According to the ASPCA, approximately 7.6 million animals enter animal shelters nationwide every year. Of those animals, approximately 3.9 million are dogs. Sadly, each year about 2.7 million animals are euthanized and of that number, 1.2 million are dogs. However, a group of kids are helping their local animal shelters by reading to dogs. You may think this sounds pretty odd, but the outcome has benefitted both the children and the animals in more ways than one.
Shelter dogs can be intimidating, scared, and very shy, and many are left without homes. A new and innovative idea called the Shelter Buddies Reading Program was created at the Humane Society of Missouri to help these dogs get out of their shell and become more comfortable with humans. The reading program allows kids to read to dogs as a way of helping them get ready to get adopted and feeling more at ease when people confront them. These kids grab their blankets and a good book and read right outside the dogs’ kennels. This simple gesture allows the dogs to hopefully be able to interact with humans a lot more smoothly once they get adopted.
“We wanted to help our shy and fearful dogs without forcing physical interaction with them to see the positive effects it could have,” program director Jo Klepacki said, adding, “We launched the program last Christmas, but now we offer it once a month.”
Kids ages 6 to 15 can sign up for the program and are trained how to read a dog’s body language to tell if the animal is in distress. “Ideally, that shy and fearful dog will approach and show interest. If so, the kids reinforce that behavior by tossing them a treat,” Klepacki said. “What this is also doing is bringing the animals to the front in case potential adopters come through. Dogs are more likely to get adopted if they are approaching and interacting, rather than hiding in the back or cowering.” Klepacki also notes that it isn’t just the shy dogs that are benefitting from the program. In fact, high-energy dogs have shown improvement. “Hearing a child reading can calm those animals,” she said, adding, “It is incredible, the response we’ve seen in these dogs.”
After kids have completed the 10-hour training program, they can come back any time with their parents to sit and read to whichever dog they want. “It’s encouraging children to develop empathy with animals. It’s a peaceful, quiet exercise. They’re seeing fearfulness in these animals, and seeing the positive affect they can have,” Klepacki said. “It encourages them to look at things from an animal’s perspective. That helps them better connect with the animals and people in their lives.” Klepacki hopes that this reading program can be included in all of the Humane Society of Missouri’s shelters, including reading to cats too. “I’m really excited about this program,” she stated.