Book buddies: the sweet reason kids are reading to shelter animals

This past April, the Humane Education department was excited to pilot the Dumb Friends League’s new Tales for Tails program at the Quebec Street Shelter. And, unlike a library where quiet is typically encouraged, the shelter was buzzing with activity and the sounds of children reading, which is undoubtedly one of the sweetest noises of all!

Tales for Tails was developed to leverage the growing research identifying the advantages of reading to animals—benefits to both children and animals.

Often, emerging readers struggle to read aloud in public, but reading to cats and dogs helps ease their anxiety with a nonjudgmental audience. While practicing their reading skills and building their confidence, kids also learn empathy for animals when they see how their reading can have a calming effect on a high-energy dog or a shy cat and they discover how to assess an animal’s body language.

Animals, especially those who may find human interaction challenging, become accustomed to voices as they engage with young readers. Timid cats and dogs become more comfortable with humans while increasing the likelihood of adoption.

The Tales for Tails pilot program included seven children who first participated in a DFL 101 lesson, which helps groups understand how the League fits into animal welfare, as well as why animals end up in shelters, how we help them find new homes and how people can help homeless pets and horses in our care. The kids then received a behind-the-scenes shelter tour before they read for 20 minutes to cats in either the cat pavilion or a cat colony.

“Kids can read to a cat or a dog, it just depends on which adoptable animals are available and are ones that Customer Care determines are well-suited for this program, and we may not know who which animal until the day of the session,” said Lauren Pipis, community educator. “Right now, adoptable cats are actually a better fit because kids can be in the colonies with them, whereas we don’t allow the kids to be in the dog kennels; they have to sit outside of them to read to the dogs.”

The full Tales for Tails program is expected to be rolled out this summer at the Quebec Street Shelter with the opportunity expanding to the Buddy Center in September and a possibility of it being implemented at the Harmony Equine Center at a later date. Teachers can also request the Tales for Tails program at their school by visiting ddfl.org/community-education. Our humane education team will talk about important safety tips for meeting a new dog, and then kids will begin the reading portion with one of the League’s Ambassadogs. (Ambassadogs are highly trained pets used in some of our humane education programs. Kids love meeting our four-legged friends while learning about safe pet interactions and compassion for animals.)

The Tales for Tails program is planned on a recurring every other Wednesday schedule beginning in September and is $15 per child for the one-hour session, which includes the DFL 101 lesson, a tour and reading. Each session is limited to 10 children in grades 1st-12th for a more personal experience. Visit ddfl.org/youth-volunteering to learn more, see available dates as of now and register.

When asked if anything surprised her about the pilot Tales for Tails session, Pipis said, “We knew the kids would love this program, but the response was overwhelmingly positive. Every single kiddo was heard saying, ‘We want to do this again!’”

It’s a win-win when children get to practice their reading skills and pets get more comfortable with people! Everyone at the League is excited to see the Tales for Tails program grow!