The kids strengthen their reading and empathy and the dogs learn to trust.
This is the kind of story that will make you want to replicate this program near you.
We all know what's at stake for dogs in shelters. Their ability to connect with the humans who might adopt them is the main thing that can determine what fate befalls them.
The ASPCA estimates that each year close to the same number of pets in shelters get euthanized (31%) as get adopted (35%). The rest are reunited with owners whom they've gotten separated from.
What if that adoption-to-euthanization ratio could be significantly altered by helping animals become better socialized with people?
That's what makes the new Shelter Buddies Reading Program at the Humane Society of Missouri so crucial and brilliant.
By pairing kids with hearts of gold with the pups who need their attention, it could be possible to change the outcomes for a lot of these dogs.
The program was just introduced in December 2015, and the shelter holds trainings for it once per month. Kids, ages 6-15, go through 10 hours of training to read dogs' body language for stress or nervousness. When they've completed the training, they're ready to sidle up next to a dog's room and begin connecting through reading, which they can come back and do as often as they like.
The goal is to create dogs that are more adoptable AND help children exercise their empathy.
Jo Klepacki, the program's director at Humane Society of Missouri, said in an interview with The Dodo, "We wanted to help our shy and fearful dogs without forcing physical interaction with them to see the positive effect that could have on them."
Klepacki also noted the positive effects for their tiny-human participants:
"It's encouraging children to develop empathy with animals. It's a peaceful, quiet exercise. 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."
Obviously this program should be a thing at every shelter in every city across America.
A good idea is a good idea. The proof will come over time, but not everything needs to be quantified and measured before it's implemented. It's a low-cost way to help both pets and people. If it turns out to be successful in getting more dogs adopted (and I suspect it will), the program will be even more likely to spread.
But even if all it ever does is improve the quality of life for these animals while they're in the shelter, that's worthwhile in itself.
Every animal lover and reading enthusiast needs to see this and consider bringing the program to their own local shelters!