- Associated Press - Sunday, February 28, 2016

ST. LOUIS (AP) - Ava Babcock always wanted to volunteer at an animal shelter but couldn’t because of her age. So when her mother saw a Facebook post about the Humane Society’s program for children to read to dogs, she immediately signed up the 9-year-old.

Ava and at least 20 other children visited a Humane Society of Missouri shelter in St. Louis with their parents Saturday to participate in the Shelter Buddies Reading Program.

The program was launched last year as a way for children to learn about the shelter while enriching the lives of the animals.

As Ava sat on the floor in front of the glass cage holding 1-year-old Charlie, a Siberian husky and Akita mix, she read the dog a book.

“I love this,” Kristin Babcock said as she watched her daughter. “She’s been waiting to volunteer at the shelter.”

Babcock, who lives in Crestwood, said Ava gets nervous when reading aloud in class, but not at the shelter.

“It’s good for her to read out loud,” she said. “The dog is not going to care if she messes up a word.”

When Ava sat down, the dog faced away from her. When she began to read, Charlie sat up and moved closer.

“I like it,” Ava said of her reading. “I like animals, and I like to help them. When it sat down and listened, it calmed down.”

That calming effect is exactly what the Humane Society wants.

“It helps the animals become more adoptable,” said Jeane Jae, vice president of communications at the Humane Society.

The program is open to children 6 to 15 years old. There is a one-time participation fee of $5. Each month, the center has a training session about what the dogs face in shelter situations and why it is important to interact with the animals.

Once trained, the children can make arrangements with their parents to visit the center and read to the dogs during a two-hour period. They can bring their own books or choose from a selection there.

Ava wants to visit the shelter again to read to the dogs.

“It’s wonderful for the kids and for the dogs. It’s a win-win,” said Julie Hundman, a retired teacher and volunteer for nine years in the society’s education department. “The dogs calm down and settle. You don’t see stress signs any more.”

She said the children also benefit from having the dogs as an audience.

“They don’t care if (the children) mess up a word or pronounce it wrong,” she said, smiling as she greeted the kids to the program.

It was the first visit for Ann Reedy, 15, of St. Louis, a freshman at Rosati-Kain High School. “I came to read because it looks fun and I love dogs,” Ann said as she read to a 10-month-old miniature pinscher mix named Zorro.

Her brother, Timmy Reedy, 14, volunteered for the program to satisfy a 24-hour Christian service project at his school, St. Margaret of Scotland. He chose to read to an 11-year-old pug and Chihuahua mix named Rosie.

Timmy spread out a powder blue blanket close to the glass cage and began to read from “Some Dogs Eat Trees.”

As he read, Rosie stood with her mouth open as though she was smiling, an expression that Timmy knew from his training was a good one.

Trinity Murray, 12, of O’Fallon, Ill., decided to read to a beagle named Lucy. The dog was cowering in silence in a corner.

“She’s really cute and I would like to adopt her, but we already have four dogs,” Trinity said as mother, Kari Murray, agreed out loud.

Although Lucy never moved or uttered a sound, Trinity believed she was benefiting from the reading.

“I think it’s going to help her,” she said, peering up from her book, “Insurgent.”


Information from: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, https://www.stltoday.com

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