BOSSIER CITY, La. –Six-year-old Reagan Hildebrand was a girl on a mission. On a cool April day, she made her way through the meticulously clean kennels of the Bossier City Animal Control shelter, smiling and petting the dogs through the chain link doors. She took her time, circling through the cages twice before stopping at a Catahoula named Maizy. This is the pup Reagan chose to read to on this day and, if history is any indicator, the next one she will save.
“I just pick the ones that need to be adopted the most,” she said with a smile. “It doesn’t matter to the dog what book I read, they just like to sit and listen.”
Reagan is the daughter of Lt. Col. Jesse Hildebrand, a Reserve Citizen Airman with the 307th Bomb Wing and his wife, Stacie. Two years ago, the family dog, Maddox died, leaving Reagan broken-hearted. She had spent hours reading to Maddox as the pooch laid by her side. Maddox was not Reagan’s only pet, but her favorite, according to her father.
“She was really grieving and we knew she needed a way to deal with it,” said her mother, Stacie.
After some careful thought, they decided to combine the Air Force value of service before self with a heavy dose of compassion. Taking Reagan to the BCAC shelter, they asked the supervisor, Angela Little if there were any dogs that might benefit from some human attention. Little allowed Reagan to choose a dog and gave them a quiet room. Reagan began the healing process through reading.
According to her mother, the session lifted Reagan’s spirits and, a short time later, the pup was adopted from the shelter. A few days later, Reagan asked to go back and read. The end result was the same; one happy little girl and another dog saved a few days later.
Almost two years later on this sunny afternoon, Reagan and Lt. Col. Hildebrand led Maizy to one of two brightly decorated reading rooms at the shelter. The rooms were furnished, decorated and stocked with books by a volunteer group, Friends of Bossier City Animal Control. The group was so inspired by the Hildebrands’ act of service, they created Reading to Paws, a program that encourages other children to follow Reagan’s lead.
“We now have several children that read to our dogs and the rate of adoption and rescue for them is very high,” said Little. “Sometimes we have so many, that they will go with the dogs and read to them under the shade trees by the building.”
Reagan seemed oblivious to the program’s success, even though the walls of the room are lined with photos of children reading to dogs. She was totally focused on getting to know Maizy, offering her chew toys, petting her and laughing as the pup investigated the room, sniffing furniture, books and people. After a few minutes, Reagan selected a book. With fluency voice, sounding well beyond her years, she began to read.
As closing time approaches, both Reagan and Maizy seemed invigorated by their date. Lt. Col. Hildebrand and Reagan led Maizy back to her kennel. Though they were separating, both child and pooch seemed to be at peace.