Cat Pawsitive Pro Gives Cats a Richer Life at PAWS Chicago

By Dawn White of Lola the Rescued Cat

As the PAWS Chicago team reflects on their experiences this semester in the Cat Pawsitive Pro program (CPP), they realize how the training gave cats in their care richer lives. One of those cats is Sweater. “When the elegant Sweater came to PAWS Chicago, humans were a threat to her,” says Elizabeth Foley, PAWS volunteer. “We were trying our best to gain her trust, but progress was elusive.” When Sweater joined the CPP clicker-training program, things turned around for her.

Sweater with a clicker

Foley feels the clicker training helped her and Sweater speak the same language. Sweater’s breakthrough happened one morning during her clicker games with Foley. Sweater abruptly turned her back to Foley and sauntered to the other side of the room, rolling on her side. She calmly stared back at Foley. That is when Foley says she heard Sweater loud and clear. Sweater was saying clicker games were over, and she didn’t have to bite or scratch to get her message across. Foley realized that Sweater was satisfied with her new skills and felt safe in the presence of a human. “Thank You, Cat Pawsitive Pro, for giving Sweater a richer life!”

Briana Allen, team leader and volunteer, also saw great improvement with Sweater. According to Allen, Sweater was known to be particular about people and was uncomfortable with anyone putting their hands near her face. Through CPP, Sweater has learned to be more trusting and has become less reactive to hands. She has shown the team that she is really a sweet girl who loves getting attention on her terms. “Knowing that,” says Allen, “we can provide a potential adopter with better information on what Sweater will need as she adjusts to a home environment.”

Sweater making friends!

Rudy, who holds a special place in CPP Team Leader Erin Mayes’ heart, is another cat whose life has been enriched by the program. Rudy was adopted out in 2010 and then returned in 2019. Between June and September of 2019, Rudy spent time in three different homes, exhibiting aggressive behaviors toward each of his human caregivers. Mayes took Rudy as her office cat, and he was her faithful companion for 1 ½ years. Knowing that Rudy might be lonely on days she was out of the office, Mayes took a chance on introducing him to a calm and friendly kitten and was surprised when Rudy was immediately affectionate with the baby. “I had honestly never conducted such a seamless cat-to-cat intro in all my years at PAWS,” Mayes says. From that point on, Rudy took on a new role at PAWS, which was that of a helper cat for kittens who were too stressed to be housed in their traditional kitten rooms. 

Briana and Rudy

Rudy quickly became a shining star of CPP, mastering sit, spin, high five, the hoop jump, entering the carrier, and stay. “The highlight of this semester’s program for me,” says Mayes, “occurred during our last week of guided training when Briana Allen began fostering Rudy.” The best news Mayes could hear was that Allen officially adopted Rudy in May this year. Rudy was PAWS’ longest-term cat at the time of his adoption, having spent over 600 days in the shelter since his initial return.

Participating in CPP has also enriched the lives of staff and volunteers. Allen shared with me that participating in the program has made her a better cat parent, using her new skills to strengthen the bond between her and her cats (who enjoy and anticipate their training time). The program has also given her tools to help cats turn negative behaviors into something positive, “whether that’s channeling energy into high-fives and hoop jumps or building confidence when interacting with people.”

Working with Sweater

Mayes feels the program has cemented her belief that every cat, regardless of age or background, could benefit from the training in innumerable ways. “As a rescue worker, my goal for every animal in our care is to one day get them into a permanent, safe, and loving home where they can thrive,” she says, and she is forever grateful for the opportunity to participate in the program.

Sara Rehfeld, director of adoption services, remembers how evident the staff and volunteers’ dedication and enthusiasm was at the CPP kickoff meeting. They wanted to make a difference in cats’ lives through the program, and Rehfeld feels the program has made a lasting impact at PAWS. As more volunteers are taught these skills, their time interacting with the cats becomes more valuable and enriching. “Thank you, Jackson Galaxy Project! Each session brought something new to our PAWS Chicago cats and brings them one step closer to finding their adoptive homes,” she says.

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 The Jackson Galaxy Project is a Signature Program of Greater Good Charities.