GROVE, Okla. – A retired nurse from northeast Oklahoma saw how a worldwide pandemic affected the community’s most vulnerable citizens, its children.

“Reading took a hit after Covid,” said Louise Steffen Templin, referring to a non-health related problem associated with the pandemic.

Templin also saw how the COVID-19 pandemic had produced another problem – hundreds of unwanted domestic animals were being abandoned.

Schoolchildren had lost valuable hours in the classroom and schools implemented online learning while veterinary clinics and other small businesses were shut down, to stop the spread of the disease.

So when Templin received a photograph showing her 7-year-old granddaughter Claire reading to shelter dogs in her community in Nebraska, she had her answer.

The precocious photograph inspired Templin, who is a board member of Grove’s Second Chance Pet Rescue.

“I was so touched by how that little dog just watched and listened to Claire,” Templin said. “It was as if the dog understood every word she was saying,” Templin said of the photograph.

Oakley and Aiden Doggett

Working together with the Lower Elementary Principal, Dottie Smith formed “Claire’s Reading Program.” She said the program is designed to encourage reading and promote kindness.

Reading has a calming effect on animals and children alike, she said.

“Reading not only benefits the shelter animals by companionship, but it will also encourage reading and as the children’s reading skills improve, they will gain confidence.”

Louise Steffen Templin

Students from the lower elementary arrive at the shelter every Friday to read to dogs and cats and the results are heartwarming. The wagging of puggy dog tails showed how happy they were to see the children when they arrived at the shelter.

 Armed with their favorite books and a chance to see a playful kitten or a mischievous puppy, the children chose their animal and settled in for some serious reading time.

The program also helps foster companionship and empathy for animals, she said.

During the visit, most of the young readers occasionally would turn a book around for the animals to see the book’s pictures, leaving smiles on a child’s face and the animals lapping up the attention. 

Templin said reading helps comfort shy, fearful dogs and eases their anxiety.

“Reading at the shelter is a safe space for reluctant readers,” said Carol Hunsperger, school librarian. “Our goal is to develop a love  of reading.”

The program also wants to promote and teach the children at a young age about giving back to their community, she said.

For more information on Second Chance Rescue click here.