Helping shelter dogs one word at a time


PHOTO COURTESY KAROLINE LABELLE

‘Tales for Tails’ offers a win-win solution for kids struggling with their oral reading skills and dogs in need of human companionship, as Miko (above) reads to Streusel and her newborn litter of pups.

The Journal recently reported on the difficulties encountered by Animatch Non-Profit Dog Adoption Services as it had to relocate its operations from Les Cèdres. While the venerable shelter is still in the process of updating its new installations in Pointe-Fortune, the cause cannot wait: dogs still need to be saved and taken care of, and Animatch recently welcomed its newest and possibly most unlikely volunteer in its long existence.

Meet Miko, age 7, a polite child with reading difficulties. His mother, Karoline Labelle, recently hit on a great idea to get her son to enjoy reading without the risk of being made fun of. Inspired by the successful American program ‘Tales for Tails,’ Karoline approached different shelters and animal rescue organizations to launch a similar initiative in the area. The program provides an opportunity to children with reading difficulties to read to a receptive audience without fear of judgment. The program that combines the comfort of a close human presence and the soothing effect of reading aloud has proven very effective with stressed-out animals trying to acclimate to life in a shelter – while also helping a number of children with reading difficulties overcome the challenges they face.

Given how difficult it is to find and retain volunteers in animal shelters, you would expect any animal rescue organization to jump at the chance of recruiting new people, especially when they are bringing on board a new and proven initiative such as ‘Tales for Tails.’ However, the road to Miko’s first reading interaction with shelter dogs was somewhat lengthy and difficult.

“The SPCA was the first organization I called,” Karoline says. “They told me they were not equipped to have this program there because they don’t have the space or the time to manage something like that.”

The Montreal SPCA referred Karoline to another place that works with children who want to volunteer their time for animals, but her idea did not find traction with that group either.

“I continued my research, mostly online,” she said. “I suspected that the problem was with insurance. I can understand that animal behavior can be unpredictable so no one wants to take a chance,” Karoline explains. She says that few people actually bothered to listen to her proposal. She believed in the program, and kept making calls.

“During my research, I found out about Animatch and I sent them an email.” Helen Lacroix of Animatch called her back immediately. Animatch had its hands full at the time, dealing with relocation, construction and fundraising, but Helen was interested in hearing what Karoline had to offer. “Helen was kind enough to listen, and she got on board immediately.”

Helen says even though Animatch was not entirely set up to accommodate this program, she immediately initiated the process so that Miko could start reading to some of the dogs under her care. And so, on December 1, Helen matched Miko with Streusel, a new mother with a litter of six newborn pups.

“Miko is just amazing,” Helen says. “He sat down with the dogs. He showed pictures to Streusel. He was reading very, very well. The puppies did not even have their eyes open yet, but they were moving toward his voice.”

Helen adds that Miko shows interest because he noticed the dogs craved the attention. This served as motivation for Miko to want to read. “He saw that when he was reading, the dogs were quieter.”

Miko went back for a second reading and he had the chance to read to a 16-year-old dog. “This dog was a little bit more stressed but Miko followed her around and kept reading to her. It gave him a purpose to read. He’s a soft, gentle boy, and the animals can feel that.”

Karoline is very pleased with the immediate results of the program for both the animals and her son. “It is going so well. I already see a marked difference in my son’s attitude.”

The program therefore helps both the animals and young children with reading difficulties. “I understand that in the US, the program focuses mainly on the animals, but I wanted my son to enjoy reading and be able to read without being judged,” Karoline explains. “For him, reading was a chore, or a school assignment.”

While there is support in schools for children who experience reading difficulties, Karoline aims to introduce a local version of ‘Tales for Tails’ in the area that will facilitate access for parents who may not be able to avail themselves of school resources so readily.

“I am continuing my research so that we can bring this program to other children. There must be other mothers out there who are in the same situation.”

You can find out more about the program at animatch.ca, or by sending an email to Karoline Labelle at karolinelabelle@gmail.com. See our Facebook page for more images and a video.

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