By Debbie Adams
In September 2018, the Vinton Public Library began partnering with the Regional Center for Animal Care and Protection (RCACP) for a new event known as “Caturday.” The activity is just as cute as it sounds– picture children earnestly reading to cats and kittens.
When the program was announced, the library explained that “reading aloud to a furry friend can help children gain confidence in reading skills.” That’s how it helps children. In addition, being read to, helps the cats to “become socialized and ready for adoption.” The RCACP hoped the program would showcase the adoption issue and lead to some pets finding “furever homes.”
Alyssa Carpenter, who was the children’s library assistant in Vinton at that time, had first introduced the program at the Christiansburg library, partnering with animal shelters there, and bringing cats into the library.
The Vinton Library, in its former location on Washington Avenue, had actually held children’s reading sessions with therapy dogs from the Pet Partners program in 2014, in a program started by Emily Metrock, then children’s library assistant.
When the library moved to its new building and location in 2015, the reading program eventually reappeared, changed to a different species, and evolved into “Caturday” held on Saturdays.
The Caturday program became wildly popular with children and their parents until the pandemic brought the program to a screeching halt with in-person programs cancelled for many months. But as of March 19, Caturday is back with plans to make it a monthly event.
Children pre-register for a 15-minute reading session with the cats. RCACP Director of Operations Melinda Rector transports cats from the animal shelter in carriers to be placed in cages for the reading event.
On March 19, Rector brought along Sally Mae, a six-month-old kitten, Davey (two years old), Butchy (age 11), and Nathan (five years). Unlike the procedure on most Caturdays, these felines were not up for adoption. They are being transported up north this week by the ASPCA, where apparently there is an adoptable cat shortage.
Twelve excited children signed up to read at this first session. Some even got to read to more than one cat.
Children’s librarian Jen Whitcomb facilitated the sessions, bringing children in and out of the children’s group meeting room where the cats were relaxing in a calm, quiet setting. There were stacks of books on the table for children to select from or they could bring their own favorites from home.
Floor mats were placed next to the cages so the children could sit closely and read to the cats, usually tu
rning pages in the books to show them the pictures. They also received some small treats for the cats to be given while they were read to.
As the children came in, Rector advised them to be as quiet as possible so the cats would not be uneasy; she cautioned them not to put their fingers in the cages if a cat seemed agitated. Available books were pointed out. (A favorite seemed to be “Pete the Cat.”)
Rector said she chose cats who generally display pretty calm, consistent behavior. The reading sessions are helpful for cats/kittens who are shy and might not get as much notice at the shelter as those who are spunkier.
Families who visited the library on March 19 got a Caturday preview as they walked in, even before they got to the children’s area. Local author Valerie Archual greeted them at the main entrance with her cat, Roger, whom she rescued at a past Caturday session at the library. In addition to greeting guests, Archual was doing a book signing.
Archual had shared her experiences in adopting Roger as a contributing writer for “Chicken Soup for the Soul: The Magic of Cats.” (A percentage of the proceeds from her book sales that day were donated to the RCACP.)
According to Archual, her family was heartbroken when they lost their 14-year-old cat, and their other cat, the sociable tabby “Tom Tom” was lonely. Archual began an intensive search of shelters to find a new companion for Tom Tom when she was at a book signing at the library.
Back then the Caturday cats were located upstairs in the library conference room. She was allowed to visit before the children arrived. Seated on the floor, gazing at numerous cages of cats, Archual says she heard a deafening meow in her ear and felt a head-butt that almost knocked her over. It was Roger, who proceeded to jump into her lap. She describes her impression of him as “massive ears on a tiny head and a definite extrovert.” He continued to meow, climbed up her chest, and head-butted her once again. He subsequently won her heart and a place in their family.
Two weeks later, he was inexplicably eating less and losing weight. A trip to the vet revealed that he had contracted a usually fatal disease from an organism transmitted by a tick bite. However, through modern veterinary magic and his determined nature, Roger survived, and earned the title of “Roger the Wonder Cat” from the veterinary hospital. That’s the short version of Archual’s story; check out the Chicken Soup book for the inspiring details.
In addition to contributing to the Chicken Soup for the Soul series, Archual is a travel writer and has published two children’s books, “Tom Tom and Rose” and “Carter’s Star City Trolley Ride.” Visit her website at www.valeriearchual.com or her Facebook page at www.facebook.com/valwrites for more information. She can also be found on Amazon.com.
The next Caturday is scheduled for mid-April. Registration is available online at https://www.roanokecountyva.gov/1970/Library. Check under the Vinton Library events. There may be a waiting list.
More information is available on pet adoptions and the RCACP online at www.rcacp.org or on their Regional Center for Animal Care and Protection Facebook page.
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