Citrus was a little leery at first, so she retreated to the far corner of her bed to watch quietly for a while. But then the 2-year-old dog started moving around and sniffing the visitors to her kennel at the SPCA Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare last week.
Eventually, after checking out everybody, Citrus settled down and sat looking over the shoulder of Ava Bagwell, who was reading a book of poems for kids out loud. Ava, 7, was there with her mother, Bobbi Bagwell, and her 11-year-old sister, Macy Bagwell, to participate in the Albrecht Center’s Read & Relax program.
“It’s a win-win situation for everyone,” said Bagwell, a member of the Albrecht Center’s board of directors. “My daughters get to brush up on their reading while they’re out of school, and it calms down the dogs. The dogs learn that when they’re around people, they don’t have to always be in their faces asking for a treat or wanting to play ball.”
Citrus, a Chinese Shar-Pei/Labrador retriever mix, seemed to benefit from spending part of the afternoon with the Bagwells.
“I didn’t think she was going to get off of her bed, but now she’s gotten comfortable with us and is acting curious instead of kind of cowering,” Bagwell said.
The Read & Relax concept isn’t new to the Albrecht Center. For nearly two years, the program has been one of the opportunities offered to the facility’s registered volunteers, who must be 16 years of age or older.
But this summer, the Albrecht Center launched a summer version of Read & Relax that is designed especially for children. It is open to any youngster who is at least 5 years of age and is accompanied by a parent.
“We’ve had about 15 or 16 children that have gotten involved,” said Sarah Neikam, volunteer coordinator for the Albrecht Center. “Some come in and stay for 15 minutes, and some stay up to an hour. Most have been elementary school students, and they usually bring their own books with them.”
Youngsters who donate two hours of their time to the Read & Relax program receive a certificate along with a bookmark, a pencil, a glow-in-the-dark bracelet and a water bottle.
“Read & Relax is part of our Phideaux University program, which is aimed at making the dogs more adoptable,” Neikam said. “A lot of shelter dogs can be really excitable and really anxious, and Read & Relax helps de-stress them so they behave better.”
Madison Leslie, 7, returned with her mother, Trish Leslie, to the Albrecht Center last week for her second Read & Relax session. Madison talked about her experience during a break from reading “Goldilocks and the Just Right Club,” a book in the “After Happily Ever After” series, to three Jack Russell terrier/miniature poodle puppies named London, Paris and Tokyo.
“My mom told me about it, and I was nervous, so I asked her, ‘Is somebody going to give me a book or something?’” Madison said. “But then I did it and found out it was really fun. It gives the dogs lots of attention, and it helps them get adopted. I feel like they are listening to me when I read to them.”
For more information about Read & Relax, call the Albrecht Center at 803-648-6863.
Dede Biles is a general assignment reporter for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since January 2013. A native of Concord, N.C., she graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
STAFF PHOTO BY DEDE BILES Ava Bagwell, 7, reads to Citrus while participating in the Read & Relax program at the SPCA Albrecht Center for Animal Welfare.×