North St. Paul cat shelter finds win-win for cats and kids


Aundrea Kinney/Review • During a June 10 visit to Caring for Cats cat shelter in North St. Paul, Tori read the third book in the “Daisy Dreamer” series to Gaheris, a kitten who was new to the shelter. Tori is a participant in a new reading program called Cat Tales, which is designed to help kids with reading and to help shelter cats become comfortable with kids.

Aundrea Kinney/Review • Possum the cat seemed to enjoy Samye reading aloud a book in the “Bad Kitty” series during a June 10 Cat Tales session.

New program promotes reading books to felines

When Karen Brown, shelter operations manager at Caring for Cats shelter first came up with the idea of children reading books to cats, she says she hoped it would be a win-win by reducing children’s anxiety of reading and simultaneously reducing cats’ anxiety of children.

After about a month and a half of operating Cat Tales — Children Reading to Cats, Brown says the program seems to be creating the desired effects.

Caring for Cats is a volunteer-run, no-kill cat rescue located at 2131 Division St. in North St. Paul.

 

Good for children

Kristina Chester found out about the Cat Tales program from her sister, who volunteers at the shelter. Chester signed up her daughters, 10-year-old Samye and 9-year-old Tori, as a way to encourage them to read.

During a recent reading session, Chester says there has been a big turnaround from both her daughters. After a few weeks reading to the cats, Tori has begun to read on her own at home, and Samye, who initially didn’t want to read to the cats, now looks forward to her Cat Tales sessions.

“She’s got a lot of anxiety,” Chester explains about Samye. “One of her biggest things is reading out loud, so that’s why she really didn’t want to do it, and now it’s one of her favorite things to do.”

Samye points out with a smile that the cats don’t criticize her reading.

“I like it because I get to meet all the cats,” adds Tori.

For Samye and Tori, Cat Tales pairs something they didn’t like so much — reading — with something they really like — animals. The sisters have many pets at home including cats of their own, but they always have room in their hearts to fall in love with more animals.

“They like animals so much, and this lets them interact with the animals and not bring them home,” Chester says.

Brown points out that the program is also good for children who can’t have pets, perhaps due to lease agreements or pet allergies in the family. 

Chester says the program has been beneficial and fun for her kids. “I absolutely think it’s a great program.”

 

Good for cats

Brown says the idea for the program came to her when her cats at home all gathered around her as she talked on the phone. She explains that her cats thought she was talking to them, and, in general, cats like being talked to. She says she figured children could create the same effect by reading to the cats who live at the shelter.

“We pride ourselves in a lot of shy cats that come here because we take the time and the energy that goes into making the cats un-shy,” Brown says, adding that many cats don’t know anything about children. However, when the children are calm and respectful, like they are when they are reading, the cats’ confidence around children improves, making them more adoptable.

She says that she has seen a positive effect on many of the cats, thanks to their experiences with Cat Tales. She says the children’s voices and the temptation of a stray book laying nearby have drawn many of the resident cats out of hiding during reading sessions.

“I’ve seen a difference in the cats, how they react, because cats that might have hidden before are just so curious they can’t stand it. They have to come out and see what’s going on,” Brown says.

 

Getting involved

The Cat Tales reading program began May 6, and Brown says that so far the schedule has been full and there have been very few problems.

“The kids have all been really nice kids,” she says.

Brown recommends that parents don’t bring the whole family to watch one child read because the rooms in the shelter are fairly small.

She also requests that participants or parents cancel if they realize an appointment won’t work out, giving another child the chance to be scheduled for that time.

Cat Tales is geared toward children ages 6 through 13. Caring for Cats provides towels and blankets for children to sit on while reading to the cats, as well as several books that were donated by Friends of the Inver Glen Library, which is based in Inver Grove Heights. Participants can also bring their own books.

To sign up for a half-hour Cat Tales session, visit www.caring-for-cats.org/book.

 

– Aundrea Kinney can be reached at 651-748-7822 or akinney@lillienews.com

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