We are owned by a goofy, outgoing cat by the name of Max that has a job as a therapy cat. He visits the Alzheimer’s ward at the nursing home. But, his favorite job is working the reading program at the Lake Bluff Library. He purrs and swishes his tail and the kids love reading to Max during Paws for a Tale. We’d love to have more cats in the reading program but not many cats want to take a field trip anywhere.
That’s why I was so excited to learn about Cat Tales – a new reading program at the West Suburban Humane Society. Instead of taking the cats to the kids, this great program has kids come and read to the cats at the shelter. And, it’s been a big hit for the kids and cats alike.
“Part of our mission is humane education and we’ve talked for awhile about starting a program where the children could read to dogs. We just were not able to do that for a lot of reasons,” says Carolyn Mossberger, Executive Director of the WSHS. “We’ve started offering a summer camp and a retired teacher suggested we start a reading program in our great cattery (cat room).”
This particular teacher had been a social worker as well. Kid that struggle with reading or have social issues often have a hard time improving their reading because they are often required to read out loud. Classmates may judge you when you struggle, but cats and dogs don’t. Cat Tales was launched for the first through fourth graders at Downers Grove’s Lester School.
“Our volunteer had asked for participants and we had an overwhelming response,” says Mossberger. “We have nine kids total – seven that are there every week – participating in the Cat Tales program. They come on Wednesdays when we are closed and each child has an area to sit and read away from the other students. They bring a book and the cats come up to them.”
The kids get to read without anyone correcting them or judging how they are doing. The cats get pets and ear scratches and lots of storytelling from the students in the Cat Tales program. In the month that the Cat Tales program has been up and running, it’s already had an impact on the participants.
“One mother has told us that her daughter never liked to read. She is now coming out of her shell and is asking to read to her friends’ dogs,” adds Mossberger. “We want to expand the program to other schools and students. The shelter is closed from 2 to 7 each day and it would be a good time for additional spots in the program. We are also considering a summer program.”
After reading time, the kids have a few minutes to play with the cats. They are finding out – like I have learned when I Max and I hit the library or make other appearances – that there is a lot more to cats than most people think.
“This has been a win-win program for everyone. It has been really beneficial to the kids,” says Mossberger. “And, it exposes more people to cats. There are a lot of preconceived notions that cats are aloof and don’t like attention. They are finding out that each cat has a very distinct personality and many cats are not like that.”
West Suburban Humane Society is a no-kill shelter that has been around for over 40 years. That means the cats have a home there until the right home comes along. And now, thanks to the kids in the Cat Tale program, many kids will be purr-fectly trained to be reading tutors or just good listeners when the finally meet their new families.
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