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For Kids Working On Their Reading Skills, Shelter Cats Make The Perfect Audience

Once a month, kids pull up chairs in front of a wall full of cats in kennels who are waiting to be adopted. The children introduce themselves, and they begin to read.

They read stories about zoo animals and tales of heroes on long journeys in far off places. Some older kids catch the cats up on novels they’ve been reading before they launch into the book.

Credit Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA
90.5 WESA
Levi Albert, left, listens as his mother Kiersten reads a book to the cats at the Humane Animal Rescue in Homewood.

It’s a popular program that was started by the Animal Rescue League before it merged with the Humane Society to become the Humane Animal Rescue. It’s a model that is also used nationally at other animal shelters because of the benefits for the animals and the children.

“For the kids, they’re improving confidence in reading and also fluency, so reading out loud and practicing words that they have difficulty with,” said Angela Zappalla, an educator for the Humane Animal Rescue.

The program initially started as a way to help socialize the cats.

“So there are some animals that are uncomfortable with children, so the kids kind of expose them to different voices by having kids come in and sit and read with them,” Zappalla said.  

The cats' social behaviors noticeably improve once the kids start reading. They move toward the front of the kennel and watch the kids.

Zappalla said it’s also a good program for kids who aren’t old enough yet to volunteer to take care of the animals. When there’s time, the kids also read to the dogs at the shelter.

The monthly programs are held at the East End and North Side shelters, as well as the Wildlife Center in Verona.

Sarah Schneider is WESA's education reporter. From early learning to higher education, Sarah is interested in students and educators working to create more equitable systems. Sarah previously worked with news outlets in Pennsylvania, Illinois and Idaho. She is a graduate of Southern Illinois University Carbondale where she worked for the school newspaper, the Daily Egyptian.