14-year-old creates animal reading program

Originally written for The Northern Light.

Animals are known to create companionships with their human counterparts and form a significant impact on each others’ lives. Ashley Perry created the “Shelter Animals Reading Program” for children who want to practice reading in front of a sheltered animal at Anchorage Animal Care and Control.

“When I was younger, I hated reading in class because I was afraid I’ll mess up,” Perry said. “The goal for the kids is to get a positive experience with the animals in a non-judgmental way.”

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Despite having health issues, 14-year-old Ashley Perry takes action in the Anchorage community through the creation of the “Shelter Animals Program.” Photo credit: Mizelle Mayo

Not only can children improve their reading skills, it also gives the animals a chance for adoption in the process.

“For the animals, it’s simply interaction. It’s a long day sitting here in the kennel with not a whole lot to do. If it helps one of our shy cats learn to be more comfortable with people in front of their kennel, ultimately, that may help them get adopted,” Laura Atwood, AACC’s public relations coordinator, said.

Perry has established the program at her previous home in Charleston, South Carolina, and has now expanded to Anchorage, Palmer and Wasilla. She is currently working on getting approval for the program in the Fairbanks animal shelters.

“We went to the [Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals] one time to discuss the program, and we left with a dog. There was also a dog there that trained to fight. It had some injuries, and you can tell it was skittish. Ashley said, ‘This dog needs to be read to,’” Kimberly Perry, Ashley’s mother, said.

For Ashley Perry, animals have always been an important part of her life to comfort and build companionship. Before she was born, Perry was diagnosed with Turner syndrome. Only affecting girls, about one percent with Turner syndrome make it into the world. She was one of the lucky ones. So far, she’s undergone 21 minor and major surgeries.

With her circumstances, Perry had gained local and national attention from Wade Marrs, an Iditarod musher, to Joe Jonas, member of the band DNCE.

“She sees that a voice, even somebody at her age, can make a difference,” Kimberly Perry said.

Perry hopes to establish the program all over the U.S.

At the moment, AACC has lenient rules as to when hours are open for the “Shelter Animals Reading Program.” Children and adults are allowed to come in during open hours of AACC operations to grab a chair and read to the animals.

“We always have cats. There will never be a day where you’ll walk in here where there aren’t plenty of cats for adoption,” Atwood said. “We have rabbits, hamsters, gerbils and guinea pigs in the other room who you’re welcome to read to. And of course, if we have dogs, they’re welcome to read to them too.”

The “Shelter Animals Reading Program” asks that all minors be accompanied by an adult.

AACC is located on 4711 Elmore Road Monday through Friday, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Saturday and Sunday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.

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