A group of students celebrated Read Across America Day by reading Dr. Seuss books to anxious shelter animals at the Humane Society of Missouri this week.
Across the country, schools and community centers celebrate Read Across America Day, which celebrates Dr. Seuss’s birthday on March 2 each year. In Missouri, students knelt by dog and cat enclosures and read their favorite Dr. Seuss books as the animals looked on.
While the thought of children reading books to dogs and cats may seem strange, the Humane Society of Missouri hosts the sweet reading sessions through its Shelter Buddies Reading Program seven days a week. To participate in the program, children go through a training session with their parents and then can sign up to read at an shelter animal, which helps timid dogs amd cats become more socialized.
“This provides the positive reinforcement that encourages the animals to have the courage to approach the kennel front each time a visitor comes through the adoption center,” said JoEllyn Klepacki, director of education, Humane Society of Missouri. “This is important because animals who approach the kennel front to greet potential adopters get adopted much more quickly than those who don’t.”
The Humane Society of Missouri came up with the program after seeing how well dogs responded when children read to them, Klepacki said in an email. In the summer of 2015, the shelter had several dogs rescued from abusive situations who were showing signs of stress when visitors walked through the adoption floor, according to Klepacki.
“We decided to try having them read to the dogs because it was a calm activity that provided companionship without direct physical interaction,” she said. “ When we saw the way that the dogs were responding to the children reading to them … we felt this could really be an opportunity for children to volunteer and comfort the shelter dogs year round.”
The Shelter Buddies program is held at two Humane Society of Missouri shelters, and the program will soon expand to another location in April, Klepacki said.
While Shelter Buddies can read from whatever book they choose, the dogs seemed to enjoy the Dr. Seuss selection this week, Klepacki said.
“The dogs’ ears seem to perk up more when the Shelter Buddies read; Oh, The Places You’ll Go! and the cats seem to prefer The Cat in the Hat, but we’re not 100% sure about that,” Klepacki said.