Patience Pays Off at Heaven on Earth Society for Animals
By Melissa Lapierre of Melissa’s Mochas, Mysteries & Meows
As Cat Pawsitive Pro (CPP) training comes to a close at Heaven on Earth Society for Animals in North Hollywood, California, staff and volunteers reflect on the semester as a time of growth and learning – for both cats and humans!
Team Leader and Lifesaving Programs Manager Carmen Cisneros admits, “We were a bit skeptical at the beginning of the training. We weren’t seeing much with the cats and I think that was making volunteers and ourselves wonder if we were doing something wrong. It wasn’t until the 4th week of training that you started to see the cats get more comfortable with us and start engaging.”
She credits Sugar and Elliot with making the biggest transformations, adding, “Before you couldn’t even get Sugar to come down or even look at you, now she’s the first one coming to see what’s the plan. Elliot came in as a very shy, fearful guy; he never came out of his hiding place, he was always hissing or swatting if you got too close. Now you can walk in the room and he comes out to investigate and allows us to pet him.”
Volunteer Karen Schreiber was concerned that by being involved in the cats’ training only once a week she wouldn’t be familiar enough to them to make a difference, but she came to realize that wasn’t the case at all. She was particularly impressed by how they came to understand the clicker training process. “It is just really so simple, ‘If I do this, I will get that.’ I have seen each cat I worked with, no matter how timid and fearful they were at first, become able to be more comfortable around me and trust that I would follow through with the ‘promise’ of something positive if they would chance learning a new behavior. I saw each cat start to look to me as someone to possibly make their day a bit more interesting. They seemed to be happier and a lot more accepting of humans,” she reports.
Karen recalls working with Aubrey, a shy cat who would sit far back on a shelf, recoiling if a hand even came near “her” shelf. One day Karen slowly approached her and put some treats on the shelf, then backed off to grab the hoop they were going to train with. To her delight, Aubrey sleepily came down, stretched, and went through the hoop 3 or 4 times! Karen continues, “I think the kitties really WANT to relax and have fun with us humans. Being observant and open minded is really all it seems to take. That, patience and time… for us as well as the cats. Each one is different and needs to be understood before any changes in behavior can be made. I’m pretty sure that I learned as much as they did!”
A standout cat in the program to more than one volunteer is Crystal, a black cat that had been at Heaven on Earth for several months. She was extremely timid, hiding out in the litter box area, only venturing out if her best friend Harley was around. Then Harley got adopted and Crystal retreated back to hiding. But once CPP started, there was a change in Crystal! She would wait for a person to come in and train her, looking forward to receiving treats and playing with her favorite wand toy, even learning to go through the hoop and allow petting! “She developed confidence that engaging with humans was not only safe, but it was rewarding. She was able to interact at her own pace and under her own terms,” says volunteer Dinah Saperia.
Seventeen-year-old torbie Isabella has already found her forever home thanks to CPP! Described as a fast learner who nailed every training session, Isabella showed off her clicker training skills while on a video chat with potential adopters. They were amazed and wanted to foster her. “After a few weeks they knew she was theirs and wanted to make it permanent. They say she’s eager to please them, so they’ve been working on some new tricks for her,” reports Carmen.
Other cats that made an impression on staff and volunteers include Angelo, a quick study who progressed from walking through a hoop to running an obstacle course with 3-5 cones, a tunnel, and climbing stairs! “He was always excited to work on his skills. He was definitely my biggest confidence builder that the process works,” Karen says. And volunteer Eiko Satake felt a great connection with Sandra, who wasn’t impressed with anything presented to her during target training until being offered a fist to bump her head into!
Volunteer Alana Parness believes the greatest success the cats have gotten out of the program is confidence and wanting to interact with humans. “I think it can get very boring for cats in a shelter environment. I feel this program gave the cats something to look forward to. I know we only talk about the cats in the program, but I feel this program helped a lot of the other cats that were in the same rooms as the ones in the program.” She specifically mentions Luna, who started to come out of hiding when she saw the other cats getting treats and attention during their training sessions.
Clinical Care Director Leandra Lawrence agrees, adding, “Staff and volunteers have commented on how engaged the cats seem. Even cats not participating in the program seem more curious when people enter the free roam rooms. The training is allowing cats to interact with people in a whole new way. It is really enriching the lives of the cats and increasing their chances for adoption.”
As a personal success, Alana adds that she sees her volunteer work in a new light thanks to CPP. “Before CPP when I would volunteer, I would just go pet or play with the cats. Maybe brush some of them. Thanks to CPP it has opened up a whole new world for me and how I can make a cat’s life better in a shelter environment,” she says.
It’s clear to see that the cats at Heaven on Earth have blossomed thanks to the hard work and dedication of staff and volunteers. “Even though the beginning was slow and a bit arduous, once the trust started to build between trainers and cats it only got better and easier as the weeks went by. That patience eventually led to amazing breakthroughs we could have only wished for before entering the program,” says Team Leader and Cat Care and Behavior Specialist Josselyn Moreno.
“Overall, this was the best thing that ever happened to Heaven on Earth,” Carmen is happy to report.
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.