Dog Reading

Once Upon A Tail is a Huge Success

Written by Shireen Abbasey Haynes

“Once Upon A Tail” is Rochester Animal Services’ own reading program.  Children spend a couple of hours reading to an adoptable animal.  The benefits for both children and animals are remarkable.  Children can practice their reading skills and the animals get the social interaction they need.  Children’s voices to an animal’s ear are very soothing and relaxing.

Crista Spampinato, RAS foster coordinator and volunteer, is the founder of the program.  Her son, Aidan, was in a program that read to therapy dogs and Crista could see the boost to her son’s confidence in reading.  Dogs (and cats) are great listeners and so a child who is struggling can practice reading out loud in a non-judgmental environment. Crista reached out to shelter management who immediately jumped on board to support and promote this wonderful program.


“It’s surely an amazing sight to see.  Upon entering the shelter on a busy Saturday afternoon, you can hear the dogs barking.  Some are barking for attention, some because of frustration and some simply because they are bored.  As soon as a child sits down in front of the kennel and begins to read, silence ensues.  It’s magic to our ears.  You can hear a pin drop it’s so quiet.  The dogs and cats actually move themselves to the front of the cage as the child reads, sometimes even showing them a picture or two,” says Crista.

Many of our animals who were rescued from the streets are anxious and shy.  They seem to enjoy this time with the children as much as the children do.   “The reading level doesn’t matter because the animals don’t judge us.  It’s a good way for children to practice and improve their reading skills and at the same time, connect with an animal.  One child mentioned during his field trip from a school that he loves spending time with the animals here as he doesn’t have any pets at home.  It’s a win-win situation.  Many of the other kids couldn’t wait to get home and read to their dogs or cats,” Crista says.


Rochester Animal Services has hosted several sessions of “Once Upon A Tail” and each has been a resounding success.  To date, approximately 120 children have participated in our program.  Girls Scouts, school field trips and even sports teams have come to shelter for reading sessions.  Many of the groups made toys and brought in other donations for the animals in our care.

If you are interested in joining an upcoming session of “Once Upon A Tail”, please visit our website at or like us on Facebook.  Space is limited to 15-20 children per session so advance registration is required.