The Humane Society of Missouri started a program called the Shelter Buddies Reading Program. This program, designed to help frightened shelter dogs better acclimate to society, uses young children, ages 6 – 15, in order to slowly coax these dogs into again trusting humans.
But how do children, some barely even out of elementary school, possibly help these lonely, abandoned dogs?
The answer is simple: reading.
The program finds children who need practice reading aloud, or those with fear of audiences, and asks them to volunteer at their shelter.
The only thing they need to bring is a book (or several!) of their own choosing.
The children then simply sit infront of a kennel with a dog they want to read to, and begin reading from their book. They are able to practice reading and public speaking in a nonjudgmental environment, and the dogs are able to slowly adjust to the presence of humans.
“We started this for two reasons. Dogs in a shelter environment exhibit a lot of signs of anxiety and show stress signals, so we wanted to do something to comfort them. We have a lot of children in our area who are really engaged and they ask, ‘How can I help?’” said JoEllyn Klepacki.
Klepacki, who is the assistant director of the Missouri Humane Society, said that the goal of the program is to get the dog, who at the beginning of the reading is usually crouched in the back their kennel, to have walked to the front and to be sitting directly infront of the child by the time the reading is over.
Dogs that stay near the front of their kennel get adopted more quickly, so this practice often helps them find a home faster.
Children are also encouraged to interact with the dogs beyond just the reading, often passing them treats if they make their way to the front of the glass.
The program, which started in December, has seen huge success, and Klepacki recounts that the results have been “just amazing.”
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