Reading Dogs, an initiative offering children in the UAE the opportunity to interact meaningfully with pet dogs by reading to them, took home 10,000 Swiss francs (Dh38,000) after it came third in the piloted project category of the 2020 Purina BetterwithPets Prize.

Organised in collaboration with Ashoka, a pioneer in the field of social entrepreneurship, the second edition of the prize drew more than 150 applicants from 23 countries in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa. Eight finalists were chosen from the UAE, France, Spain, Russia, the UK and Saudi Arabia. Organisations could participate in two streams: early-stage ideas for innovations, and fully piloted/implemented innovations.

“We’re very proud to have ranked so highly among a group of so many innovators from Europe, the Middle East, and North Africa,” said Karalynn Thomson, founder of Reading Dogs. “The prize will allow us to expand our services across the UAE, delivering more sessions in mainstream and special educational needs schools, building children’s confidence in their reading ability and allowing them to experience first-hand the special bond animals can bring.”

Reading Dogs has a pool of 27 dogs, including terriers, Malteses, golden retrievers, labradors and German shepherds, working on over 25 schools, nurseries and at private venues in Dubai
Anas Thacharpadikkal

Karalynn launched the project four years ago. Today, 27 dogs including terriers, Malteses, golden retrievers, labradors and German shepherds work with over 25 schools, nurseries and at private venues in Dubai.

“Research has shown that reading with dogs improves children’s reading fluency by up to 30 per cent. It also offers them a whole host of social and emotional benefits. The dogs help children to relax and they overcome their nervousness while reading aloud. It is also an extremely enjoyable experience for the children to be with the pets,” Karalynn told Friday in an interview earlier.

Her team works closely with each school to ensure that the reading session is also educational and matches the reading level of the class. At the end of each session children get to interact with the dog and its owner.

Specially chosen, child-friendly dogs, she says, are the perfect reading companions. They’re proven to be a calming influence on a class.

Both the prize winners and finalists will be eligible to access additional programmes designed to support further development of their ventures. Select piloted innovators will also be invited to participate in Purina and Ashoka’s Scaling Social Impact Programme, while select idea-stage young change-makers will be eligible for a mentoring programme.

Sergej Pracevic, business executive officer, Nestlé Purina for the Middle East and North Africa region, congratulated the Reading Dogs team on their “creativity and ingenuity in promoting the mutual power of the pet-human bond and the importance of working towards a future where solutions override problems”.

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