Purrfect Pals Embraces the Innovation of Cat Pawsitive Pro

By Rachel Loehner

Nestled in the Puget Sound in Arlington, Washington, Purrfect Pals has been helping cats and cat owners for the past 30 years. Founded in 1988, Purrfect Pals was the region’s first no-kill cat shelter. Started as a single house on five acres with two unattached garages, with room renovations performed one by one, the shelter has now grown into a facility with space for up to 225 cats, housing both short and long-term cats, with seven off-site adoption centers as well.


Purrfect Pals, which is also a sanctuary for special needs or harder-to-adopt cats, offers the community the usual shelter services like cat adoptions, free spay/neuter vouchers, and in-take transfers from other partner shelters. They also offer more unique services to the public like a cat food bank for those needing a little extra assistance as well as humane trap rentals for TNR activities in the community.

But the shelter has also implemented more innovative ideas like their prison foster program, called Monroe Corrections Kitten Connections, where mentally ill offenders provide foster care for young and/or feral kittens that need constant socialization and human contact. The successful partnership has helped countless cats and kittens who may otherwise have been euthanized.

It’s clear that Purrfect Pals is determined to help cats and the community at large by finding or implementing these inventive [pioneering] programs, which is why The Jackson Galaxy Project’s Cat Pawsitive Pro (CPP) is a perfect match for the shelter.


When asked what being selected for CPP means for Purrfect Pals, Executive Director Kathleen Olson, CAWA, says, “While every Purrfect Pals cat is considered adoptable, many shy kitties could find homes more quickly if they were trained to interact with potential adopters. We feel that all of our cats benefit from enrichment and Cat Pawsitive Pro will give staff better tools to increase positive interactions.”

Before the official kickoff of CPP at Purrfect Pals, their staff of 25 already showed excitement about the program. And many of the volunteers even attended the two luncheons hosted by the shelter, along with staff and donors, as everyone was eager to learn more about the clicker-training program. Although a few staff and volunteers are already familiar with clicker-training for canines, CPP will be a new training adventure for most.


While there will be many participants in the program working with the cats, Purrfect Pals has six Team Leaders who will be heading up Cat Pawsitive Pro at the shelter. They include Mary Zelinka, Director of Operations; Brandy Thomas-Unruh, Cat Care Lead; Carol Lamar, Administrative Manager; Susan Bark, Foster Care and Prison Program Manager; Connie Gabelein, Director of Community Engagement; and Elizabeth Asher, Adoption and Volunteer Manager.


With overall guidance provided by JGP Trainer-Mentor Samantha Bell DiGenova, the CPP team at Purrfect Pals will be able to put their clicker skills to use and have new and more meaningful interactions with the cats. Operations Director Mary Zelinka says, “Our Cat Care Team is excited to engage with the cats beyond cleaning and feeding, medical care and providing enrichment toys and activities.”


On average, the shelter takes in 60 cats during each winter month (December through February), but that number increases to between 85 and 100 cats each month for the rest of the year (March through November). The cat adoption numbers see the same seasonal trend, averaging over 100 monthly adoptions from August to December, and around 45 to 70 in the other remaining months.

Because Purrfect Pals is also a sanctuary, many of their cats stay with them longer than 12 months, and many of those are ones with medical or behavioral issues to address, things like litter box usage issues or shyness.


One of their cats already slated to participate in CPP is eleven-year-old Hermit, who arrived at the shelter after her lifelong owner went into assisted living. Hermit was extremely shy and scared when she came to Purrfect Pals and is still struggling with shelter life. Hermit spent several months in their Monroe prison foster program, where she bonded with her foster dad, who worked with her to let her know that people would be good to her. But Hermit does wear her name well, and she tends to spend much of the day sleeping in her favorite hiding spots. The hope is that Cat Pawsitive Pro and clicker training will encourage the sweet, little wallflower to blossom into a confident kitty.


The number one goal of Cat Pawsitive Pro is to ensure that the cats are the best version of themselves, and everyone at Purrfect Pals is ready to make that happen!

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 the program and support our work at The Jackson Galaxy Project is a Signature Program of