Tuesday mornings are a special time at the Siouxland Humane Society. That’s when third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students from Dusty Krager’s Foundations of Special Education class come from Irving Elementary to read to the shelter animals.
“The kids are sometimes too shy to read to a person in the classroom, but they have no problem reading to a kitten or a dog because they don’t judge,” Krager said as fifth-grader Ronald Barrett confidently read aloud a few words from his book to Wally, a Chow mix.
He took a break from reading to feed the dog a treat.
“He loves treats!” Barrett said. “He’s the biggest dog I’ve ever seen, except in books. His eyes look kind of funny, though. He must be tired.”
“They get so worried about the animals here,” Krager added. “It’s so cute.”
She got the idea after reading a story about a similar program elsewhere.
“I thought it would be a cool thing to get started in Sioux City,” Krager said. “I emailed [the Siouxland Humane Society] and they were on board. We got it all set up and they have been very accommodating with our schedule.”
Seeing children make connections that aren’t typically easy to make and interact with the animals are Krager’s favorite parts of coming to the shelter every week.
“The kids have really bonded with the animals. It’s really cool when we’re here and there are animals who were found as strays. The kids will comfort them and tell them it’s okay and they’ll have a family soon,” she said.
Keeping the animals interested in the reading material is serious business for the students, too.
“We have a little third-grade girl who will only bring cat books to read to the cats,” Krager said.
Fifth-grader Jose Garcia immediately expressed his preference for reading to cats over people when asked for his choice.
“They’re more fun than Miss Krager, huh?” Krager said.
Garcia nodded as he nuzzled a black kitten.
The positives that come from the experience are seemingly endless, and Krager and shelter director Jerry Dominicak aren’t sure which side has received the most benefit.
“Some of the kids are unable to make personal connections with people, but they can make those connections with the animals,” Krager said. “I think it boosts their confidence and really helps with their social skills in addition to their reading skills.”
Attention from the kids has upped morale for the animals at the shelter, too, said Dominicak.
“A lot of times the cats and dogs will hide at the back of the kennel and a lot of what attracts people to adopt a pet is the animal coming to the front of the kennel,” he said. “When the kids come and sit at the front of their kennels for a while, it makes the animals more inquisitive and social.”
“It’s been a win-win deal,” he added. “Seeing the increased exposure for the animals has been great, but also seeing the improvement in the kids’ reading has been rewarding. They are making the animals more adoptable, and that’s a great help.”