Animals find calm, connection through reading program with teenage addicts

Animals find calm, connection through reading program with teenage addicts

SPOKANE, Wash. - An unlikely partnership forged this month at the Spokane Humane Society could have a lasting impact on the animals there, as well as on a special group of teenage girls who need the same kind of affection.

While well taken care of at the Spokane Humane Society, the dogs and cats there are often terrified and untrusting of humans. When they're scared in their kennels, it's often harder for them to get adopted.

"If they're pinging off the kennels or running around in circles and barking, it's not real attractive," said Humane Society Director Dave Richardson.

So, Richardson and his staff are constantly looking for ways to calm the animals and build trust. They found the perfect match for a proposed program in the girls at Daybreak Spokane.

Daybreak is the only drug treatment center of its kind in the state, treating girls from the ages of 12 to 18. It's a locked-down facility with a strict schedule, and a lifeline for girls on the edge.

"My decisions are what brought me here," said 17-year old Cassidy, who admits using drugs like heroin and meth since she was just 12. "It was either go to Daybreak or go to jail."

Cassidy has been in the program for more than a month and is one of more than 20 receiving treatment at the facility. Like many of her peers, she needs to learn a lot of life skills before leaving and trying to return to her life.

"These girls come in here afraid, they're non-trusting of humans... and, in some ways, they're trapped," explained Cathy Reynolds, counselor at Daybreak. "It's a locked down facility."

Sounds a lot like the animals at Spokane Humane Society.

That's how the shelter reading program was born. The dogs and cats could use a calming activity; the girls from Daybreak could use a chance to get out of the facility and connect. They also need a chance to enjoy life without drugs and alcohol.

Last week, a group of girls came to Spokane Humane Society, picked out books and grabbed a chair. Then, they sat down in front of the kennels and began reading. Reading to dogs and cats, who have been shy or hyper or afraid of human attention. A simple connection with amazing possibilities.

"It will teach our dogs to be a little calmer and patient," explained Richardson. "And, those on the other end reading the books [can learn] some empathy for the critters and help them come out of their shells."

Cassidy found a Shepard mix named Fetch, a floppy-eared, overgrown puppy who reminded her of a home she hopes to return to when she's ready.

The girls plan to return and continue the program. But, if all goes well, these same dogs and cats will be in loving homes instead of the shelter. In a few months, hopefully the girls will be ready to go home, too. Until then, they'll work on building a bond, powerful in its simplicity.

"These dogs [are] given a second chance in life," Reynolds says. "We hope these girls realize that, too."