Becoming 'Book Buddies': Humane Society launches reading program for kids, shelter pets
March is Reading Awareness Month, and in honor of that designation, the Humane Society of the Lakes has decided to launch a new program that will benefit both its shelter pets and area schoolchildren.
"Book Buddies" allows any child between the ages of 6-15 to come into the Humane Society shelter on Highway 59 and read to the dogs and cats awaiting adoption.
"We ask that they attend volunteer orientation first," says HSL board member Lori Thompson, "but after that they can come in to read on any afternoon, Wednesday through Saturday."
Open hours for the Book Buddies program are 1 to 5 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, or noon to 4 p.m. on Saturdays. If a participating parent or child would like to ask about the availability of a specific pet or pets, or to schedule a set time each week for reading, they may do so by calling the Humane Society at 218-847-0511, Thompson added.
The Humane Society asks that all children under the age of 12 be accompanied by a parent or adult companion, she said, though those age 12-15 may stay and read for up to two hours without adult supervision.
Her 8-year-old daughter Rowen is an eager participant in the program, Thompson said.
"They really calm down sometimes," says Rowen. "But sometimes they might get a little wild if you read too loud."
She says she also enjoys reading to her own cat, Kennedy, at home. "She gets really calm when I do," added Rowen. Thompson said the program benefits both kids and pets.
"If the pets are shy, it helps them loosen up a little," said Thompson — and it also helps to socialize a cat or dog that is not used to being around people, which will aid in getting them adopted sooner.
The kids, in turn, benefit from reading out loud, because it helps improve their vocabulary and speaking abilities.
"The animals don't care what, or how well you read," Thompson said — they just need to hear the sound of your voice for it to have a calming effect.
Thompson added that the kids also get prizes for different levels of reading achievement; for instance, each participant will get a coupon for a free McDonald's ice cream cone after their third visit, while reading to a pet five times will earn them a free personal pan pizza from Pizza Hut.
"For every 20 minutes they read they will get a prize," Thompson added, noting that area businesses and individual donors have been quite generous in contributing to the program.
Kids can choose to bring their favorite dog or cat into the shelter's "Real Life" adoption room, which includes a comfortable chair and a pet bed, or they can go sit on a bench or chair that's set up outside the kennels or in the "cat room."
Kids should be prepared for the cat or dog to move around a little while they're being read to, or even to get curious about the book itself.
"We had one cat come and lay on the book that Rowen was reading to her," said Thompson, as Rowen giggled at the memory.