It can be said that stray dogs who end up in an animal shelter are very lucky, because they are given a chance to find a home and a family. But not all dogs behave cheerfully and can trust people. Some animals, after a sad experience living on the street, are unable to let a stranger get close to them.
So for a shelter in Missouri, Joe Klepacki came up with The Shelter Buddies Reading, a program that helps intimidated dogs adjust. The essence of the therapy is that children 6-15 years old choose a shy animal and sit in front of a transparent aviary and start reading. Beforehand, children are taught to understand the dogs’ body language. They have to see when the animal is stressed or nervous.
According to Joe Klepacki, the childlike timbre of the voice and the calm rhythm reassure a frightened animal. Sooner or later any creature will show curiosity and try to approach. Then the children encourage this interest with something tasty. Such therapy not only helps the dogs, but also allows children to practice reading and develop a love for animals and a real connection with them.
All year round, kids take part in the organization’s Shelter Buddies Reading Program, where they read books to dogs outside their kennels to help dogs reduce their anxiety.
And each year around the holidays, they invite kids in their community to take part in “Deck the Howls,” an event where kids don their favorite pajamas and bring a little holiday cheer to the animals awaiting adoption by reading holiday stories to them by candlelight.
“We really wanted to find a way to invite children in our community to come into the shelter and to get involved, to connect with the animals, to see the shelter as a place of hope and healing and to know that they can make a difference in the lives of others,” said Klepacki.
Nearly five years ago, staff at the Humane Society of Missouri came up with the idea of the program to help shelter dogs become more adoptable. But over the years, it’s also helped kids grow their confidence reading in front of a nonjudgmental audience.
In order to join, kids attend one 90-minute training session before they’re able to read to as many dogs at the shelter as they want. Surprisingly, many kids who join have never even stepped foot in a shelter.
“A lot of these kids have never really thought about the fact that shelters exist full of animals that are homeless,” said Klepacki. “And when they come in and they see them and they meet them, they connect with them. It develops that empathy that they have and inspires them to want to do more to help.”