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Shelter Reading Program

Brayden Rogers and Grace Kravik spend their Wednesday afternoon reading to dogs at the Biter Root Humane Association shelter in Hamilton, MT. Photo by Perry Backus

It's been written that "music soothes the savage beast"…but now we know that reading soothes the shelter dog. Students in the Keystone to Discovery After School Program in Hamilton, MT travel once a week to read to the dogs and cats that are waiting at the Bitter Root Humane Association to be adopted. "The dogs really respond to the kids. It really helps to have somebody talk to them," Bitter Root's lead animal care attendant, Charlotte, explains.

The students are a part of the nonprofit summer and after-school project for behaviorally or academically at-risk youth. The program not only helps to soothe the animals, but it also gives the kids a chance to work on their reading skills. "We've seen that the sound of their voices is soothing for the dogs and cats. It is relaxing to the dogs to hear those calm and steady voices," says program's director, Ria Overholt.

Gavin Vineyard explains how he gave up a game of dodge ball for a chance to read to the dogs. He says he didn't hesitate when he had to choose. He says he does it for the dogs. "I really like to read to them," Vineyard explains. "It feels like a nice thing to do. They always seem to calm down after you start reading."

A student sits and reads in the cat area at the Biter Root Humane Association shelter in Hamilton, MT. Photo from Facebook

The dogs and cats are not the only ones that benefit from the reading. "Dogs are a totally non-judgmental audience to read to," Overholt said. "We've found that it does help them (the students) build their reading skills and they have fun doing it. Many of them come back here week after week. It's their choice. This is how they want to spend their time."

When the students arrive, the shelter is filled with booming barks. Once they settle down and open their books, it seems that their calm voices just quiets and settles the dogs down.

As sixth-grader Brayden Rogers (who has three dogs at home) picks out a dog that he had never seen before, the little Miniature Pinscher-cross trembles at first and then relaxes. "It was like he was saying, 'Read to me. Please read to me. I want a friend,' " he said, with a smile. "Every week I come home from here and ask my mom if I can take one home. Every week she tells me no, we have too many already."