When Kristi Rodriguez saw how her 10-year-old son, Sean, struggled with reading, she suggested he practice in front of a non-judgmental audience: cats.
Rodriguez, the programs coordinator at the Animal Rescue League of Berks County in Birdsboro, Pennsylvania, introduced Sean to the shelter’s cats, and he started reading to them.
He enjoyed the experience, so he kept reading to them — and as his confidence grew, so did his reading comprehension skills.
Rodriguez figured that if her son liked reading to the cats, other kids would as well, so in August she started the Book Buddies program.
Children in first-grade through eighth-grade at any reading level can participate in the program. For every five books they read, they get a ticket that can be redeemed for a prize or an entry in a monthly drawing.
But Book Buddies isn’t just for the kids — it’s also for the cats. As the children practice reading, the cats are socialized, which improves their chances of adoption.
Rodriquez say the cats get visits from public school students, homeschooling groups, Girl Scout troops and autistic children, and about 30 to 40 kids read to the shelter’s cats each month.
A photo of one of the children reading to cats was recently posted on Reddit, where the story went viral. Since then, the rescue group has been contacted by shelters across the country looking to start similar programs.
Take a look at some of the adorable photos snapped during the kitties' reading sessions.