NEWTON UPPER HILLS, Mass. This suburb to the west of Boston boasts a highly-educated population with a love of reading, as well as a large population of dogs. “We’re not called the Garden City for nothing,” says Amy Zuckerman with a smile, as her Lhasa Apso “Dylan”–named for Dylan Thomas–sniffs the private parts of Heinzie, a stand-offish dachsund, on a playground near the Eliot trolley stop.
Dylan Thomas: “Do not go gentle into that dark vet’s office . . .”
The two phenomena came together in a highly-successful “Reading to Dogs” program at the city’s schools and public library, where young children read to non-judgmental therapy dogs who listen attentively, thereby instilling confidence in students who might falter in front of their classmates. “It’s been great for Josh,” says Marci Haskell. “The kids in his second grade class threw spitballs at him when he mispronounced ‘onomatopoeia.’”
“Do you have Truman Capote’s ‘Other Voices, Other Rooms’?”
But local cat lovers became upset when they saw the cost of the program–$12,000–in the city’s budget, and demanded equal time for their pets. “The Reading to Dogs program was a classic example of bare-knuckled special interest politics,” says Clyde Williams, head of “Leash Law Vigilantes,” a local anti-dog/anti-tax advocacy group. “Why should we subsidize a bunch of mutts who do nothing but foul our sidewalks and bite the Greenpeace canvassers–not that there’s anything wrong with that.”
“I’m too tired to read. Turn on Sportscenter.”
So in a compromise a separate “Reading to Cats” program was started last fall with high hopes of bringing the joys of literature to children with feline friends, beginning with Saturday story hour sessions. Less than a year later, the initiative has fallen apart with finger-pointing, recriminations and allegations of fraud. “No good deed goes unpunished,” says Mitzi Raposa, the owner of two tabbies whom she volunteered as participants.
“You know what you can do with your Newbury Prize-winning story of a boy and his dog.”
“Basically, cats aren’t good listeners,” says Ellen Janeway, an assistant librarian. “It took forever for them to sit down, and when they did they went right to sleep. It was turning off a lot of kids.”
Cat-lovers say they will re-tool the program to make it more appropriate for cats’ shorter attention spans and lack of interest in activities other than eating, sleeping and chasing mice. “When they’re high on catnip they seem to like Beat poets,” says early education specialist Gwendolyn Hambrecht, “and they love ‘Old Yeller.’”
Available in Kindle format on amazon.com as part of the collection “Cats Say the Darndest Things.”