Barking Book Buddies scratches into second year

For sophomores Maya Gabriele and Avanti Gulwadi, it was just an ELP(extended learning project) project. They did not realize it would develop into such a successful and valuable program.

Every year in ELP, students have to conduct a research project. Gulwadi and Gabriele went above and beyond the requirements this year as they created an ongoing program called “Barking Book Buddies,” which takes place at the Cedar Bend Humane Society.

“We came across an article about a program at a shelter in Missouri called ‘Shelter Buddies’ where kids come and read out loud to the shelter dogs,” Gabriele said. Since she and Gulwadi are registered volunteers at the Humane Society and volunteer regularly, “we thought it’d be really cool if we started a similar program in our community,” Gabriele said.

The two of them started this program in early May of last year and have had many read ins — kids between the ages of six and 12 come in and read out loud to the dogs. They plan to have many more.

“So far we’ve scheduled read-ins on every second Sunday of the month for this school year, starting in October until April,” Gulwadi said. She said those who have not participated yet, have no need to worry because the two plan to continue this program all throughout high school.

Gulwadi and Gabriele have recently expanded their project, and they plan on expanding in the future as well. “This year we tried to make the application process more simple by having it online, so that’s something new that we worked on for this year,” Gabriele said. “We also completely redesigned our logo, and we are working on printing t-shirts.” They are also thinking about informing other animal shelters in Iowa about it. “We have considered branching out to other animal shelters in Iowa; however, we are not there yet,” Gabriele said.

The read in is when it all comes together. For them, all the “behind the scene” work and communication to advertisements and creating applications is worth it.

“I have to say, after doing so much work with organizing and talking to people and seeing our program come to life was amazing,” Gabriele said.

This program is solely run by Gulwadi and Gabriele. Hardly any help is needed from the Humane Society beyond getting the event put on the calendar by their events coordinator, Amy Anderson. They do receive a little help during the event from three other volunteers.

The program provides benefits to both the kids and the dogs. “I think that the kids really love the program. Getting practice reading out loud is crucial for kids when they are learning to read, and this is a really fun and engaging opportunity for them to do that,” Gabriele said.

It also helps out the dogs too with behavioral issues and adoption. “The dogs, on the other hand, become more socialized from getting that interaction with the kids. When adoption seekers are walking around, the dogs are calmer while listening to the kids read, which increases their chances for adoption,” Gulwadi said.

This program is also very rewarding for Gulwadi and Gabriele, especially when they hear positive feedback from the parents and the children.

“One thing a parent told us is that her child has been wanting to volunteer at the Humane Society, but she was too young. (You have to be at least 16, and 12 if you have a parent with you). Our program gave this child an opportunity to feel like she was helping out and making a difference, which is amazing,” Gabriele said.

The two students have also learned social skills and business skills from doing this project, “I have basically experienced setting up and managing a non-profit program. The whole process has helped me learn and improve with communication skills, time management, advertising strategies and working with others in a more professional environment,” Gulwadi said.

One might think that a school project would be more of a “chore” and “dreaded,” but not for Gulwadi and Gabriele. “Kids and dogs are seriously two of my favorite things ever, and putting them together in this awesome way just makes me feel really good. I’m glad I can make a difference,” Gabriele said.

Both of them genuinely love the project and believe it is helping the kids and the dogs. “I really enjoy seeing the program become a reality, knowing all the hard work we’ve put into it. It feels wonderful to see the impact that our program has made and the opportunities it has given. I’m glad it’s been this successful,” Gulwadi said.

The next read-in is on Nov. 13 from 1-3 p.m. For more information on how to sign up, visit

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