The Shelter Buddy Reading Program improves dogs’ dispositions, thereby helping more pups find forever homes.
Shelter animals have the toughest time getting adopted. No longer small, fluffy, and innocent, they’ve spent time living with humans and, in effect, have taken on new behaviors or – in the worst case scenario – have been abused and now cower out of fear.
Because people tend to adopt calm and well-mannered dogs, those who have emotional trauma to overcome can either spend years in no-kill shelters or, sadly, be euthanized before they find their forever home.
A humane shelter in Missouri aims to change this and is doing so by warming up the dogs with the presence of compassionate children.
Every month, the Humane Society of Missouri holds the Shelter Buddies Reading Program, in which kids can visit and read to dogs.
The idea, really, is simple: train kids to read to dogs as a way of readying them for permanent homes, all while instilling a greater sense of empathy in the youngsters, too.
The Dodo reports that kids age 6 to 15 can sign up for the program online, after which they are trained how to read a dog’s body language. By knowing if the animal is stressed out or anxious, the kids learn emotional intelligence and are able to discern which dogs could use the most help.
Said Jo Klepacki, the program’s director:
“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. We launched the program last Christmas, but now we offer it once a month.”
Once a youngster identifies the ‘right’ dog to read to, they are encouraged to sit in front of the kennel and interact with the dog – by reading to them.
Such a simple gesture can go a long way.
“Ideally, that shy and fearful dog will approach and show interest. If so, the kids reenforce that behavior by tossing them a treat,” said Klepacki. “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.”
Amazingly, even high-energy dogs are benefiting from the program, too!
“Hearing a child reading can really calm those animals. It is incredible, the response we’ve seen in these dogs.”
When the child completes the 10-hour training program, they are then allowed to come back with a parent and read and sit with the dogs.
The local children are encouraged to take part, not only to benefit the animals but because they benefit greatly from the volunteer work, as well.
“It’s encouraging children to develop empathy with animals. It is 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.”
The reading program may be new, but it is showing great success in improving the behavior of dogs. In effect, more canines are finding forever homes.
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Image Credit: Humane Society of Missouri