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Paw Pals Storytime grows the love of animals in Chattanooga’s children

On the first Thursday of each month, the children of Chattanooga are invited to gather at McKamey Animal Center.

Once they arrive, they can grab a carpet square to sit on. They settle in and get comfy, and then they hear a story.

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Paulina Wampler reads during Paw Pals Storytime at McKamey Animal Center. Contributed photo

The story might be about a baby fox, an adventurous puppy or it might be a book full of the textures of soft animals, like baby chicks or kittens. Then, at the end of story time — and by far the kids’ favorite part — they get to meet a dog or a kitten.

The gathering is called Paw Pals Storytime, hosted by longtime McKamey volunteer and retired teacher Paulina Wampler for children 2-5 years old.

“I’ve been involved with McKamey before the ground was actually broken [at the site],” said Wampler. “I just have a love for animals. We have to educate people and do better by our animals.”

She explained that the mission of the story time is the same as McKamey’s mission, but from a different perspective.

“Two, 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds can’t volunteer, but if we could get them in [at a young age] … it could be the beginning of their respect for animals,” she said.

“We know that kids are sponges. They are our future and they will be Chattanooga’s pet owners in the very near future,” said McKamey Volunteer Coordinator Anna Baker. “They are really great advocates for animals to other children and even other adults.”

The children who attend the monthly gathering also learn how to interact with pets.

“They are so excited. We teach them how to meet a dog; they smell their little hands … and then we teach them to pet the dog on the chest or on the side of the body,” Baker said. “We especially teach them to be quiet around the kitties. We teach them they should only be handling their own cat.”

Though they usually do, children may not always get to meet an animal at the end of story time. It depends on the comfort level of the animals to ensure safety for all, said Baker. Parents are also asked to stay during the 30-minute-long activity.

“It’s good for these first interactions to be in a controlled setting,” she said.

Visit the McKamey website to find out more. The public is invited to join the next Paw Pals Storytime April 3 at 1:30 p.m. The program is free, but the center asks that participants bring a can of dog or cat food to support the animals being cared for.

McKamey is at 4500 N. Access Road and can be reached at 305-6500.