excited to invest in and support Farmin Stidwell Counselor Ellen Wassif as she brings this evidence-based literacy program to the school. 

Trained therapy animals are the primary audience for struggling readers who are selected in conjunction with school administrators, teachers, and Title 1 staff. Because everyone wants to read to Pepper, being selected is a privilege, not a stigma. 

Watch it here:

Pepper is a registered Therapy Dog and her handler, Miss Ellen, has recently completed the training for the two of them to become a R.E.A.D. team (at her expense). PAFE funds, thanks to donors, go to building out the library for kids to read as well as new books they can earn and keep (“signed” by Pepper)  and incentives like stickers, bookmarks, and punch cards. 

R.E.A.D. provides a safe and nurturing environment for students who struggle with reading or are reading averse to practice judgment-free by reading to a dog. Children gain self-esteem, enjoyment, and mastery in these weekly sessions. 

We asked first-grade student Jase what he loved about reading: “Pepper is cute.” Second-grade student Ronan was resistant to reading out loud in class, but now he loves reading to Pepper.  


In its first year, the program should serve 32 to 40 students in grades K-3 throughout the school year. While it is early to track, it is expected that students who participate will see an increase in attendance, desire to read, and performance scores in reading. 

Pre and post-assessments are completed, monitored, and shared with parents and school administration so that students can be celebrated for their reading successes.

Follow Pepper on Instagram and thank her (and Ellen) for all they do to encourage kids to read! And thank you for supporting PAFE so we can do more of these kinds of programs. You can learn more here if you are interested in supporting childhood literacy programs at Lake Pend Oreille School District.