Kitties and Kiddees promotes reading and cats

·5 min read

Sep. 23—The Cass County Humane Society Junior Board sat at a long table in the cat room of the shelter cutting eyeholes out of cat-shaped paper masks. Real cats mewed and pawed at their cages, vying for the girls' attention, but the junior board members were mostly focused on their work.

Once there was room to see out of the masks, the high schoolers made small cuts on each side. They tied about half a foot of white yarn to each cut, then added the finished masks to a growing pile.

As they worked, the girls discussed how they would organize everything when nearly 20 children and their parents arrived at the shelter within the next hour to read to the cats. They finished their preparations by hanging streamers on the walls and colorful tissue honeycombs from the ceiling.

"Try not to put them close to the cats, just because they'll rip them down," directed Sydney Baldwin, a language facilitator at Logansport Community School Corporation who oversees the junior board.

The board's Kitties and Kiddees Reading Room has been a hit with families around the county. Baldwin said the premise of the event is simple: give children a safe place to practice reading.

"I was a kid who was horrible at reading, so I want to encourage kids to be able to read," she said. "Obviously the kittens won't really judge, so we just want to be very open and help strengthen their reading in a fun and effective way."

There were so many people who wanted to attend the first Kittees and Kiddees event that most people were placed on a waitlist. Those people were the first to be contacted for the second Kittees and Kiddees event, which was over twice the size of the first group. The second event took place Wednesday evening.

"I saw (Kitties and Kiddees) on Facebook," said parent Keisha Sherwood. "They were too full last month. They picked us first this month, so we came. (The kids) have been all excited to go. She loves cats."

After everyone arrived, Baldwin and Cass County Humane Society Executive Director Lisa Terry greeted the group. Baldwin started the event by reading "Animals Should Definitely Not wear Clothing."

"It would be foolish for a fish," she read as the children giggled. "Who's ever seen a fish with an umbrella?"

The children and parents who attended were then split into two different groups to take turns in the reading room. While one group went into the reading room, the other group ate snacks, colored cat masks and had the option to read to Cheddar, a large orange tabby cat who seemed content to lounge on the floor of his cage.

Terry took a calico kitten from her cage and introduced her to each group while they colored their masks. The kitten, Possum, was found abandoned and alone.

"This kitten was the size of my hand, and it came in by itself," Terry said. "...When you bring in a tiny little kitten, it's a death sentence because we don't have fosters. We don't have anyone who can fix the bottles, and no one lives here at night. We close at 5 p.m. This kitten came and I thought, 'It's not going to make it. There's no way.'"

When she entered the shelter one morning soon after, Terry saw Possum lying motionless on her side.

"I thought, 'Oh my god, it died,'" she said.

When Terry reached down to pick up the kitten, Possum suddenly sprang toward her, hissing and spitting. The kitten's triangular face and habit of playing dead awarded Possum her name.

The kids took turns petting Possum until Terry put her back into her cage. They then returned to the important task of choosing colorful crayons to finish their cat masks.

"I picked three colors," said 6-year-old Abigail Sherwood. Her mask was mostly blue, but the ears were outlined in purple and filled in with pink. The mask's right eyehole was also outlined in purple.

"I was trying to make one of those special cats that are gray, black and white, but I just did this," she said. "I put a spot around her eye."

In the reading room, kids chose a book from their caddies. They were then handed squirming kittens who were excited to be out of their cages.

Some cats were able to wriggle free from the kids. They ran to the cat trees scattered around the edges of the room, the kids in pursuit.

"They were wild, wild, wild," said 6-year-old Collette. "Very wild. Holding the cats was my favorite."

Baldwin wrapped up the event by reading another book to the whole group.

"When you go home, he'll empty the sand from his shoes," she read. "He might spill some on the floor. The sand on the floor will remind him of the sprinkles. He'll probably ask you for some, and chances are, if you give him some sprinkles, he'll want ...a cupcake to go with it."

When Baldwin paused, the kids shouted out the ending of the story. They laughed when Baldwin asked if they had read that book before.

Before they left, many of the kids stood in front of the cages in the cat room, sticking their fingers through the thin metal bars as the cats mewed at them. A few of the kids told their parents which cats they would like to adopt. However, no one walked out with a cat.

Sherwood said she enjoyed seeing how happy her kids were while coloring their masks and reading to the cats.

"They had fun, so that's all that matters," she said. "I'm glad they had the opportunity to do this and spread awareness so that people can adopt the cats."