Reading to cats in North Haven

Kaitlyn Wahl, a kennel assistant at the Animal Haven, with a cat buddy.

This is a clear case of the cat not only getting the tongue, but the voice as well.

In this instance, however, that’s a good thing!

A new and rather unique program has begun at The Animal Haven in North Haven called “Books with Buddies.” It affords a fun and friendly opportunity for kids to read to cats.

“I’ve seen it done before in other shelters,” explained Michelle DeRosa, manager. “It’s usually with dogs, though.”

Since the dog kennels are currently on hold to get a facelift, it seemed like a logical and unique idea to try the practice with the feline population at the private no-kill shelter located on Mill Road.

“Maybe when we re-do our kennels,” DeRosa said, the dogs might get some literary time. “But as far as right now, it’s the cats.”

Offering kids a chance to sit down with a book to read to one of the many cats kept at the shelter is a true win-win situation — for cat and child alike.

“We did it to, in a way, not only promote The Animal Haven,” explained Kaitlyn Wahl, kennel assistant, and to foster improved reading skills for the kids, “but also for the socializing of the cats.”

She told a wonderful story about a cat named Joanie who has been in their care. Joanie has not let any of the staff interact with her, or even pet her.

Yet after one little girl was introduced to Joanie and read to her, for the first time the cat allowed the child to pet her.

“It’s amazing,” Wahl said, describing the vision of seeing Joanie bonding with the reader.

“Ever since ‘Books with Buddies’ we can touch her,” she said. “She really loves kids.”

“So it’s not only good for the kids to have fun, but it’s really good for the cats as well,” Wahl said.

“We have it on Monday evenings and it’s about four to five kids,” DeRosa said, noting that parents need to sign them up in advance.

“Basically the kids bring their own books or I have some they can use,” she said, noting that the programs are taking place in shelters across the country.

“They go into the room and they read to the cats and it’s really cute, and the cats really love it,” she said. “I’m actually surprised at how much the cats love it.”

“I just think it’s good for everybody overall,” DeRosa said.

The joys and general benefits of interacting with domestic animals is well known, and The Animal Haven provides another opportunity for people.

“It’s so hard to explain,” Wahl said, “but I see people come in all the time (and) they leave with big smiles on their faces, even if they’re not really adopting.”

“They’re amazing,” she said of the cats in particular. “Each of them have their own little personalities … Each one interacts with the others and they’re just so fun to watch.”

“And especially when they’re all napping,” Wahl said. “I just want to come in here and sleep, it’s such a sense of peace.”

“It makes the kids feel good,” DeRosa said of the interactions with the cats. “And it’s good for their reading skills because cats aren’t going to judge … There’s no judgment.”

She also described the soothing effect it has on the animals, who seem to change from their stereotypical independent behavior to get more in tune with the children readers.

“I feel like it’s good for the cats because they’re not talking at them, they’re kind of talking with them,” DeRosa said.

Those interested in participating in “Books with Buddies” can contact DeRosa at (203) 239-2641, or by email at michelle@TheAnimalHavenCT.org.