Castaic Middle School students partner with local animal shelter

Castaic Middle School Seventh-graders Ashley Yomto, center, and Amie De La Rosa read the book "Lost in the Snow" to a one-year-old Siberian Husky during the after school club, Kids Loving Animals Within Shelters event called "Bark for Books" held at the Castaic Animal Shelter in Castaic on Tuesday. 092716 Dan Watson/the Signal

Armed with dog treats, blankets and books, Castaic Middle School students set out to make new furry friends at the Castaic Animal Shelter.

More than 40 middle schoolers involved in the school’s Kids Loving Animals Within Shelters (KLAWS) club visited the shelter Tuesday to read to dogs as part of the club’s first-ever “Bark for Books” program.

Castaic Middle School teachers Karen Gagnon and Christine Racina began the club a year ago and adopted the Castaic Animal Shelter as KLAWS’ primary mission.

Students support the needs of the shelter and are educated about the responsibilities of owning an animal.

“My goal for the club was to build a bridge between the school, the community and the shelter,” Gagnon said. “Being a teacher and being a rescuer are my two passions, and to bring them together is incredible.”

The “Bark for Books” program was the brainchild of Gagnon and Castaic Animal Shelter Manager Karen Stepp this summer.

“We didn’t expect this turnout, it’s amazing,” Stepp said. “I’m amazed and so gracious they chose our place to partner with this club.”

Stepp and Gagnon said the program’s benefits are two-fold.

The shelter’s animals are taught calmness, training and social skills so they are more likely to get adopted.

Students learn leadership skills and develop self-esteem by acting as teachers and reading out loud.

“Reading, literacy and homeless pets are big issues in our country, so we are combining them all,” Gagnon said.

Stepp and Gagnon hope the partnership will raise community awareness of the Castaic Shelter and encourage pet adoption.

“A half-hour ago there was not a soul on site,” Stepp said. “We have a high adoption rate and we partner with organizations, but many people do not come out here or know we are here… this is a park, it’s inviting and we want people to come by and adopt.”

KLAWS future plans include building a garden at the shelter in a “Plants for Paws” program and possibly decorating it for the holidays. Gagnon said KLAWS might also write thank you notes to the shelter’s volunteers and put up photos outside the cages.

Those involved believe there are countless opportunities for a continued partnership moving forward.

“This is just the beginning,” Stepp said.

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On Twitter as @_ChristinaCox_

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