The Humane Society of Missouri has implemented a new program to help both school-aged children and homeless dogs.
The program facilitates a mutually beneficial relationship in which children get to practice reading, and shelter animals receive much-needed attention.
Many of the dogs included in the program are shy and anxious. They've come to the shelter with a variety of backgrounds, and many have been either abandoned or abused.
The young readers help the dogs become accustomed to the presence of humans. At the same time, they practice sounding out words in a comfortable and judgement-free environment.
The Assistant Director of Education at the Missouri Humane Society, JoEllyn Klepacki told ABC News;
"We started this for two reasons. Dogs in a shelter environment exhibit a lot of signs of anxiety and show stress signals, so we wanted to do something to comfort them, and we have a lot of children in our area who are really engaged and they ask, 'How can I help? How can I make a difference?'"
The program includes children from six years old all the way up to 15. Each storyteller receives special training to help them learn more about their four-legged audience members. As part of the training, they complete a crash course on canine body language. They also gain insight into why a shelter dog might be uncomfortable around humans.
According to Klepacki, the dogs chosen to participate in the program are the ones that retreat to the back of the kennels when approached by a person. They exhibit signs of stress and fearfulness that make getting adopted difficult.
The children make it their goal to encourage the dogs to come to the front of the kennel by the time they finish their books. If the dogs build enough courage to move in closer, the children then reward them with treats.
This form of positive reinforcement training is an effective way to rebuild a shelter dog's confidence. It also proves to the children that they're making a real difference in the lives of their furry listeners.
"We know that dogs that approach the kennel front get adopted more quickly, so they are helping these dogs get a home."
Children choose to bring in their own books or pick from the shelter's large collection of animal-related titles. Regardless of the book's title, the compassionate kids of the Shelter Buddies Reading Program are helping shelter dogs in Missouri find happily ever after.
All Photos via Humane Society of Missouri Facebook