When dogs in an animal shelter are shy, it inhibits the staff's efforts to get them adopted. But the Humane Society of Missouri has found a way to bring those bashful buddies out of their shells.
It's called the Shelter Buddies Reading Program, and it's working!
The concept is a simple one: train kids to read to shelter dogs.
This idea not only helps the animals overcome their reticence but teaches the kids about empathy, too.
"We wanted to help our shy and fearful dogs without forcing physical interaction with them to see the positive effect that could have on them," program director Jo Klepacki said. "We launched the program last Christmas, but now we offer it once a month."
If a child can read, he or she can make a difference. The kids are taught how to read a dog's body language, so they know when it is stressed out or anxious. Those dogs are the ones who need the program the most. If a dog won't come to the front of the pen, potential adopters are unlikely to choose it.
The youngsters in the program are ages 6-15. They are allowed to choose which dogs they think need to be read to—a gesture that seems to reach into the dogs' hearts.
Of course, reading practice is great for children, but they're learning a lot more than how to read better. "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," said Klepacki. "It encourages them to look at things from an animal's perspective. That helps them better connect with animals and people in their lives."
After completing 10 hours of instruction and reading to the dogs under the program's supervision, the children can return to the shelter at any time to read to the dogs. The program is going like gangbusters. Kids are very excited about reading to the dogs, and the number of sign-ups has exploded.