Any animal lover who has visited a shelter in search of a new pet knows that sinking feeling — wanting to adopt all of them, yet not being able to do that realistically.

But adopting shelter animals isn’t the only way to help them. There are lots of seemingly small actions people can take to make a big difference in the lives of these animals, said Dawn Kitchell, The Missourian’s educational services director and creative mind behind the newspaper’s 19th annual community Family Reading Night.

This year’s event, set for Friday, March 1, from 5:30 to 8:30 p.m. at Washington Middle School, is designed to inspire children and families with some specific ideas — they can volunteer to walk or play with the animals, they can donate supplies to improve their quality of life at the shelter, or they can read stories to the animals, like in the children’s picture book “Madeline Finn and the Shelter Dog,” by author/illustrator Lisa Papp.

Papp, who will be the guest speaker at Family Reading Night this year, said she hopes that in reading her newest story that kids feel empowered to action.

“The message I really wanted to share with this book is that you can make a difference,” Papp told The Missourian. “We hear so much that animal shelters are overfull, and they are, and they can be dreary places, but it doesn’t take that much to make a difference.

“For Madeline Finn, she could see there was a sadness there (in the animals) and maybe she didn’t know how to make a difference at first, but she figured it out,” said Papp. “What I want kids to realize is that they can make a difference, and it just takes a little bit of wanting to do it.

“This isn’t a big world, global problem that you can’t make a dent in. You can. A little thing makes a big difference.”

“Madeline Finn and the Shelter Dog,” which will officially be released March 1, is the second in a series. The first book, “Madeline Finn and the Library Dog,” was a Missourian Book Buzz Pick in 2017 and currently is a MASL Show-Me Readers Award nominee.

Papp, who doesn’t actually have any dogs, but three cats, said she was inspired to write the “Madeline Finn” books by seeing a read-to-dogs program at her local library.

“I would see the sign for it occasionally and thought it sounded so neat, and one afternoon, my husband I were returning books at the library and we saw all these beautiful dogs walking in the side door with their people,” said Papp. “So we followed them in, and I just sat there and watched . . . a couple of minutes after all the dogs came in, the kids came in. They would pick a book from the table and then pick a dog. And for an hour and a half, they read stories to these dogs. It was so amazing to see.

“Some were truly struggling readers, but some just loved animals and were happy just to sit and read to them. There were like 14 dogs in the room that day, but no one was barking or running around. They are a really, really nice bunch.”

Papp learned that many of the dogs involved in the library reading program were rescued from animal shelters and now also serve as therapy pets. In “Madeline Finn and the Shelter Dog,” a dog named Mr. Chips who catches Madeline’s attention is based on a real therapy dog owned by a retired school librarian in Papp’s community.

In this story, Madeline’s family adopts a puppy and in the process, she learns about animal shelters where dogs and cats live while waiting to be adopted. She visits her local shelter and learns there are things she can do to help.

She goes around to the neighbors collecting old towels and blankets, and then hangs up a sign at the library inviting people to meet at the shelter one day with a blanket and a book for a special story time with the animals.

For Laura Amlong, director of development at the Franklin County Humane Society in Union, the story brought tears to her eyes.

“It’s just such a sweet book, especially for those of us who are working in a shelter,” said Amlong.

Both Washington and Scenic Regional libraries offer read-to-dog programs, where children can come in on specific nights to read stories to dogs, and now the Franklin County Humane Society will be bringing that same opportunity to Family Reading Night.

In a twist on the event’s reading rooms, where children go to hear stories read to them, the Humane Society will have a room for some of its “canine ambassadors” where children can read stories to the dogs.

Send in Pet Photos, Bring Supply Donations

This year Family Reading Night will kick off with a photo presentation sharing pictures of children and their pets. The Missourian is asking for people to submit photos of kids with their pets.

“What a fun opportunity we have to share the joy pets bring to our lives through photos,” Kitchell said. “We have a special online link families can use to submit their photos. And children who don’t have their own pets can share photos with friends, family or neighbor pets!”

To submit photos, visit emissourian.com/petpic.

Just like Madeline Finn does in the story, members of Family Reading Night committee are putting out a plea to people to bring a donation for the local shelter animals. The Franklin County Humane Society has created the following list of items in need right now (that list fluctuates regularly):

• Training treats — “We use training treats daily to reward good behavior among our animals,” said Amlong, noting training treats can be purchased at most stores that sell pet food.

• Rawhide bones — “We need all sizes, especially large ones,” she said. “We prefer the ‘dye free’ kind so they don’t upset doggie tummies.”

• Equine Pelletized Bedding — “Intended for use with horses, we instead use this bedding for our kitty litter boxes. With an average of over 60 cats in our care each day, we use many bags of Equine Pelletized Bedding,” said Amlong.

• Bath mats — “We line our kennels and cat cages with these soft mats that have rubber on one side,” she noted. “The soft texture is great for our cats and dogs to snuggle with, and the rubber side makes sure the mats don’t slide around.”

• Fancy Feast Broths — “These are used with cats that are younger or sick. They are good for coaxing a cat into eating more food so they can grow stronger,” said Amlong.

• Toilet paper — Used to help clean up all kinds of spills

• Paper towels – These clean up the daily “accidents.”

• Disinfecting wipes – Clorox or other brands. Battling germs and smells at the shelter is a daily challenge.

• Hand sanitizer – “We use the biggest bottles we can find,” said Amlong. “Keeping germs from spreading animal to animal is our goal, and sanitizing hands is the way to do it!”

• Pocket folders – “Every animal we adopt to a family — last year we adopted out over 800 pets — gets a pocket folder filled with medical records, pet ownership resources and more,” said Amlong.

Volunteers will be positioned outside the doors at Family Reading Night to collect any items families bring.

“I think a lot of people don’t know that the Franklin County Humane Society is completely donation based,” said Kitchell. “It doesn’t get funding from other entities — county, state or local. Getting that information out to the community is an ongoing effort, and I’m happy that Family Reading Night has given us an opportunity to help create an awareness about the good work they are doing on behalf of homeless animals.”

Although the shelter is named the Franklin County Humane Society, the shelter in Union actually has no affiliation with the national or state Humane Society, said Amlong.

“We use ‘humane society’ more as a generic term that means animal shelter,” she said. “We are completely independent. We don’t receive any funding from any government source.

“All of our funding is provided through donations, grants, adoption fees and fundraisers.”

On an average day, the Franklin County Humane Society has more than 90 animals receiving temporary housing, food and medical services at its shelter at 1222 Main St. in Union.

That doesn’t include other shelter animals that are living with foster families or in local pet stores.

Papp’s Presentation

Papp will read “Madeline Finn and the Shelter Dog,” and the pages of the story will be projected on a big screen set up in the gym. Afterward, she will answer a few questions about her life and her work.

Stage decorations will include some of the doghouses that have been built by sixth-graders at Washington West and Campbellton Elementary schools this year for the new BUILD Academy. Plans are for the doghouses to be sold at auction this spring.

As moving as the story told in “Madeline Finn and the Shelter Dog” is, Papp is quick to note that it was inspired by work being done by real-life volunteers in animal shelters.

A volunteer with Paws for Patients therapy dog group shared photos of children reading to shelter dogs with Papp. Another therapy dog handler told her about a teacher who brings her students into an animal shelter to read to the dogs.

“She’ll come into school on Monday and say to the kids, ‘Guess who got adopted over the weekend?’ And the kids are so happy because they have worked with this dog for weeks, read to him and saw him change for the better,” said Papp. “They really experience firsthand that they can make a difference, and that was inspiring to me. So I wanted to try to share some of that magic in the book.”

Papp’s soft watercolor illustrations make the story that much appealing to readers. She begins her process by sketching her ideas with paper and pencil.

“Then I paint some of it in watercolor, and then scan that into my computer,” said Papp, noting the “Madeline Finn” books were the first time she had used computers that way. “So it was sort of a learning curve for me. But I’ll scan them in and do some of the color digitally, and things that I can’t do well digitally, just because I’m not that well-versed in it yet, I’ll go back to watercolor and then scan that in. So it’s kind of a back and forth process.”

Papp works at home and her main work space is her dining room table, “because it’s the biggest table in the house.

“Especially when I’m doing sketches for the book, the entire dining room table is just filled with paper, because there’s 32 pages in an average picture book, and you have either 32 illustrations or, if it’s a spread, 16 illustrations. And then you never get it right on the first one, so there are like four sketches for each page,” said Papp.

Papp is currently working on the illustrations of a third “Madeline Finn” book. She is in the sketching phase right now. For this story, Madeline will enter the world of therapy dogs, said Papp.

She also is in the process of writing a novel for students ages 9 to 13.

Reading Rooms, Craft Tables

After Papp’s presentation, children and families will have their choice of activities. They can listen to stories read by community leaders and local high school students, participate in crafts based on books, and attend a Scholastic Book Fair.

New this year, the bookmarks distributed throughout the community in advance of the event won’t be used to enter the basket drawing for listening to stories. A special card will be handed out that night. Children who visit two or more reading rooms will get punches on their cards that they can submit at the end of the night to win prizes. Baskets of books will be given away following a readers’ theater performed by the Washington Police Department.

“The baskets of books given away at the end of the program all are donated by area individuals, organizations and businesses,” Kitchell said. “ We call them baskets — but they come in all types of vessels — can follow a theme, or just be a collection of new books any child will be excited about adding to his or her home library. It’s so rewarding to see the baskets start arriving from people throughout our community!”

Anyone interested in donating a basket of new books to promote reading are encouraged to contact Penny Heisel at penny.heisel@washington.k12.mo.us. Last year, more than 30 donated baskets were collected by the Family Reading Night committee and awarded to children at the end of the event for their home libraries.

Among the “celebrities” attending this year’s Family Reading Night will be a trio of famous dogs — Sheba, the Comfort Dog from Immanuel Lutheran Church, as well as Clifford the Big Red Dog and McGruff the Crime Dog.

Newsbee, The Missourian’s youth literacy mascot, also will be on hand, along with the Washington High School Blue Jay and the St. Francis Borgia Knight.

This is the 19th Family Reading Night, which celebrates families reading together. The event is sponsored by The Missourian, School District of Washington and Washington Optimist Club. Additional support is provided by the Washington Public Library, Pepsi-Cola Bottling Company of New Haven and Neighborhood Reads bookstore and more than 100 volunteers.

There is no charge to attend Family Reading Night, and it is open to all ages, from young families to older readers.

Want Parents to Model Reading

One of the goals of Family Reading Night has always been to encourage families to spend time reading together on a regular basis, so in the days leading up to the event, families who read together for 15 minutes each day for seven days can document their reading on a Family Reading Log and enter it into a drawing to win prizes. Family Reading Logs will be distributed to many schools. A copy also is being published in this issue of The Missourian and is available online at emissourian.com. The Family Reading prizes are sponsored by the Washington High School Football Team and Washington NEA.

“We provide information on the reading log that stresses the importance of reading to a child at least 15 minutes every day. It’s alarming how many children aren’t getting that — only about half of the children in this country are read to each day, beginning at birth,” Kitchell said. “That is a statistic we want to make sure doesn’t apply to our community!”

The Family Reading Night Committee organizing this year’s event includes Kitchell, Ann Joyce, Chris Stuckenschneider, Ann Loesing, Penny Heisel, Ruth McInnis, Jane Haberberger, Valerie Jankowski, Danielle Snider, Rachael Eggert, Amy Steffens, Michelle Prewitt, Robyn Busekrus, Jennifer Wirthwein, Erin Gaebe, Judy Straatmann and Julie Frankenberg.