Kids read to cats in Berks County shelter and everybody wins [video]

     Shannon Gregor and her son Bryson read to cats at the Animal Rescue League of Berks County. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

    Shannon Gregor and her son Bryson read to cats at the Animal Rescue League of Berks County. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

    Stewart’s nose is a little bit crooked. He used to live in a barn, where he was kicked in the face by a horse.

    Stewart is the oldest cat at the Animal Rescue League of Berks County. He politely naps in the sun while his human friend, Sean Rodriguez, reads him a book.

    The premise of a new program at this animal shelter an hour outside of Philadelphia has all the elements of a viral online video: children reading to rescued cats.

    Rodriguez, who’s in fifth grade, finds it hard to read in school with his classmates looking at him.

    “It’s kind of scary,” he explained, “because there are a lot of people in my class, so I like skip half of a sentence and I mess up and then I have to restart.”

    That’s what inspired his mother, Kristi Rodriguez, the rescue league’s volunteer coordinator, to suggest he come read to her cat room.

    “Do you enjoy reading more, do you think, now that you get to read to the animals?” she asked her son. “Does it make it more fun to read?”

    “Yeah, it really does.”

    Kristi Rodriguez sent out fliers to local schools, libraries and speech programs to invite other students.

    “They can come here, sit with the cats and the cats don’t judge. They don’t care what story you’re reading or how well you read. They’re just looking for that affection and that attention from the kids.”

    Socialized cats are also easier to adopt out, which is important. During kitten season, the rescue can get deliveries of up to 30 cats a day.

    Chymera Fields introduces Chase, her favorite cat, a tiny one. Seven-year-old Fields is another regular visitor to the cat room, though it’s the first time she’s read to a cat (“He’s a very good listener,” she said.)

    Fields’s mom says they can’t have a cat at home, so visiting the animals is a good compromise. Chymera accepts that, but said her favorite cat is very sweet and he deserves to get adopted soon.

    She’ll miss visiting him, she acknowledged, but “I want the best for him and if he gets a new home then that’s going to be great.”

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