Lee's Summit Journal

Reading to pets a ‘Pawsitively’ great opportunity for LS kids to learn about kindness

Liffey Barger, a third grader at Lee’s Summit Elementary, reads her book to a cat at Wayside Waifs.
Liffey Barger, a third grader at Lee’s Summit Elementary, reads her book to a cat at Wayside Waifs. Special to the Journal

For a group of third graders from Lee’s Summit Elementary, kindness is sharing a fun tale with a furry friend. The students capped off their lessons in empathy by spending time reading to cats and dogs at Wayside Waifs.

When? On April 5, they took their second trip to the animal shelter as part of Pawsitively Spreading Kindness, a program aimed at teaching kindness through helping those in their local community.

The focal point of this trip was having the students read stories they had written and illustrated themselves to the cats and dogs at Wayside. The students stood next to the kennels and read their stories.

One story featured a bullied animal finding its way; another cast dogs and cats as royalty in a pretend kingdom.

“What I liked about it is I could read and not be nervous, because I get nervous reading in front of people,” said Jordan Shipper, 9.

Aliza Fisk, 8, had previously read to a dog at a library program but chose to read to a cat on this field trip.

“The dogs they never sit. They just jump around, and the cats, they stay still and are quiet, while the dogs are loud,” she said.

John Parker, humane educator at Wayside, asked the kids to picture how an animal might feel in different situations and how to focus their own behavior to respond to the animal without causing a problem.

“It’s a great way to get them in here and see how animals are feeling and to understand that it’s similar to things that they’re feeling,” Parker said, adding that starting these lessons when kids are young will teach them to treat each other with respect.

Although Parker has had other groups come in and read to the animals, this is the first time he’s seen a group write their own books to read to the animals.

“One of them read me a story about bullying … and I was like, ‘Oh, my gosh. This is what we’re talking about.’ We’re talking about understanding each other, and this kid did such a wonderful job,” Parker said. “When I can see that come to fruition, it just brings me so much joy, I can’t even tell you.”

Parker said that having calm interactions like these can help animals feel more comfortable around kids, and in turn, help the dogs and cats get adopted more quickly.

The whole idea of the program at Lee’s Summit Elementary was to find a way to teach kindness through understanding empathy.

“Sometimes, kids can be kind of harsh, and some of our kids struggle with behavior or academics. We wanted an environment where they felt safe, and that led us to animals,” said Wendy Hilbert, a library media specialist at the school.

“They were very passionate about sharing and teaching other people about what the animals went through and how to take care of them.”

Hilbert and Daphne Mack, a school counselor, requested a grant and got $449 from Lee’s Summit Cares to pay for the students’ bus ride, program T-shirts and the cost of the book materials. The school contributed an additional $66 to cover the costs.

“We want to be out in the community more, we want to be doing more service, it’s just the cost of getting the kids there,” she said.

Besides reading, the other element of service was folding four dumpster-sized loads of clean sheets and towels for the animals. The kids also helped fold laundry on their previous field trip to Wayside.

Hilbert said she hopes to be able to get the funding to do the program again next year.