In May 2014, nine families began a program at Seattle Humane Society to help socialize kittens, while giving kids a purpose to practice reading aloud in a judgement-free, audience-free environment. Today, more than 230 families participate in the Kitty Literature program, helping nearly 150 cats get comfortable with human interaction and more socialized.
The Kitty Literature program is designed for children ages 5-10 and allows them the opportunity not only to read aloud to the kittens, but also to provide some quality time away from the fast-paced, high tech world full of smart phones and tablets. The hope behind the reading aspect of the program is explained by Seattle Humane Society’s Education Coordinate Heidi Muir.
“To develop mature reading skills, it’s important to spend focused time reading. Think of how many distractions there are these days with tablets and smartphones! I love reading, and yet I have to make an effort to plan time to read, otherwise it’s not going to happen. Imagine how difficult it might be to have that focused reading time if reading is already difficult for you or you are still learning the basics!”
New families can register online by watching a video and filling out a questionnaire and application for the program. Once Seattle Humane Society receives the forms, families can book time slots online that work best for their schedule. Kids also learn about cleanliness and routines as they engage in the program by signing in and out, washing hands between cat rooms and following program rules.
Many of the cats sheltered at Seattle Humane Society come from living in a home environment with families and find their new life at a shelter very stressful as a result of having lost their “normal life.” The Kitty Literature program is a wonderful way for these cats to experience human interaction again in a quiet and gentle manner. Kids sit and read to the cats, and the cats are comforted by hearing a human voice, which allows them to become familiar with new human companionship. The more comfortable and relaxed the cats can become, the more likely they will be appealing to potential new owners.
Volunteer kids and families are the foundation of Kitty Literature. Some kids are able to participate weekly to read to the kittens and become very attached to them. Bekah Sandy, public relations specialist for Seattle Humane Society recalls, “One little girl brought a blanket for the cat she was reading to and tucked it in and read the cat a bedtime story.”
“It is really amazing to see shy cats open up with a family that spends time with them," Heidi says. "When reading is the agenda item, it takes the pressure off of the interaction, and the cats get the time they need to warm up and accept a new person in their space. The friendly cats appreciate getting to spend quality time with someone who is not in a hurry. As hard as we try to give all of the kitties the love they need, there are few times that a staff member or volunteer has an entire 20 minutes to spend with just one cat.”
Jamee Smith and Jaggar Gomez, mother and son, are regular volunteers for the Kitty Literature program. Jaggar is 8 years old and will be in third grade this fall. During his most recent Kitty Literature shift, he read Prince Charming and Fred and a book from the Rider Woofson dog detective series, which he finds hilarious. We got to hear his thoughts about the program.
What is your favorite thing about the program?
Petting the cats, because they’re so soft.
Which cat is your favorite?
All of them!
What is your favorite thing a cat has done so far?
Let me pet it.
How does your cat, Jezebelle, feel about you petting other cats?
She’s fine with it.
Jaggar’s mom, Jamee, has only rave reviews about the program. She had been searching for an opportunity for Jaggar to volunteer with animals but found it was difficult to find for kids. She discovered Kitty Literature and thought they’d give it a try since he loves cats and books. It turned out to be a perfect fit.
“Part of why I love the program is, of course, getting to spend time here with the cats because they’re all amazing in their own way," Jamee says, "And it helps me to think about how we’re helping them beyond just reading. They need a little love and comfort, and I like to think that we’re giving them a little bit of that friendship they need.”
Jamee and her son adopted a cat from a sheet and feels strongly about helping animals find homes. Volunteering at Seattle Humane Society has only reinforced that there are so many animals that deserve to be valued for what they are, regardless of their breed.
“The adopt-don’t-shop concept is so important. I truly believe all of these animals deserve a chance."
As of June 2019, Seattle Humane Society had 146 cats in their shelter. A portion of that number was still receiving medical care and being processed for adoption through their intake department. However, summertime is peak kitten season in the Seattle area, and Seattle Humane Society predicts that they will see about 1,800 kittens this kitten season. The need is great for volunteers for the Kitty Literature program, and they are eagerly received by Seattle Humane Society.
Seattle Humane Society