Therapy Cat Series: Rainy & The Reading Program

This past fall, Rainy and I participated for the second time in the Lincoln Public Libraries’ Read to a Pet program. The six weeks of the program is one of our favorite times of the year!

To prepare, I reviewed the skills that I had taught Rainy last spring when she first participated in the program. Some of those skills include: look at a book, touch a book, cover a part of a word, and nod her head yes or shake her head no. When we have a student who is reluctant to read, it’s helpful having Rainy paw at or sit on their book. As soon as she does I tell the student, “Rainy is eager for you to read to her! How about we get started?” When we have a student who isn’t sure of a word, it’s helpful having Rainy cover a part of the word. Even if she covers it because I place her paw on the word, her action still prompts the student to sound out a difficult word. The students also enjoy seeing Rainy nod “Yes” that she wants them to read a certain book and shake her head “No” when asked if their time is up.

As part of our preparations I also printed off posters, bookmarks, and stickers. The poster has a photo of Rainy and some bulleted information about her. I gave it to students the first week as a way of introducing Rainy. The bookmark says, “Put Your Paws on a Good Book and have a PAWSITIVE Reading Experience with Rainy the Therapy Cat”; the sticker says, “I read to Rainy the Therapy Cat Fall 2019 at Walt Library.” The latter I gave to students when they finished their sixth and final session with Rainy.

The week before sessions began, Andy and I drove out with Rainy to Walt Library to acclimate her to the space and to take photos. I also talked with the librarian in charge of the program about our needs, based on what I learned from our spring sessions. The librarian graciously covered the window in the reserved room so that Rainy wouldn’t be distracted. She also set aside books, with several being about animals, designed for struggling primary-aged readers. I also discovered within a week that the boys were enamored with Fly Guy books, and so the librarian kept a supply of them in our reading cart.

In contrast to last year, we had a session booked before the fall time slots had ever been announced. The other three time slots filled within a week of being advertised. Even with one cancellation, we were booked solid each week and had no openings for drop-ins. For six weeks, from 6:30-7:50, three boys and one girl each took twenty-minute turns reading to Rainy.

Rainy and I made many happy memories at the library. Here is “Rainy’s” account, as it appeared on Instagram this past fall.

One of the boys began his first session asking if he could just play with me. I pawed at a book to encourage him to read. He stammered through most of the words and didn’t even read half a book. By his fifth visit though, he knew most of the words, and when his 20 minutes were up he asked if he could finish the book. Of course, Mom let him. On his last visit, he got through two whole books!

Another boy started out being nervous to sit next to me. He wouldn’t let me snuggle next to him the way I could with the others. On his last visit, he asked if he could give me a treat. He didn’t like the feel of my tongue when I took the treat, but he did enjoy seeing me do tricks. He gave me a thank you card.

The girl has a cat at home. Each time she said I was better than her cat. I think people just don’t know cats can be trained. If they did, a lot of cats could be like me! She also started out by reading the easiest books. On the last visit, she picked a hard book and I had to help her with words. I enjoyed all the treats she brought me!

One in four American children grow up without learning to read, and this is one reason that the R.E.A.D. program began in 1999. Research shows that children with low self-esteem are more willing to interact with animals than with people. Children find it more fun to read to animals, as they don’t laugh at or correct a child’s mistakes. The R.E.A.D. program uses registered therapy animals that have been trained and tested for health, safety, skills, and temperament. Although the R.E.A.D. program started with dogs, it now includes cats and other pets.

Rainy and I are proud to be one of the three thousand R.E.A.D pet therapy teams throughout the world. If you’d like to become a cat therapy team, please email me at allisontalkspets@gmail.com for more information.

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