The rescue dogs at Ingham County Animal Control and Shelter spend every day waiting to be adopted.
Shelter staff and volunteers work hard to provide love and care to every rescue animal, but the truth is, living in a shelter is not fun. Dogs need one-on-one attention to keep them happy and comfortable. For many, the shelter environment is overwhelming, scary, and sad. They struggle with stress and anxiety, and symptoms of those emotions can make it harder to attract the right forever families. It’s a problem that shelters face on a daily basis, but Ingham County Animal Control and Shelter is inviting children to read to dogs to combat those negative feelings. Their S.P.A.C.E. Tails reading program is designed to create a relaxing environment for stressed out dogs, and it has the added benefit of helping young readers develop their skills and confidence.
When the shelter first announced their idea on Facebook, they weren’t sure how the public would react.
Other shelters across the country have initiated similar reading programs for children and shelter dogs, but this was a first for the Michigan rescue. Their first step was collecting used books for children to read. They put out a plea on social media, and they were pleasantly surprised by the response. Hundreds of people commented saying they’d like to donate and sign up their kids to read to dogs. Books started arriving at the shelter, and more people expressed interest in the program.
The shelter’s idea to invite children to read to dogs was inspired by scientific research. Studies show that reading out loud to dogs can create a calming environment that reduces anxiety and stress. It gives nervous shelter dogs an opportunity to calmly interact with a person and breaks up their long days of living in a kennel. The time spent with the children helps dogs become accustomed to being near people. It can be a huge help when it comes time to transition from the shelter to a home environment.
At the same time, reading to dogs is great for children.
Educational therapist Rebecca Barker Bridges said in article for KQED,
“Pets are very nonjudgmental, and their calming presence distills stressful situations. For children who feel insecure about their capacity to do things like reading, therapy pets bolster their self-confidence, which reduces their anxiety.”
When a child reads to a parent or teacher, they feel stressed to do a “good job.” They feel judged for their mistakes, and those negative feelings make reading out loud an unpleasant experience. But with dogs, there’s absolutely no judgement. Children are free to read at their own pace. It gives them confidence to keep trying along with valuable practice. Plus, they can feel good knowing they’re doing something worthwhile for rescue dogs in need.
The Ingham County shelter has already filled available slots for their first S.P.A.C.E Tails event on November 27. Due to popular demand, they’ve added another event for December 4. They encourage parents to sign up in advance. Each session is 45 minutes long, and children ages 6-16 are welcome to participate. Young readers can bring their own favorite books to read to dogs or choose from a collection of donated books.
Everyone is looking forward to this event that will enrich the lives of shelter animals and help children become better readers. It might even result in a few new forever families!