Photo: Humane Society of Missouri, USA 

A group of students from Tanglin Trust School were selected to be part of a new trial reading programme initiated by the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA), where they read storybooks to pooches at the shelter.

When asked why they decided to sign up for this programme, the children’s responses were similar—they wanted to help the dogs at the shelter regain their trust in humans and hence find their forever homes. Although this project is just a tester here in Singapore, similar programmes have been started around the world and have proven to be beneficial for both the young readers and the dogs listening.

Body Language

The Humane Society of Missouri launched a programme called the Shelter Buddies Reading Programme during the Christmas of 2015, and it now runs once a month.

During these sessions, kids are encouraged to sit in front of the pooches’ kennels and read to them. Children who want to volunteer for this programme are taught to read the body language of the doggies, where they are trained to tell when a dog is feeling anxious or stressed.

Ideally, the shy dog will approach the child in front of them with interest. To encourage this behaviour, the children are allowed to prompt the dogs with treats, so that they don’t stay in the corner of their cages. "What this is also doing is to bring the animals to the front in case potential adopters come through. They are more likely to get adopted if they are approaching and interacting, rather than hiding in the back or cowering,” programme director, Jo Klepacki, tells The Dodo.

Calming Effect

Timid dogs aren’t the only ones that stand to gain from this. According to Jo, dogs that have very high levels of energy also benefit. “Hearing a child read can really calm those animals,” she explains. The children who participate in the programme effectively learn to develop empathy with the animals they work with since they are encouraged to see the world from the frightened animals’ perspectives.

Since this reading programme is only at its trial stage here in Singapore, we can only hope that these same benefits will be observed if the programme does eventually begin operation. According to a Facebook post by SPCA, they are “still fine-tuning some of the logistics”, which is why the programme isn’t quite ready to be set up yet. You can watch the video clip of the trial reading programme on SPCA’s official Facebook page here.