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Lollypop Farm, Humane Society of Greater Rochester and Monroe County: Build-A-Bear Youth Humane Education Grant Report

How did this grant help your organization and the pets in your care?

We purchased supplies and items needed for our humane-education programs, including Tails & Treats (Halloween-themed trick-or-treating on the farm with the animals); Petacular Party gifts; Farm Camp and Future Veterinarians Camp snacks, shirts, craft supplies, crayons, markers, lamination, stethoscopes, etc.; Reading Readiness books; training fees, shirts and name tags for volunteers with Intermountain Therapy Assistance Dogs; and field trip supplies and Girl Scout program supplies such as handouts, course curriculum, coloring books and badges.

Lollypop Farm’s “Learning to Create a Better World” humane-education program has offered a number of opportunities that engage children’s fascination with animals while teaching them compassion and respect for all living things. Kids decorated "cones of joy" for the dogs and cats who need to wear cones after medial procedures. Youth participants made enrichment toys for the dogs and cats in the shelter.

Through Book Buddies, children practiced their reading skills in a non-judgmental, positive environment at the shelter. Our cats are great listeners! Reading to the cats is also beneficial for the kitties themselves: Cats find the rhythmic sound of a voice very comforting and soothing. This program also helps socialize the cats.

Tails and Treats welcomed more than 300 children in a safe alternative to Halloween where families brought their children decked out in their costumes to Lollypop Farm and the children had treats, prizes, and meet-and-greets with animals throughout the event. All of our humane-education programs aim to teach young people about the responsibility of pet ownership and we hope to develop these young people into animal advocates.

How many pets did this grant help?

Hundreds of our shelter animals are impacted by the humane-education programming through reading programs, receiving enrichment toys, etc.

Please provide a story of one or more specific pets this grant helped.

Maxfield has attended Book Buddies since Sept. 8, 2016. He told staff that he does not really love reading in school, but he is starting to enjoying reading books that interest him. Maxfield has talked about his love for animals since the day we first met him at the shelter. His enthusiasm and excitement can be seen in his eyes when he enters the cat room for his Book Buddies reading sessions. Maxfield has become comfortable with the cat staff and volunteers and always has a great sense of humor when he talks about the cats or the book he is reading.

The first photo is of a particularly moving moment during the Book Buddies program. In October, Maxfield came to a BB sessions with an “early reader” chapter book. He explained that he saw the book at his school’s Scholastic Book Fair and went on to say, “I am feeling very generous today, so I am going to donate the book to Lollypop Farm when I am done reading it today.” This story is not only an example of how Book Buddies is helping struggling readers find a passion for literacy, but also demonstrates that the participants are learning about empathy and philanthropy.

The goal of Lollypop Farm’s Book Buddies program, in which children read to shelter cats, is twofold: to provide kids with a relaxed, judgment-free setting to help them become better and more confident readers, and to socialize and comfort adoptable cats waiting for new homes. When 8-year-old Zach Michael and an 11-year-old cat named Miss CheckMeowt (second and third photos) took part in the program earlier this year, they both got more out of it than anyone had expected. In addition to improving his reading by three grade levels, Zach found a feline friend for life and Miss CheckMeowt got a new home.

Miss CheckMeowt was brought to Lollypop Farm in February 2016 when her elderly owner moved to a nursing home. When Book Buddies cats were chosen, she didn’t make the shortlist. “She wasn’t the most warm, welcoming cat to everyone who encountered her — she had kind of a feisty personality,” says Kim Ferris-Church, humane education manager. But when Zach, who had recently participated in the Book Buddies pilot program, met Miss CheckMeowt during Lollypop Farm’s February school break camp, he liked her right away. Animal Care Supervisor Nick Lapresi agreed to make her a Book Buddies cat after all.

Lapresi made the right call: Zach loved reading to Miss CheckMeowt, and she came out of her shell, says Ferris-Church. “It was almost like they were meant to be together. We were seeing a different side of her that the cat staff had not seen before.” Zach felt such a strong connection to Miss CheckMeowt that the staff said he could come see her anytime. Every week, Zach would say to his parents, Renee and Larry, “It would be great if we could bring Miss Check Meowt home, but I know we can’t.”

Zach’s parents had already been thinking about getting him a therapy animal because of his ADHD and other special needs. “Animals just seem to bring out this very calm side of him, this very loving side, no matter how upset he is,” says Renee. But they had pictured a young dog or cat — not one who was 11 years old. Still, Zach loved Miss Check Meowt, so Renee and Michael met with Lollypop Farm staff to secretly arrange the adoption. To get him to the shelter to give him the good news, they used the ruse of another reading session. In the touching video of the surprise, which Lollypop Farm shared on Facebook, Renee talks to Zach about Miss CheckMeowt and asks, “How would you feel if you found out we adopted her for you?” He answers, “I’d be very happy!” When Renee says, “She’s coming home with us today,” he doesn’t believe her, but she assures him it’s true. “No way,” he says, and: “Very funny.” When Zach finally realizes his parents are serious, Miss CheckMeowt seems to understand, meowing loudly while she walks over to him. He gently pets her on the head and then hugs his mom and dad. Three months after her arrival, Miss CheckMeowt had a new home.

Miss CheckMeowt has adjusted well to her new life and gets along with the family’s two other cats, Momo Kitty and Samantha. She sleeps in Zach’s bed, and they have fun together. “I’ll play with her toys and she’ll jump up and get them,” he says. We have also included another photo of children reading to a cat during Book Buddies (fourth photo).

Further Reading