Last year, the Humane Society of Missouri unleashed a unique volunteer program that brings kids age 6-15 together with shelter dogs that are having trouble learning to socialize.
The activity? Sitting and reading with their new canine pals.
Launched in December as part of their Kind Kids outreach, the Shelter Buddies Reading Program offers training once a month to help kids identify and understand animal behaviors, after which time they may come by any time with their parents to read to the dogs.
In an interview with The Dodo, program director Jo Klepacki said that the simple act of reading to timid dogs has a profound effect on the animals, helping them become more friendly and likely to be adopted.
"Ideally, that shy and fearful dog will approach and show interest. If so, the kids reinforce that behavior by tossing them a treat," Klepacki told The Dodo. "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"
"We know that dogs that approach the kennel front get adopted more quickly," said Klepacki in an interview with ABC News, "so they are helping these dogs get a home."
The program also helps calm high-energy dogs.
"Hearing a child reading can really calm those animals," Klepacki told The Dodo. "It is incredible, the response we've seen in these dogs."
The program also teaches the kids to be more empathetic.
"It's encouraging children to develop empathy with animals. It's a peaceful, quiet exercise," Klepacki explained to The Dodo, adding, "It encourages them to look at things from an animal's perspective. That helps them better connect with animals and people in their lives."