Read to cats program helps young adults and shelter cats

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STRIVE member Fiona Shea kisses one-eyed cat Dylan goodbye after reading to him during her visit to the ARL. Gabe Souza, Portland Press Herald photo.


A successful program that partners a Maine animal shelter with an organization devoted to helping young adults with developmental disabilities is showing benefit to all involved.

Young people who are members of  the social services organization STRIVE visit some special cats and read to them at the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland through the program, which began this past spring.

The STRIVE members boost their confidence and literacy skills while enjoying the company of ARL shelter cats, while the cats, most of whom have special needs or circumstances, benefit from their interaction with the strive volunteers and get help to become happier and more adoptable.

The young adults who volunteer at the shelter are members of STRIVE’s Next Step, which helps them to develop independent living skills.

The cats they visit with and read to are long-term residents at the shelter and most have special needs ranging from behavior issues and medical conditions to senior status. The cats tend to be shy and withdrawn, and the STRIVE members’ weekly visits and reading sessions have been very helpful in drawing them out and helping them to become friendlier and more at ease with people.

The Portland Press Herald visited the shelter recently for a story and produced the video seen below.

When Fiona Shea read to 8-year old one-eyed cat Dylan and his housemates on the day the Press Herald visited for their story, Dylan’s purrs filled the catroom.

“You’re so adorable, little kitty,” Shea whispered to her furry friend.

“Sometimes what I like the most is to see the cats and pet them a little and see what’s new in the room,” Shea, who has Down syndrome told the Press Herald.

Jenna Roth, with ARL, said: “STRIVE actually approached us with the idea of (them) volunteering here, and we thought, ‘What if they work with our cats?’ It serves a need, and the cats benefit greatly from it.

“When the students come in and they take a seat and they begin to read, it’s an engagement with the cats that they don’t typically have here.

“We often see them climb out of their hiding holes and their cubbies.”

Participant Jacob Lessard said: “If there’s people around looking at me [ while reading] I get nervous…I get really shy and my cheeks all go red.

“Cats are very quiet, and I won’t be afraid reading to them.”

Haley Pass said:  “They listen well and they don’t judge you if you mess up on a word.

“It makes me feel good because then (the cats) get some skills for when people come to see them.”

Kate Lord, the team leader of STRIVE’s Next Step program said: “I see an improvement in the way that they’re reading, almost like their confidence coming out.”


STRIVE program director, Betsy Morrison said: “It gives (the participants) an opportunity to give back to the community.

“Sometimes they feel like they take and take as recipients of services. For any of us it’s wonderful for our self-esteem to give back. And it’s no different for these young people.”



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