GREENVILLE, NC (WNCT) — Officials at the Pitt County Animal Shelter wanted to create a program to help fearful or shy dogs become more adoptable and socialized. So they started the Pitt County Shelter Buddies Reading Program to pair local kids with shelter puppies.

The program allows children ages 6-15 to bring their favorite books, sit next to the kennels and read to protect the dogs for up to one hour. The program takes place Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1:30 p.m. to 3:30 p.m. at the Pitt County Animal Shelter.

Research shows that reading to dogs brings them comfort and reduces the anxiety they feel in a shelter setting while promoting empathy in children. Additional research proves that children who read to dogs for 10-15 minutes per week experience a 12% increase in reading skills.

“A lot of dogs can be afraid of the crate. They’ll be in the back of their cages, they don’t really want to come up, or they’ll just be too active in their cages. Lots of research shows that it can help if they have more human interaction. Just having someone talk to them can be really beneficial.

Miranda Jarman, Animal Shelter Supervisor

Child life specialist at Maynard Children’s Hospital, Jaymi Mendoza, said that like therapy dogs in hospitals, these types of programs benefit children and their development.

“Having a pet can really teach the basics of compassion and empathy,” Mendoza said. “Dogs don’t judge, you know, dogs are a safe companion. And so for those kids, it can really help build their confidence in their reading skills and feel like they’re in a safe space.

Children like 11-year-old Alice Chabo entered the program because of her two favorite things: reading and dogs. Alice wants to be a veterinarian when she grows up and was happy to choose books she thought puppies would enjoy, like ‘A Dog’s Life’ and ‘Squirrels World’. Alice is already planning to return later in the week with new puppy books. She hopes the more people come to read, the more dogs will be adopted into their forever homes.

All you need to participate is a good attitude, closed shoes, your favorite books and a parent with you. Sessions are by appointment only and are limited to five readers per day.

After kids have read for 10 hours, they will receive a special “Shelter Buddies” t-shirt. Click here to register for the reading program. Call the shelter for more information at (252) 902-1726