Iowa City Kids Honing Reading Skills by Reading to Shelter Cats!

IOWA CITY, IOWA – While Shouryan Sirsi and Elliot Jesson took turns reading out loud, Velvet, a gray, long-haired cat, hid in the corner of her enclosure.

Shouryan, 8, and Elliot, 7, became the very first participants Thursday in a program at the Iowa City Animal Care and Adoption Center which encourages kids to practice reading to cats awaiting adoption.

Shouryan said while he and Elliot read, Velvet seemed to relax more and moe.

“I didn’t hear it reacting, but it did go to sleep. It did close its eyes … the moment we stopped reading, it woke up,” he said.

Liz Ford, the adoption center’s supervisor, said the goal of the program is to allow kids to practice reading in a low-pressure environment. She said that the program also aims to help the shelter’s shiest cats warm up to human contact. This model is healthy for cats, Ford said, because it allows them to choose whether they want to come out and interact or stay to themselves.

Ford said parents of kids ages 5-13 are eligible to sign up for the program, called Read to the Paw, by calling the shelter. The program takes place from 3-5 p.m. on Thursdays only, and kids can sign up for roughly 15-20 minute time slots.

“I imagine it’ll be quite popular,” she said.

Ford said the shelter modeled the program after similar programs across the nation.

Supriya Sirsi, Shouryan’s mom, said she learned about Read to the Paw through a friend of hers. She said she was very eager to enroll Shouryan in a program that would allow him to interact with animals.

“I think it’s so sweet. It’s such a nice idea,” she said.

Sirsi said Shouryan was also quite eager to participate. Sirsi also said she hopes the program helps him learn compassion toward animals, noting she also likes the reading aspect.

“I think that the compassion factor is what I’m here for…it’ll help him to think from the animal’s perspective,” she said.