KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Sometimes, the best audience is a captive and furry one — even if they're not totally paying attention.
"I mean, she kind of just moved around the whole time and was playing with her toy, but she was actually pretty good," said Kylea Jennings.
She's talking about Winnie, a dog up for adoption at Young-Williams Animal Center.
Even if Winnie's a little distracted, Kylea is just happy to spend time with her.
Kylea, 11, and her sister Natalie, 10, are volunteering for the shelter's 'Paws for Reading' program. It's not new, but it's growing as the shelter opens more time slots and asks for more people to come read to animals.
"We can read to any of the animals to help them interact with humans, to help them when they go to their forever home," said Natalie.
The sisters brought books for their time slot, which Kylea read to Winnie. Natalie read to a few bunnies. Even though the bunnies were more interested in hopping around, they were a pretty good audience
"They weren't very still," Natalie said.
But hey, those bunnies don't have to do a book report. This time is all about socialization.
"The shelter is a stressful place. There's lots of noise and lots of people coming through and smells and all sorts of things that make dogs stressed," said Carmen Shepherd, the shelter's volunteer coordinator. "So having the opportunity to cuddle with a person and have them read in a calm voice really helps with some of the stress that they feel here at the shelter."
Shepherd said kids of all ages (yes, grownups, that means you too) can pick out a book from the shelter library and get reading. Staff will pick animals out for you to make sure it's a good match.
"These are animals that were pretty friendly, very sociable and relatively calm. So ones that would probably be good for a student or a child to read to," said Shepherd.
There are time slots after school and on weekends for anyone to come read, color, or do a puzzle with the animals. Participants can pick any relaxing activity they like to help adoptable animals get ready to become pets again.
"If they're not good with humans or kids and they need time before they get adopted so they can go to their forever home, they can have time to settle in and be used people," said Kylea.
One week in, and she's hooked.
"I already told my mom this is my new home," she said.
The Jennings sisters plan to come at least once a week after school.
If you want to join them in reading to animals, you can fill out an application here.