WSVN — Remember what it was like getting up and reading in front of the entire class? Some kids never get over that fear, and it can affect them as an adult. Now some four-legged friends are coming to the rescue, becoming the "Purr-fect Solution." 7's Robbin Simmons has the story.

It can be a child's worst nightmare.

Katie Tutt, Humane Society of Broward County: "When I was a kid I, was terrified to read in class."

Katie Tutt still recalls the fear of getting up in front of the class.

Katie Tutt: "If the teacher said, 'Take out your books,' immediately I would start panicking, stressing. I'll still get a pit in my stomach and, you know, my palms are sweaty."

So when Katie started working with the animals at the Humane Society of Broward County, she got an idea.

Katie Tutt: "OK, each pick a book."

Why not have the kids read to the cats?

Katie Tutt: "There's not going to be anyone to laugh at them. The cats are just there to listen."

Studies have shown that spending time with animals can lower a person's stress level, so Katie created the Purrs and Tales program. The idea is for children to bond with shelter cats and then read to them in a relaxed setting.

Katie Tutt: "My main goal is creating the most nonjudgmental environment for a child so they can practice and become just more self-confident."

The kids come to the Humane Society, pick out a book, then head into a room with their cat companions.

Katie Tutt: "You want to let him just sniff you, there you go, perfect."

Then, it's storytime.

Katie Tutt: "This is an environment that, once we close that door and they sit down with the cat, they can sit and read, and if they mess up on a word, the cat's not going to judge them."

Jennifer Shimmel was running out of answers when her daughter Ailani was struggling in school, and tutoring wasn't helping.

Jennifer Shimmel: "She got held back in first grade due to her reading. We were just looking for something that could help her with reading."

So her mom had her paired up with a couple of cats.

Jennifer Shimmel: "She developed a little relationship with the cats, and the cats got used to her."

Ailani would read to them, and the cats seemed to like it!

Ailani Shimmel: "Sometimes they sit in my lap or sit by my feet, and then I turn the pictures so they could see them."

Then something wonderful happened.

Jennifer Shimmel: "She's changed. She was like, she actually enjoyed reading."

It was more than just a feeling. Ailani's confidence grew along with her grades. A reading test at the end of the last school year proved it.

Jennifer Shimmel: "She actually scored above fourth-grade reading level."

Teachers agree the pet program works.

Darlene Feldman: "The more they practice out loud in a nonjudgmental setting, the better it is for them."

And the benefits work both ways!

Katie Tutt: "It provides the cats with socialization that they wouldn't be getting otherwise."

So, for families facing a reading rut, this could be the "purr-fect" solution.

The cost of the program is $4 a session, which covers the cost of books and staff time. In the Plex, Robbin Simmons, 7News.

Humane Society of Broward County
Tel: (954) 989-3977

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