Columbus Pets Guide: Read to Cats

Young readers and shy cats are a perfect combination.

Steve Wartenberg
A Crime Cats Mystery Club member reads to a cat, Fred, in 2017.

“Whodunnit?” In Columbus, scores of cats have asked themselves this question in recent years (assuming they can complete this type of advanced cognitive skill—and all cat owners know they can) thanks to the popular Crime Cats Mystery Club, a collaboration of the Cat Welfare Association shelter in Clintonville and children’s author Wolfgang Parker. 

Here’s how the club works: Kids in first through eighth grades read aloud to the residents of the “shy room” at the shelter from a collection of mystery books curated by Parker, the author of the Crime Cats mystery series. 

“For the shyer cats, it gets them used to hearing a kind, human voice,” says Gail Harbert, acting manager of the shelter, which is now open by appointment only for adoptions. “It piques their curiosity and helps them learn these humans are an ally, and that makes them more adoptable.” 

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The young readers also benefit from reading aloud to their feline friends. “A lot of parents told me their child struggled and was really anxious about reading aloud in class,” Parker says. “The mystery club helped them break out of that pattern and the anxiety. I myself was a very poor reader when I was their age, and 

I can empathize with kids who have trouble reading.” 

Alas, the club is a temporary casualty of the COVID-19 pandemic. “It’s on hold for now,” Parker says. “That’s a shame, because we had a really robust sign-up right before the pandemic started, more than 100 kids.” 

Harbert says the shelter will definitely restart the club once it’s safe for kids to gather in the shelter’s shy room. “It’s quite beautiful to watch a child fall in love with a cat,” she says.