Reading to the cats

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen

Mackenzie Derrig, 11, a fifth-grader at the Fort Dodge Middle School, gets checked out by one of the cats at the Almost Home Shelter Tuesday afternoon while reading to the animals. The visit was the inaugural session in a program designed to help students with their reading skills. Many of them find it easier and much less intimidating to read to a companion animal than another student, teacher or other adult.

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen Mackenzie Derrig, 11, a fifth-grader at the Fort Dodge Middle School, gets checked out by one of the cats at the Almost Home Shelter Tuesday afternoon while reading to the animals. The visit was the inaugural session in a program designed to help students with their reading skills. Many of them find it easier and much less intimidating to read to a companion animal than another student, teacher or other adult.

Mackenzie Derrig, 11, a fifth-grader at the Fort Dodge Middle School, curled up Tuesday afternoon with a good book called “No Dogs Allowed” by Bill Wallace, and began reading it aloud.

To a cat.

Not just any cat, either, but one of the dozens of cats available for adoption at the Almost Home Humane Society of North Central Iowa shelter.

The cat seemed as cats often seem: in this case indifferent to the book.

But Derrig, who has difficulty reading, benefited from the experience.

It is, after all, easier to read to a cat than a person.

“It’s fun reading to the cats,” she said. “They’re so cute.”

She reads to her cat, Kipper, at home.

Their favorite book?

“‘Go Dog Go,'” she said. “He likes it.”

Cindy Griggs, a special education teacher at the Middle School, helped organize the trip to Almost Home for Derrig and about a dozen other students.

She said that for students who are having trouble with their reading, doing so with a cat or other animal is easier for the student.

“They can read to something that’s nonjudgmental if they make an error,” Griggs said. “Even if they read by pictures and talk about them to the animal, it helps them.”

She said that by practicing with the cats, the students can build their confidence levels. They also get an opportunity to see that what they’re doing is important to the welfare of the animals as they, too, benefit from the attention.

Griggs has plenty of furry pets at home.

“I have two rescue cats and two rescue dogs,” she said.

They don’t get read stories, though.

“But I do talk to them all day,” she said.

Tuesday’s visit to Almost Home was the inaugural session. Griggs said they will be going there every two weeks until the end of the school year.

“We hope to continue this,” she said.

Dalton Coppinger, 11, a fifth-grader, brought a book to share with a bright orange cat. Together, the pair learned about NASCAR racing.

While he has a dog at home named Charlie, the orange tabby would be sending him home with the gift that all cats tend to give — lots of cat hair.

“My mom’s probably going to be mad about that,” he said, trying to brush cat hair off his black pants. “But I’m fine.”

For two of the students, Jarrod McMinn, 12, and his friend, Aliseo Guillen, 12, both sixth-graders, the reading session was spent with Andy, a husky available for adoption.

“We’re allergic to cats,” McMinn said.

While they waited for Andy the husky to be ready to listen to them read, the pair tried to entice him into a game of fetch. They were enjoying their new friend.

“Does it make you happy, Jarrod?” Guillen asked his friend.

“Yes,” McMinn replied, beaming a big smile from ear to ear.

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