By Janet Blue of The Cat on My Head
“It’s like magic,” said Team Leader Katrina Brown from the Williamson County Animal Center, when she was asked about Nika, a 13-year-old black cat pulled from a rural rescue where she had lived for two years. Nika was surrendered to a county shelter after her owner passed away. She had a history of inappropriate litterbox behavior and often threw up her food. Much of this was attributed to stress, as Nika didn’t like, and was very aggressive toward, other cats.
After coming to WCAC, Nika was given a week to decompress by herself in Meow Manor, a smaller free-roaming room with access to a catio. During that week, she seemed to make a total turnaround. Nika was acting quite happy in her new environment and neither pooping outside the litter box nor barfing up her food.
After beginning Cat Pawsitive Pro training, however, the staff noticed that during the Capturing [training method] exercise, Nika naturally raised her paw when seeing them, so they built on that observation to train her to wave. She’s now a master waver!
Team Leader Brown adds, “She is always up for giving me her best. It’s so much fun to have her engaging with me. Then when we’re done training, she likes to jump in my lap to fall asleep for a while, and I’m happy to oblige.”
Though Nika was the oldest CPP student, she picked up on training the fastest and has been the center’s most successful cat. So successful, in fact, that Nika has been adopted. She’s adored by her new adopter who returned to the center a few days after the adoption for a more in-depth lesson in clicker training.
Nika’s change in behavior from prior to CPP to when she was adopted couldn’t have been more dramatic, according to Penny Adams, CPP Team Leader and WCAC adoptions promotions specialist. She says, “While change of environment was a big factor, I have no doubt that the 1:1 training was beneficial for her mentally, and she was a happier cat for it. This was a cat that simply was stressed out and just needed a different approach, and CPP helped us make that connection.”
Nika is only one of WCAC’s success stories, according to Trainer-Mentor Sara Russell. Bumblebee was a kitty who spent most of his time hiding in his cage. While in foster care for a short time, the trainer was able to teach him to jump in her lap on cue. She used petting as a reinforcement [or reward]. A training video from Cat Pawsitive Pro was seen by a potential adopter, and due to the affectionate nature Bumblebee displayed, he found his forever home.
A few other cats that were extremely shy when they first entered the program have absolutely blossomed. Two black cats, Panther and Black Bear Jr., have wowed visitors when they demonstrated their high-five skills.
Overall, the cats in the Cat Pawsitive Pro program have been reacting very well to the clicker training. “The most dramatic changes have been with the cats who were fearful or had higher anxiety. The clicker training helped build trust, and physically they became more confident and less fractious. Cats who simply were trying to cope with their new reality, were adapting faster and were less stressed,” according to Adams.
When having conversations with potential adopters, the staff has found them to be intrigued that cats can be trained. “Even if they don’t end up adopting a cat, knowing that they are leaving our shelter with a new appreciation that cats are complex and intelligent creatures is a big win,” says Adams.
Several other of the CPP cats have been adopted as well. Ondrea Johnson, Director of Williamson County Animal Center, says, “It is fun to see the excitement our adopters are exhibiting when we give them the information about the project and how they can continue their training at home.” She adds, “It is great to be able to offer something families can take into the home that is a positive bonding opportunity.”
The excitement extends to the Cat Pawsitive Pro team as well. When the center was closed during a major ice storm, the team continued to practice their skills at home with their own cats. They were eager to do the work and couldn’t wait to get back to the shelter and move forward with what they were learning.
According to Trainer-Mentor Russell, “Everybody has been doing a fantastic job progressing with training and showing such amazing enthusiasm for the program.”
Center Director Johnson concludes, “As a shelter we have benefited by the camaraderie the team has established.” She’s enjoyed seeing the relationships between the team and the volunteers develop. “…I think all of us have gotten to see a different side of one another.”
Team Leader Adams adds, “Learning how to communicate with them on a deeper level has given me (and the others) even more tools to help even more cats. At the core of it all, that’s why we’re all here. It’s been an inspiring experience.”
YOU can improve the lives of cats at risk. Donate today to The Jackson Galaxy Project’s Cat Pawsitive Program and transform the places and people that support at-risk pets!