The concept is simple: teach kids to read to shelter dogs as a way of preparing them for forever homes, all while instilling a greater sense of empathy in the youngsters, too.
Kids who sign up for the monthly program are encouraged to sit in front of a shy dog's kennel with a book and read to them.
"We wanted to help our shy and fearful dog without forcing physical interaction with them to see the positive effect that could have on them," program director Jo Klepacki told The Dodo.
"Ideally that shy and fearful dog will approach and show interest. If so, the kids reinforce that behavior by tossing them a treat. What this is also doing is to bring the animals to the front in case potential adopters come through. They are more likely to get adopted if they are approaching and interacting, rather than hiding in the back or cowering."
But shy dogs are not the only ones benefiting from the program. It also teaches high-energy dogs that calm behavior is more desirable.
"Hearing a child reading can really calm those animals," Klepacki said. "It is incredible, the response we've seen in these dogs."
Each child is required to complete a 10-hour training program, learning to work with the animals under supervision. After that, they can then come back with their parents any time to read to the dogs.
"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 animals perspective. That helps them better connect with animals and people in their lives."
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Klepacki says she hopes to expand the reading program to all of the Humane Society of Missouri's shelters — and to cats as well.