It will certainly help the rescue animals adjust to the shelter environment while they wait for their forever homes. What it will also do is help the readers with child anxiety.
Ingham County Animal Control and Shelter didn't know what to expect when they called out to enthusiastic child readers who'd like to spend some time reading to rescue animals. They were met with an overwhelming amount of positive responses. Since posting the Facebook invite on October 31, the Michigan shelter has seen an influx of little volunteers looking into sign up for the shelter's reading program. The S.P.A.C.E Tails program is open to children between the ages of 6 and 16 and hopes to reduce anxiety in the shelter's furry residents while they wait for their forever homes.
The shelter first announced the reading program last month in a Facebook post inviting community members to donate used children's books. Posting a photograph of an adorable pawster, they wrote, "Waffers loves reading! Okay, she can't read because she is a dog but she loves when humans read to her. Our shelter is working towards a reading program for our shelter pets and children in the community. But we need your help! We are in need of used children's books. These books will be used during our 'Reading Paws' program, where we have participants ages 6-16 years ready stories to our shelter residents."
Not long after, the shelter revealed that there's been much interest in their reading program and that due to the overwhelming responses, they're looking to announce future dates soon. Elaborating on what the reading program entails, the shelter wrote: "S.P.A.C.E Tails is a new reading program for children, ages 6-16 years of age at ICACS. The shelter environment can be overwhelming for many pets, we have found reading to our residents reduces anxiety and creates a calming environment."
The next S.P.A.C.E Tails session has been set for December 4 and according to an event page for the same, each session lasts approximately 45 minutes. However, since slots are limited, the shelter urges interested parents to enroll their kids in advance. While this program is aimed to reduce anxiety in the rescue animals, it can be a therapeutic experience for the readers as well.
For some years now, experts have touted the educational benefits of children reading to therapy animals. Speaking to KQED, educational therapist Rebecca Barker Bridges said," 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."
After learning about therapy animals from a colleague, Bridges adopted a golden retriever named Stanley who now helps young students overcome their fear of reading. "Students feel self-conscious about reading because they’re afraid of being judged by students and teachers if they don’t do a 'good job.' But Stanley dismantles this fear for them. He makes learning joyful. Children love interacting with Stanley, and this connection also teaches them about kindness and empathy," she said.
According to Bridges, the same educational benefits can be seen even without a therapy animal. Or even an actual animal, for that matter. "You can apply the same principles to a stuffed animal. The most important thing is to give the child some space so that they can read to their pet (even if it isn’t a real one) in privacy, which helps them to feel safe," she said.