Think cats can’t be trained? Think cats stressed out by shelter living can’t get relief? Think again. Thanks to the New Hampshire SPCA’s participation in the 2020 semester of Cat Pawsitive, we are improving the lives of shelter cats while boosting their adoptability.
We’ve known for a long time that enrichment programs help all animals confined in shelters. The New Hampshire SPCA is now one of 55 U.S. animal welfare organizations selected by The Jackson Galaxy Project, a Signature Program of GreaterGood.org, to participate in Cat Pawsitive. The program introduces positive-reinforcement training to shelter and rescue cats. Supported by the Petco Foundation, its primary aim is to increase feline adoption rates.
Our online training program, designed by feline behavior experts, is running through March 30, 2020. Our team has seven core members — staff and volunteers — learning Cat Pawsitive’s positive-reinforcement-based training methods. Once this group is trained, we will share what we’ve learned with other staff and volunteers and make/create our own program.
How does it work? Using classic behavior modification methods, we are using clickers to train our feline friends. Desired behaviors are marked with a click and rewarded. The effort keeps the cats mentally and physically active. The rewards vary based on the cats’ preferences, but include food, petting, brushing and playing. When the cats realize they can earn their desired reward, it gives them some control in their lives, something sorely lacking in a shelter environment.
Cats who are exposed to the reward-based training methods of Cat Pawsitive experience reduced stress levels and build connections with staff, volunteers and potential adopters.
Our team works on seven cats, one per team member, at any time of the program. Each cat gets two training sessions in a day over three to four days a week. The program is designed to work on friendly and social cats. However, we focus on cats who are in a medical ward or exceptionally stressed in the shelter environment.
One of them is Midnight, a handsome black and white young male who came to us as a stray. Unfortunately, he arrived with a wound of an unknown origin, so state law requires us to keep him on a four-month rabies hold. Given his lengthy stay, the Cat Pawsitive program is a blessing for Midnight, especially with the overstimulation he was showing at the beginning of his stay with us before he started the program.
Whether working with sweet, fearful, or nervous cats, we have seen notable behavior improvements in a short amount of time. By participating in Cat Pawsitive, we are building a strong foundation in the basics of cat behavior training so that going forward, we can:
- Help improve cats’ mental, physical, and emotional well-being.
- Maintain and improve cat adoptability.
- Increase overall cat adoptions, while decreasing lengths of stay.
- Empower staff and volunteers to engage with cats in new ways that enhance the cat-human bond.
- Show potential adopters that cats are cool and, yes, they can be trained!