By Mark Makela
It was my editor Chris Helgren who told me about the “Book Buddies” program, where children in the Pennsylvania town of Birdsboro read to cats up for adoption at an animal shelter. The assignment was a gift – unusual, humorous, endearing, with universal appeal.
The Animal Rescue League of Berks County has been running this program for six months, and is less than an hour’s drive away from my home, but I had never heard of it. This was a perfect illustration of that hackneyed but apt idiom that great stories are in your backyard, but can be so easily overlooked.
The scheme began in August 2013 after Kristi Rodriguez, an employee of the shelter, brought her son in to read to the cats. He enjoyed the experience so much that he wanted to come back. Now there are about three-dozen students in grades 1-8 who regularly participate.
Widespread interest in this story first grew around a fortnight ago, when a parent posted a photo of her son reading to a cat nestled up beside him. When I went to document the shelter myself, I wanted to capture a complete photo narrative of “Book Buddies”. I hunted for the key shots, especially any comic juxtapositions, and then I tried to make linking images to smooth out the transitions from photo to photo in the final set.
Cats were everywhere! Tabbies mostly, of different sizes, ages, colors, and dispositions. Most enclosures held five or six animals and all of them were friendly, with no hisses or conflict in sight. For me it was surprising, because all of my cats over the years just can’t seem to get along.