An animal shelter in southern Ontario has created a novel program to help calm anxious animals by having children read to them.

“Once I get into it, then she just sits there and then she just listens the whole time,” young volunteer Victoria told CTV Barrie while sitting in front of a kennel housing Sage, a deceptively tough-looking Cane Corso mix.

“I like talking,” Victoria added, “especially to Sage because she’s really sweet.”

The program at the Alliston & District Humane Society near Barrie, Ont., also helps the animals get used to having children and strangers around.

Emily Day, who works at the shelter, said animals arriving at the shelter are often frightened. “They don’t know where they are,” she said.

“The animals will walk away with a more firm ability to sit quietly and to enjoy the company of people,” Day added. “That in and of itself is a big milestone for a lot of these guys.”

The program is open to children in grades one through eight. Volunteers may also read to cats, rabbits and turtles.

Victoria’s mother, Michelle, said she sees it as a learning opportunity for both the dogs and children like Victoria.

“She’s learning a lot of patience,” she said.

With a report from CTV Barrie’s Krista Sharpe