As summer break comes to an end, it’s time for students to go back to school — but we're talking about dogs here, not kids.
Kelly Hodges runs “Kids and Canines,” a program where dogs go into local schools, and kids can read to them.
“The whole goal is to help kids who are behind in their reading. I mean years behind in their reading, reading with dogs creates a no-judgment environment for them to be able to read; it doesn’t matter how many mistakes they make,” explained Hodges.
She said every year, the program holds a summer camp for the dogs. It allows them to keep the dogs training up to date, so they are ready for school use — just like students prepare for the next year.
Julia Russo is in her fifth summer helping out at the camp. She said this is a perfect fit for her since she hopes to become a veterinarian someday.
“I have an application in at a Veterinary High School, and this is on my application, and I have a feeling that it’s what has kept me going this far,” explained Russo.
In the last five years, “Kids and Canines” has grown from serving 15 kids in one school to now serving over 1,500 local students.
Sitting around and reading to dogs even may not seem “transformational,” but Hodges said it sure is.
Most of the kids served by this program have been abused, neglected, or abandoned. Many have trust issues, so the dogs, which sit or lay calmly next to the kids while they read, help remedy a lot of that.
“We’re not only changing kids’ attitudes, but we’re also teaching them skill sets, letting them build trust. Again, it’s so much bigger than hanging out with the dog,” said Hodges.
She added, “The dog can break down the barrier; it allows those children to blossom and develop those social skills for success.”
“Kids and Canines” will be going to several schools this year. You can learn more about how you can volunteer with the group or donate here.