GREENVILLE, N.C. (WNCT) — Pitt County Animal Shelter officials 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 pups.

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

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

“A lot of the dogs, they can have some cage fearfulness. They’ll be in the back of their cages, they don’t really want to come up, or they’ll just be overly active in their cages. There is a lot of research showing 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 similar to therapy dogs at hospitals, these types of programs benefit children and their development.

“Having an animal can really teach the foundations of compassion and empathy,” Mendoza said. “Dogs aren’t judgemental, you know, dogs are a safe companion. And so for these kids, it can really help develop their confidence in their reading skills and feeling like they’re in a safe space.”

Kids like 11-year-old Alice Chabo entered the program because of her two favorite things: reading and dogs. Alice wants to be a vet when she grows up and was excited to pick out books she thought the pups would enjoy, like “A Dog’s Life” and “Squirrels World.” Alice already has plans to be back later in the week with some new books for the pups. She hopes the more people that come to read, the more dogs will be adopted into their forever homes.

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

Once kids read for 10 hours they’ll get a special “Shelter Buddies” T-shirt. Click here to sign up for the reading program. Call the shelter for more information at (252) 902-1726