By SARA ARTHURS
It isn’t just children who like being read a story. Cats and kittens at the Humane Society and SPCA of Hancock County also seem to be enjoying the experience this summer.
The Humane Society has launched a new program called Happy Tales, in which children read to cats. The idea is that the cats get some socialization and the children get to practice their reading skills while out of school for the summer.
Natalie Duran, one of the kennel supervisors at the Humane Society, created the program after reading about an animal shelter in Pennsylvania that was doing something similar.
Children in kindergarten through eighth grade can come in with a parent, guardian or older sibling and spend 30 minutes with one or more cats on Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The children can bring their own books or choose from among books the Humane Society has available.
Duran selects the cat and brings the cat to the room for the child. She encourages them to alternate reading and playing with the cat, such as reading for 10 minutes and then playing for 3 minutes, so that the child is reading but the cat is also getting some interaction. Afterward, the children can look at other animals at the shelter.
The program started July 2 and will run through Aug. 30. There are only a few children who have participated so far. Duran said word is spreading through word of mouth as well as advertising on Facebook.
She said the experience is good for the cats.
“The cats definitely get interaction. … They get exposed to different people,” she said.
Duran’s 11-year-old niece, Racquelle Kirian of Fostoria, was reading to three 4-month-old kittens on Wednesday.
The kittens, part of the same litter, were up for adoption at the Humane Society. A potential family had put the male kitten, Screech, “on hold.” Screech and his sisters Little Miss and Eve were left in a shoebox at the Humane Society on March 19 as newborns.
The three kittens were a somewhat rambunctious audience for Racquelle, preferring leaping and pouncing to sitting still.
But Duran said it’s important for the cats and kittens to get this interaction with people. She said the Humane Society has many volunteers who walk the dogs but fewer who spend time with the cats. Her hope is that Happy Tales will increase the amount of social time the cats at the Humane Society get.
In addition, being around children is particularly helpful since children can sometimes be boisterous and noisy, giving cats an experience like they might have after they’re adopted, she said. Racquelle’s 2-year-old sister has also come to spend time with the cats and kittens.
Duran said that siblings sometimes come together. Duran likes to get out groups of kittens for young children especially so the children can play with the kittens.
Duran has seen children gain enthusiasm for the program, noting that one reader didn’t want to be there at first “and now she loves coming.”
The children benefit as well as the cats, Duran said, noting that it helps “boost their confidence” in reading.
“They have a captive audience,” she said.
Happy Tales has many openings for more readers. Interested parents can call the Humane Society at 419-423-1664 and ask for Duran.
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