"The students always look forward" to reading to the dogs, third grade teacher Kelsey Stritzinger said. "Their faces light up anytime I say, 'We have SPCA today.'"
Deasia Allen, a 10-year-old fifth grader, said she has become a more confident reader since the dogs started showing up at her school. She likes it so much that she started reading to her own dog at home. She said her chihuahua, Missy, is a much more attentive listener than her little sister.
"My dog never gets up and says, 'I want to leave, this is boring,'" Deasia said.
About 200 Westport students read to the dogs on an alternating, bi-weekly schedule.
The students flip through an age-appropriate book with an animal theme. They are encouraged to gently help their classmates sound out difficult words, or point them to the right page should they get lost.
As they read, Lucy Gaga weaves underneath the plastic blue chairs. Nearby, Knox sits in his doggy bed, while students lean over to pet him.
The books tie into larger lesson plans taught by SPCA staff on the humane treatment of animals. The staff members explain how to greet a dog correctly and what pet care entails, among other topics.
The SPCA hopes to leave students with more compassion for animals and each other. The students go on field trips to the shelter, and learn how to show love and care to cats and dogs.
Researchers say animal abuse indicates a person is more likely to also turn to violence against people.
Animal abuse is reported in the area around Westport at a greater rate than in the city as a whole. In the Westport, Mt. Winans and Lakeland neighborhoods, city officials reported 296 calls about animals in danger per 10,000 households in 2016. The citywide average was 177.