All too often my newsfeed is heavy with stories of animal abuse from around the world. But last week, in amongst the sadness and horror, was a ray of sunshine. The following photos were shared to me on Facebook. The surprising text that accompanied it, was “Nebraska Humane Society”.
I am very familiar with therapy reading programs. The publisher I work with, Barking Planet Productions, promotes such programs on their blog. Up until now, every therapy reading program I’ve heard about has been at a library or school. This is the first program that I have ever heard of that is happening at an animal control facility.
I called NEHS to find out more. Pam Wiese, the shelter representative that I spoke to today, was quick to tell me that there is at least one other shelter that has a therapy reading program, but I was unable to find them through Google. The program that NEHS has in place should be a model for change for other shelters around the country.
NEHS is contracted by the city of Omaha to perform their animal control. The city funds AC through the usual avenues: dog registrations and city budgeting, and then NEHS receives those funds to pick up strays, spay/neuter, and provide adoptable animals to the public. Approximately 18,000 animals are funneled through NEHS every year. In addition to performing AC for the Omaha metropolitan area, NEHS is an open entry shelter. “Open-entry” means they also accept owner-surrendered companion animals, quarantine animals who are aggressive or who have bitten, and provide a safe place for victims of cruelty and neglect. They also offer low cost spay and neuter, Animeals (helping elderly residents by delivering free pet food once a month to any senior with a licensed companion animal, who qualifies for Meals on Wheels), and free temporary shelter for animals in domestic abuse situations when women or children are housed in safe shelters. These programs cost money, and in addition to general fundraising, NEHS has found a unique way to offset costs. It’s called “Camp Kindness”, and it’s part of their education program.
Camp Kindness is a summer camp for kids ages 6-12. (junior campers, ages 6-9, and senior campers, ages 10-12) Each session is one week long: participants choose a “kennel buddy” from the adoptable animals at the shelter and as part of their camp experience, they create posters to help their buddy find a forever home. The children also have multiple educational opportunities about pet care and learning to be kind to animals. Camp Kindness was started at NEHS about ten years ago, but just this past year they have added the therapy reading program, where the children can read to their kennel buddy or other dogs in the shelter. The photos tell the story. The program is not just helpful to improving the skills of young readers, but to the animals who find themselves in this loud and strange environment. A camper’s story helps them feel calm, noticed, and less lonely; giving them some loving companionship. Wiese says that any shelter can offer therapy reading to their animals for next to nothing. All that is needed are some 5 gallon buckets (turned upside-down for seats) and a box of books. Children don’t need to come into physical contact with the animals, (and therefore avoid any potential risks) but can sit outside the kennel cages, still providing focus and comfort to the animals.
The program has also offered a small boost to adoptions. About 500 children pass through the program each year, which runs June and July. At $160 per camper (less than the cost of a week of childcare), the shelter could gain as much as $80,000 per summer to put toward their programs. It’s a win/win for everyone.
It takes a love of animals, creativity, and fortitude to run a shelter like NEHS, which truly serves their community. The attitude and resolution to put plans into action is what makes all the difference between a shelter that works, and a shelter that doesn’t.
Here’s what parents are saying about Camp Kindness:
Jennie Wright Our son is doing this and he is loving it! He loves animals but dislikes reading! Best way to get him to read! Thank you for offering this program!
Shari Stone OMGOSH! My daughter gets to do Camp Kindness next week and she is going to SO love this! Can’t wait…now I want to come to Camp Kindness…can I be a kid again? PLEASE!?
Carrie Jean What I like about this program is if you have a child that has a difficult time reading, dogs are the best listeners and don’t judge! Programs like this really help both the dog and child … The dogs have company and get to hear a great story and the child is becoming a stronger reader, helping a dog and being shown how to be gentle with animals! GREAT PROGRAM….keep up the good work
Karen Kappert What a wonderful way to get the kids to read during the summer, entertain the animals, and teach the value of volunteering.