Summer can be a time when kids push school work to the back of their mind and just want to have fun. Although, kids participating in the Barks & Books program at the SPOT clinic at the Humane Society of Parkersburg (HSOP) may have found a way to spruce up on their reading skills and have fun at the same time!

Barks & Books is a new program started by Adam Shaffer, an intern with HSOP. Shaffer is an education major and worked with the Parkersburg Area Community Foundation to secure the internship. Shaffer loves working with animals, so the HSOP was a perfect fit for him. The inspiration for the program came from a nationwide initiative to bring more attention the animals in shelters and get kids involved. In addition, pictures of the dogs and readers are posted to Facebook each day of the program. This is a great way to bring attention to the animals and let people know that they socialize with kids.

Adam Shaffer pictured with Missy who was participating in Barks & Books for the day.

Adam Shaffer pictured with Missy who was participating in Barks & Books for the day.

“It was a good experience for me and I’ve learned a lot about the shelter,” Shaffer said.

One dog that participated in the program, Humphrey, benefited immensely. Humphrey wasn’t the most social before starting the program, but afterwards he was eager to socialize with kids. There are a lot of dogs that are shy but end up benefiting from the program.

“All dogs I’ve used for the program so far have been amazing,” Shaffer said.

The program was held this summer on Tuesdays, Wednesdays, and Thursdays from 2:00 – 5:00 p.m. The program was entirely booked for the whole summer. “We originally stated that the program is for ages 6-12 but we ended up extending the age limit because we had a lot of teens interested in participating” Shaffer said.

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Julia with Missy after they had finished a story.

Julia with Missy after they had finished a story.

Now, anyone is welcome to participate, teens included! Parents are welcome to accompany their child, but the HSOP asks that the child be able to read independently before signing up for the program. “The program is really a “win-win” for both the animals and the kids,” Shaffer said.

The HSOP provides books for the children to read or they are welcome to bring their own if they have a favorite. There are 30-minute time slots available where a child can read to a dog that is at the HSOP. In those 30 minutes the child is welcome to read as many books as they can.

“Some children have read three books and still have time to socialize with the animal,” Shaffer said.

The program began with small and large dogs participating, but some of the kids requested to read to cats. Sometimes a cat and dog would be used at the same time and the animals appeared to be calmer than they were if they were by themselves. Several kittens were also participated in the program!

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Shaffer recalled that they had a child with autism that participated in the program that seemed a little reserved with dogs, but when they brought in a cat the child instantly had a connection. The cat was very social and the child’s mother was very happy how the session went.

“I even used a Rottweiler one day to break the stereotype,” Shaffer said.

Only one dog is in the room during each session, but the HSOP tries to rotate them so that multiple dogs get a turn each day. “I always like to end the session with a picture (child and animal) and I allow the child to give the animal a treat,” Shaffer said.

The children are getting a chance to practice up on their reading skills in the summer while still enjoying playing with the dogs. The dogs love it too, the attention and affection that they receive seems to make their day worthwhile. It also gives them some time away from their cage.

“Through interacting with the child in the program, or by posting the pictures to our Facebook page, I would love to see one of these animals get a forever home due to the program,” Shaffer said.

The program is over for the summer, but Shaffer is working with the HSOP staff to extend the program into the school year, maybe as an afterschool program.

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“A problem we had was that a lot of parents worked during the daytime, so we are thinking about doing the program in the fall on evenings and weekends,” Shaffer said.

Julia, pictured above with Missy, doesn’t have a dog at home and enjoys coming to the HSOV to read in the summer. Julia loved reading to the dogs so much that she came back four times!

“This program makes me want to read in the summer!” Julia said.

To learn more about the program or the animals, contact the Humane Society of Parkersburg.

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