Cat Pawsitive Pro Has Big Impact on Cats and Staff at Animal Rescue League of Berks County
By Dawn White of Lola the Rescued Cat
As the staff and volunteers at The Animal Rescue League of Berks County (ARL) in Birdsboro, PA, look back on their experiences this semester, they realize how impactful Cat Pawsitive Pro (CPP) has been not only on their cats, but on the team as well.
The superstar cat of their program continues to be Torque, who you may remember reading about in their mid-semester article. Jamie Drumheller, animal care specialist, remembers how withdrawn and afraid Torque was when she entered the shelter. She emerged from the program greeting people every morning right at the door to the colony. “All she wanted was your love and attention,” Drumheller says.
Meg Yohn, feline enrichment and behavior coordinator, continues to be in awe of Torque’s transformation because of CPP. “Torque really is my favorite story from the semester,” Yohn shares. Before the program, the team felt Torque’s odds were very slim, living under her blankets consumed with fear. But once clicker training started, Yohn says, “she blossomed. She became the most silly, loveable little girl.” She feels the program was certainly the catalyst to her adoption, with most of her improvements taking place within the last three days of her five-month residency at the shelter.
Caleb Payne, pet placement specialist, agrees. He says that Torque’s adopters definitely chose her due to the behaviors she learned through the program. He says that “the adopters for Torque were very interested in continuing the training and found it very interesting.”
Yohn feels the confidence that the cats gained is hard to ignore. The shelter had other cats, such as Alfalfa, who had histories of aggression. CPP gave them the tools to burn their energy appropriately, and now they are living the good life in their forever homes, no longer exhibiting aggression.
Other memorable moments for the team include Bartholomew touching targets for the first time, Felix eating treats and enjoying pets, Zoe headbutting staff as soon as her kennel was opened, and Dewey choosing to touch a person’s hand rather than the target stick. “There were so many beautiful moments that really showed me how effective and wonderful this program really is,” says Yohn. “What a bond it builds.”
Payne believes the biggest success in the program was getting to see the cats who were under socialized and shy really come out of their shells. Many of them were adopted shortly after starting the program, and Payne feels getting them started on the right path to their forever homes was fantastic.
According to Executive Director Alexis Pagoulatos, it was an absolute pleasure to watch the staff and volunteers interact with the CPP cats. The devotion, kindness, and patience they all showed to the cats was admirable, and they were cheered on as “cats continued to be transformed in beautiful ways by their loving efforts.” Pagoulatos also shared that she was delighted to watch the animal-human bond grow and blossom.
Participating in CPP had also transformed the staff and volunteers. Drumheller says the program opened her eyes to a world she did not know existed and learned that cats can be trained. She says she learned that when given the opportunity, cats can “come around with a little love and human contact.” Payne feels that the training he learned has “been phenomenal in understanding basic feline body language as well as being able to educate adopters further.”
As a result of the program, Yohn states she gained more self-awareness, better management skills, and once again found that “spark” that sometimes drifts away. It also helped her acknowledge the hard work being done and the results of it because of the data. She feels one of the greatest benefits to the shelter has been staff and volunteers having more tools in their toolboxes that they can use to work with cats who need more help. It was a beautiful experience for her. “I greatly enjoyed seeing everyone learn and grow together, bonding with their favorite cats as the program went on.”
Trainer-Mentor Carrie Seay says that even though the semester was challenging for the team because of COVID-19 restrictions, they persevered because of the amazing team leaders who supported everyone along the way. “The cats worked really hard this semester,” she says, “and mastered a lot of behaviors including some paw touches from Lola, hand targets from Lorraine, and of course Torque stealing the show with high-fives, sits, and just overall cuteness!” ARL had their fair share of challenging cats that made a lot of progress during the program, some quicker than others, and plenty of adoptions too. Seay feels Yohn really helped to keep the team moving forward with her commitment to the program and is “excited to see where she and the rest of the training team will take clicker training with cats in their shelter.”
Pagoulatos reports that ARL has been on an extraordinary, evolutionary journey that started from an extremely low live release rate for cats several years ago to becoming an animal shelter with a high release rate. They are also now known in their area for positive outcomes for cats. Pagoulatos says that CPP was essential in helping them change the trajectory for cats in Berks County, and they are “profoundly grateful for the help!” Pagoulatos continues on to say that the shelter is looking forward to “further celebrating the human-animal bond and teaching many more people the skills we have learned to expand our impact and help cats far into the future.”
Want to keep up with news about the lifesaving work of The Jackson Galaxy Project’s Cat Pawsitive Pro initiative? Follow us on Facebook at The Jackson Galaxy Project. You can learn more about Cat Pawsitive Pro and support our work at www.catpawsitive.org. The Jackson Galaxy Project is a Signature Program of Greater Good Charities.