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The relationships that occur between animals and children are tangibly powerful. Something magical happens when kids connect with dogs, cats, horses, and other assorted furry or feathery beings. Nowhere is this more apparent than in Missouri, where children are invited to read to shelter pets. This work goes on all year, through the Humane Society of Missouri.

To extend their reach, the non-profit organization puts on a Deck the Howls event each December. The evening provides a cozying-up opportunity for pajama-clad kids eager to hone their reading skills and share stories with amazing pups in need of homes. This type of interaction is one of the things that shelter dogs crave—and wish you knew.

The children benefit by practicing their reading skills in front of a non-judgmental (and absolutely adorable!) audience, developing empathy and learning to make compassionate, responsible choices when interacting with animals. The pets benefit by having a positive social experience and learning how to relax around people, leading to quicker adoptions. Since the program started in 2015, the average length of stay for a shelter dog at the Humane Society of Missouri has dropped by six days!