Children sit outside the shelter dog’s kennel and read to them. It’s a quiet, calming activity and helps both shy and rambunctious dogs. For the former, the reading helps the dogs feel more comfortable around people, while the latter teaches them that tranquility is a plus.
Humane Society of Missouri
Founded in 1870, the Humane Society of Missouri is “dedicated to second chances,” according to its website. The organization provides care for dogs, cats and other small animals, as well as equines and livestock at its satellite farm shelter. Its services include:
- Spay/neuter programs
- Humane education
- Obedience classes
- Behavioral training
- Animal rescue and investigation
- Gift shop
- A top-notch veterinary facility
The goal is to find every shelter animal a new and loving home through its adoption center. There’s no question some animals are more adoptable than others. Its Shelter Buddies Reading Program is designed to improve the adoption odds for dogs that need additional work on their “interpersonal” skills.
Shelter Buddies Reading Program
Youngsters aged six to 15 are eligible to take part in the Shelter Buddies Reading Program. Pre-registration is required, and each child must pay a nominal fee to engage in the activity. A parent is required to attend the training session and must accompany the child to the reading session. Kids and parents should wear closed-toe shoes with rubber soles for better traction in the kennel area and for foot protection.
Kids can bring a favorite book to read to the dogs or choose from one of over 100 books with animal themes from the shelter’s collection.
A win-win situation
While the focus of the reading program is on benefitting dogs stuck in a shelter environment, it’s also a plus for kids. The program helps them learn compassion and empathy toward animals, and can help boost their reading skills. Dogs aren’t judgmental — if the child can’t pronounce a word or makes a mistake, the dog can’t tell the difference.
Dogs involved with the Shelter Buddies Reading Program improve their chances of being adopted. Potential adopters usually like friendly, outgoing dogs. Anxious dogs who cower at the back of the kennel often aren’t considered by those looking for pets. The reading program gives these frightened dogs more confidence, and a potential adopter is more likely to interact with a pooch who isn’t a quivering mess. Lots of young, high-energy dogs end up in shelters because their owners can’t deal with their hyper behavior. For many canines, this is just a stage, although it can last a couple of years. An exuberant dog used to having someone read to him may “show” better to possible adopters. He’s learned that remaining relatively quiet — at least for a little while — is positive behavior.
The idea of kids reading to dogs isn’t new; however, using shelter dogs as the audience is a unique concept. Many therapy dog programs enlist children to read to dogs, although the focus is on improving a child’s reading abilities, not a calming influence on the canine. The New York–based Bideawee, in existence for more than a century, partners with 35 libraries and 17 schools in the New York metropolitan area for its Reading to Dogs Program. The program helps kids enhance their literacy skills by reading to an approved therapy dog. Teachers report that students participating in the Reading to Dogs Program not only show reading improvement, but those children have lower absentee rates and complete homework assignments more often.
Dogs used in the program must be “exceptionally social, gentle, smart and obedient.” Of course, these dogs must like kids and get along with strangers. They must allow petting by people they don’t know and must relax when in new surroundings, such as the library.
With obedience training and loving care, there’s no reason a dog who was once read to by a child in a shelter can’t become the dog a child reads to in the library.
Jane Meggitt graduated from New York University and worked as a staff writer for a major New Jersey newspaper chain. Her work on pets, equines and health have appeared in dozens of publications, including The Daily Puppy, The Nest Pets, Horse News, Hoof Beats and Horseback magazines.