Orcas teen brings awareness to reading and shelter animals

When Ava Berge was a little girl, she’d choose a beloved book and read to dogs or cats through a Santa Cruz Public Library program.

“I really enjoyed it. It helped me get more interested in reading,” said Berge, who has special needs and is a senior at Orcas Island High School.

After moving to Orcas several years ago, Berge felt inspired to start a similar offering. As part of her senior project, she and her mom Christine Jennifer approached the Orcas Animal Shelter about organizing “Tales to Tails.”

From April to May, kids can come to the shelter on Friday and Saturday from 2 to 5 p.m. to cuddle with animals while reading their chosen printed material — either out loud or silently. Parents must be present.

“I hope kids will feel more comfortable around animals, and the program will help them improve their reading. Help make reading fun!” said Berge, whose favorite book series are Harry Potter, Hunger Games and Diary of a Wimpy Kid.

The first Tales to Tails was on April 6 and three eager readers signed up for the afternoon. The shelter currently has one dog and a handful of cats.

Those interested can call 360-376-6777 or sign up in person at the shelter, which is open Tuesday-Saturday. Participants can choose a prize and those who complete three reading sessions win a free soft-serve ice cream from Con’s Pit Stop.

Animals are frequently brought in to help young learners foster literacy skills and gain confidence because pets are non-judgmental and provide quiet comfort.

“Being around animals helps me feel safe and relaxed,” said Berge, who has been volunteering at shelters since she was 9.

She and her mom adopted Sparky, an abandoned “senior” bichon/terrier mix nine years ago.

“He’s still with us, 19 years old now! And he gets along great with the 8-year-old bichon pup named Princessa that we just recently adopted from the Orcas animal Shelter,” Jennifer said.

In creating her senior project, Berge has gained a new confidence.

“I learned that I’m brave! And I can talk to people I don’t know and ask for support,” she said.

A participant at the event on April 6.

A participant at the event on April 6.