When I was in grade school, I had a lot of trouble reading and particularly, reading out loud. It would embarrass me to the core to stand up in front of my 3rd grade English class and read my section of Because of Winn-Dixie aloud. I read slowly, stumbled over big words, and held the book with slightly shaky hands.
Luckily, I went to a special reading class, worked my butt off, and now happily read daily as part of my profession as a writer and editor. But I can’t help but think what a great opportunity it would have been for me to practice reading to a thoroughly non-judgmental audience — like dogs, for example.
Which is why I am in complete awe of a program taking place in the town of St. Louis, MI, that not only helps children improve their reading skills, but helps homeless dogs at the same time.
As part of the Shelter Buddies Reading Program at the Humane Society of Missouri, little kids are encouraged to practice reading to timid shelter dogs, to help acclimate them with human contact.
How adorable and sweet and amazing is that?
Children have the opportunity to read like no one is watching and the dogs can learn to make human friends.
Dogs in a shelter environment tend to exhibit timid and anxious behaviors, which unfortunately lowers their chances of being adopted. According to the Humane Society of Missouri, dogs that appear friendly and approach the window are more likely to find a potential home, therefore the reading program is a positive step in comforting the behaviorally challenged pets.
In order to participate in the program, children, ages 6-15, are required to go through monthly training classes that teach them how to interact with the dogs. JoEllyn Klepacki, assistant director of education at the Humane Society of Missouri, explained to TODAY.com:
“First, I walk them through the area where the dogs are kept, then, I take them to a classroom and ask them to close their eyes and imagine what it’s like to be one of [the dogs]. What do you see? What do you hear? What do you smell?”
By allowing the children to see things from the shelter dogs’ perspective, the children can then become more intuitive to how the animals are feeling and why they act the way they do.
As explained to TODAY.com, the kids are taught to recognize stress signals in the dogs’ body language as well as how to approach them. When first interacting with the dogs, the children are taught to sit sideways, speak in quiet voices, and occasionally reward them with a treat to instill good behavior.
Children can bring their own books to read — maybe even an English class book — or choose from the shelter’s donated library of animal-related books.
And this incredible humanitarian effort is proving to be a success:
As Klepacki shared with ABC News, “Just look at the dogs in these photos. These were dogs that before were hiding in the backs of the rooms with their tails tucked. You can see the connection — you can see them responding to those kids.”
This mutually beneficial program is truly something to be admired, so if your child is having a ruff time reading (pardon my pun), consider joining or starting a program like the Shelter Buddies Reading Program. I only wish I had a puppy buddy as a kid.