The public library in Cornwall, P.E.I. has recruited a once stray cat to help out local children with their reading skills.
'It's less intimidating sometimes than being with your peers.' — Chantal Thibeault, Therapeutic Paws of Canada
Rhubarb was rescued from the street by Heather Butler three years ago. Now, in addition to having a home Rhubarb, nicknamed Rhu, is gainfully employed. He works with the non-profit group Therapeutic Paws of Canada, which partners with libraries across the country to help kids with reading problems.
Rhu's job is to sit quietly and attentively while children read to him.
"By reading to an animal, it has a calming effect," said Chantal Thibeault of the P.E.I. chapter of Therapeutic Paws of Canada
"It's less intimidating sometimes than being with your peers and reading out loud."
Butler said she noticed early on the cat's affinity for people, and she was aware of the work done by Therapeutic Paws of Canada. Rhu started working in nursing homes. After six months there, he was evaluated again to see how he got along with children.
He is now the first cat in Canada to be certified to work with children. Previously, all those positions went to dogs.
"He loves being with the children, probably even more than adults," said Butler.
"I think it's because the children lavish attention on him, and you can see he's a bit of a ham and he loves the attention."
Children get an hour a week to read to Rhu. Thibeault said research suggests the program is making a difference.
"In a six-week period, it can bring up the level of reading up to about three levels," she said.
Two children have already been helped by the Cornwall program. Another child will start next month.