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Kids Help Shelter Dogs Reconnect with People by Reading Books to Them

The Short of It

Tales for tails? Kids read storybooks to shelter dogs.

The Lowdown

This is too cute: As part of the Humane Society of Missouri's Shelter Buddies program, trained kid volunteers read to shelter dogs, in order to help them gain a little confidence and get ready for their forever homes.

Awww! "We saw more and more rescue animals that were shy, fearful, and stressed out in the shelter environment," program director JoEllyn Klepacki told Today. "Unfortunately, these dogs are less likely to get adopted, since they tend to hang back instead of engage when potential adoptees come through. We also saw more children who had visited us through field trips or summer programs asking for consistent, hands-on opportunities to make a difference."

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The program was launched last Christmas and is now offered once a month. Here's how it works: Kids ages 6 to 15 who are interested in volunteering can sign up online and then come in for training on how to read a dog's body language to tell if they're stressed out or anxious.

"First, I walk them through the area where the dogs are kept," Klepacki explained. "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? Doing this helps them empathize and look at things from the dog's perspective."

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The kids also learn how to approach the dogs—sitting sideways, using quiet voices—and how to reward them with a treat if they respond. When children complete the 10-hour training program, they can then come back with their parents any time to sit and read to the dogs.

The Upshot

Klepacki believes the program has made a huge difference for the animals.

"These were dogs that before were hiding in the backs of the rooms with their tails tucked," she explained. "You can see the connection; you can see them responding to those kids."

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But she also says the kids are taking something incredible away from the experience, too.

"It's encouraging children to develop empathy with animals," Klepacki told The Dodo. "They're seeing fearfulness in these animals and seeing the positive affect they can have. It encourages them to look at things from an animal's perspective. That helps them better connect with animals and people in their lives."

Just ask Alex Hinsley, 8, who recently attended the society's week-long summer camp. Now an aspiring veterinarian, she keeps a bag of books in her room at the ready—she believes the best stories to read are ones about other dogs, like Clifford and Scooby Doo—and begs her mom to drive the 20 miles to the Humane Society any chance she gets.

"I'm like, 'Get in the car woman, let's go see those dogs!'" she says.

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