It started as an idea to diminish the stockpile of yarn in the Rawlins Municipal Library’s craft drawers but has grown into a larger community project helping some furry friends find a home as a new program kicked off on Monday.

Rawlins partnered with PAWS Animal Rescue to make and donate knitted blankets for kittens. Organizers hope the year-round project will draw people who knit and enjoy teaching others while raising pet adoption awareness.

Volunteers may donate even more yarn or take some of the donated yarn for free and knit the pet blankets. Volunteers then drop off their finished blankets at the library’s circulation desk. The library donates the blankets to PAWS.

A yarn blanket will go with the animal when a new owner adopts a kitten or cat. The blanket acts as a familiar item for the cat to ease the animal’s transition into their new home.

PAWS President Jen Uecker said there are currently 40 kittens and cats at the shelter, up from the average of around 30. Foster owners raise the kittens until a certain age before they go up for adoption.

While the number of cats needing a home has increased, the number of dogs has fared better, with PAWS housing 11 dogs. PAWS can house around 15 dogs at any given time.

“We like to see a total of eight to 10 dogs, otherwise it is hard on our staff and volunteers,” Uecker said.

PAWS has three part-time employees and relies on volunteers to help with duties and provide the animals with some company.

“How many cats and dogs we have varies from month to month, year to year. We try to adopt out as many as we can,” Uecker said. “But, they don’t have an expiration date with us.”

She mentioned one particular animal that, through no negative aspect of its own, has been at the shelter its entire life, waiting for a family to choose it over any other animal at the shelter.

The “Knittin’ for Kittens” project aims to reach a variety of local interests from knitters, knitting instructors, knitting learners, cat lovers, future cat lovers and avid readers.

Library Director Robin Schrupp said she looks forward to people teaching and learning about knitting.

Uecker hopes that the project and other ongoing projects will lead people to fall in love with a cat and eventually take it home with them.

In the meantime, the knitted blankets help the prospective adoptees.

“I think it’s a neat little gift,” Uecker said. “We are always looking for stuff, such as an adoption gift.”

Schrupp said that the blanket pattern, made up of 25 squares, is easy — at least for those who already know how to knit. The hope is that this could be an excellent way for people with crafting experience to teach novices to cast on and off and about tension. Adults can participate, as well as kids.

The knitters use 650-gauge double-knit yarn in whatever shades are available or desired. More experienced knitters can teach the specifics. The hobbyists can cast on 42 stitches, working for a tension of 21 stitches by 43 rows. They continue to garter stitch — every row knit — until they have a square of 20 centimeters, then cast off. They need 25 squares. When all 25 squares are connected, the finished blanket should be 100 by 100 centimeters — 39.25 x 39.25 inches.

Rawlins also has another project with PAWS that hopes to get kids and their families interested in the shelter’s pets waiting for adoption — Rescue Readers.

Registration is limited to nine first-grade and older children per each first or third Tuesday from 5:30-6:30 p.m. session. The new program is year-round.

Children visit the center and read to the animals. The program aims to help kids with social skills, overcome shyness and build their reading skills. The program also gives the shelter’s animals a chance to socialize and get comfortable interacting with children and, of course, some much-appreciated attention.

As for “Knittin’ for Kittens,” the program provides a fun and beneficial activity during those cold days best spent indoors.

“It gives something for people to do in the winter,” Schrupp said. “We have books for adults and kids to learn how to knit and some for experienced knitters.”

Del Bartels | 605-224-7301

Reporter Del Bartels, a born and raised South Dakotan and a graduate from Black Hills State University, was the editor of a weekly newspaper for 17 years.

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