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A shelter environment can be overwhelming for some dogs and cats, especially if they are already shy, under-socialized, or prone to stress. These factors can cause them to retreat to the back of their cage or withdraw from people, and as a result, they’re often overlooked by potential adopters.

With millions of companion animals entering shelters every year, staff and volunteers are already overwhelmed, especially those that have a small staff or rely solely on volunteers. And even though shelter staff tries their best to give each animal individual attention, it’s not always possible with all of the other responsibilities that come with running a shelter.

Providing toys and enrichment activities for the animals in their enclosure can be beneficial, but even with these tools, animals can still become bored or stressed. And for those that are shy or need extra socialization to help them build confidence, a lack of significant one-on-one time with humans can delay their progress. To help shy and fearful dogs overcome their insecurities and increase their chances of being adopted, shelters are relying on a simple, yet effective program that’s been proven to have amazing results for both animals and humans.

Saving Lives Through Reading


Humane Society of Missouri/Facebook

Children enjoy being read to, and, as it turns out, so dogs and cats. Because reading is a calm and quiet activity, it helps provide a soothing environment for animals showing signs of stress, especially those who are timid or need help building confidence.

The concept is fairly simple. After a short training session to learn about animal behavior and animal care, children are invited to pick out animal-themed books and sit in front of a dog or cat enclosure to read them a story. Some shelters also incorporate positive-reinforcement training by having the children offer treats to animals when they approach the front of their enclosure.


Humane Society of Missouri/Facebook

It’s a non-invasive approach that lets the animals decide how much interaction they want to have with the children. Whether they’re listening from the back of their enclosure or sitting at the front observing, they’re benefiting from this program because they’re learning to have positive interactions with humans, which helps build trust.

It’s amazing how something as simple as reading can have such an incredible impact on animals. But these programs go beyond helping animals become calmer and more confident. They’re helping children as well and creating a new generation of compassionate individuals who want to make a difference in the lives of animals.

Building Confidence and Teaching Compassion


Animal Humane Society/Facebook

Children who participate can strengthen their reading skills, helping them build confidence in the classroom. A study at the University of California, Davis found that children who participated in a 10-week reading program saw a 12 percent improvement in their reading. It’s also believed that children are more comfortable reading to animals than other people because they’re not as afraid to make a mistake. This likely isn’t a surprise to most, especially considering the healing nature of companion animals. That, along with their nonjudgmental nature, is exactly why they’re used as part of therapy and emotional support programs.

It also provides children and teens an opportunity to learn about pet adoption and animal welfare issues, building an understanding of why it’s important to treat animals with compassion. In the end, both the kids and the animals win.

Getting Children Involved

Volunteering with animals is a great way to get children involved in community activities. And reading programs provide a fun, yet educational way for both children and adults to help animals. To get involved in your community, check with your local shelter to see if they offer a reading program. If they don’t, ask them if they would consider starting one.

You can also check out these other One Green Planet articles for other ways people of all ages can get involved with helping animals in their community.

Lead image source: Humane Society of Missouri/Facebook