Rock Star Cats Emerge at Williamson County Animal Center Thanks to Cat Pawsitive Pro
By Janet Blue of The Cat on My Head
According to Ondrea Johnson, Director of the Williamson County Animal Center (WCAC),when they first began the Cat Pawsitive Pro project, they had some skeptics. A few volunteers commented that “cats should be cats” and “tricks are for dogs.” Now she says, “I think that even the most hardened skeptics have seen that the cats truly benefitted from the program.”
“We purposely selected cats who were generally harder to place. These were the cats that weren’t confident, had medical issues or were older,” says Team Leader and staff member Penny Adams. She adds, “Most of the adopters didn’t know about the cats being in the program until they were visiting the adoption center. We had some rock star black cats who did high-fives, though, and that definitely helped seal the deal.”
Johnson adds, “The results I have seen from the program and the potential this has for our cat population for years to come is so exciting. It was worth the time and effort it took and so much more!”
Johnson has seen cats that were formerly hiding all the time and difficult to show to adopters become lap cats. A cat that was constantly overlooked was adopted because she learned to wave. “It’s hard to ignore a waving cat,” claims Johnson.
Team Leader and volunteer Katrina Brown shares the story of the waving cat Nika (who we met in the WCAC’s mid-semester article), that touched her heart when she saw her in a rural cat rescue. Nika is a 13-year-old, sassy cat, and she’d spent two years in that rural shelter. Nika was constantly around other cats, and she hated them. She had a history of gobbling her food too quickly and then throwing it up. She also had litterbox issues. WCAC pulled Nika from the rescue when they were low on cats due to an increase in pandemic-driven adoptions.
After arriving to WCAC, Nika was placed by herself in a free roaming cat room. Almost immediately, she seemed much more relaxed. The Cat Pawsitive Pro program helped her so much. Just having that positive reinforcement every day, she made a faster turnaround than Brown thought possible. She seemed happy to give them her cute wave all the time.
Nika was with WCAC for about two months prior to being adopted. “Her adopter was just tickled by her wave,” says Brown. A few days after Nika went to her forever home, her adopter returned to WCAC to learn how to continue training her. She definitely was a special adopter who adopted a special cat. It’s been almost two months since Nika’s adoption, and she’s still waving, according to her adopter!
Bumblebee is another success story. He was first introduced in WCAC’s interim report. Sara Russell, Trainer-Mentor, shared how Bumblebee was a kitty who spent most of his time hiding in his cage but blossomed in foster care.
Team member and volunteer Stephanie Knapp says that her favorite moments in the CPP training came about while she was working with Bumblebee. Knapp was the team member who fostered Bumblebee when the shelter had to be cleared prior to a snow and ice storm. She recounts how the change in environment from the shelter to her home immediately put Bumblebee more at ease.
According to Knapp, everything really started to “click” when she and Bumblebee began training. The shy cat became very enthusiastic about reaching his paw out on cue.
When first arriving at Knapp’s home, however, Bumblebee was afraid of her boyfriend. But after only a couple of days, he learned that the “reach” was a great way to engage with people. He started to do it every time Knapp’s boyfriend entered the room.
After a week with Knapp, Bumblebee went back to the shelter. And as expected, he regressed some and retreated to his cubby bed. But a training video from Cat Pawsitive Pro was seen by a potential adopter and made an impact. Due to the affectionate nature Bumblebee displayed, he found his forever home.
Director Johnson shares that Bumblebee’s adopterreports that he is still waving and sends photo updates to the center. “Of course, that’s the best benefit of all…knowing cats are happy in homes,” she says.
Knapp relates that Cat Pawsitive Pro has made her a better trainer for any animal! Though she had some experience working with her dog at home, she found the tips shared by Trainer-Mentor Russell helpful for the cats currently in the program, any cats that become part of the training in the future, and as well as with her critters at home.
Knapp adds that the click/reinforce timing came naturally, as she had some experience with training and clickers in the past. Some of the behaviors she was able to train the cats in her care to do are: sit on lap on cue, reach out paw, meerkat, high-five, nose touch, eye contact and come when called.
Adams shares that the team experienced many “ah-ha” moments during training. Seven-year-old Princess Esmerelda first came to WCAC in October 2020 as a cantankerous, angry cat. She would become overly stimulated by noise, cats, dogs and children. However, she was very easy to train and responsive to all the trainers. She’s jumping through the hoop and sitting. Adams states that she’s become more engaging and affectionate the more they work with her. Though Princess Esmerelda has not found her home just yet, Adams is confident they are setting her up for success with her future adopter with what her trainers have learned about her needs.
Another CPP participant, Leia, was very shy and would face away from the public (under a cat bed). She began responding to clicker training by touching the target stick, coming forward to fingers for touch and then gaining enough confidence in the visitation room to come out of her cubby and play with “da bird” toy. She learned how to be a cat. After she became more relaxed and confident, she found a home in no time, according to Adams.
Adams says that cats have always been a part of her life. She remembers teaching her cat, Morris, how to “gimme five” when she was in the first grade. Now, more than 40 years later, Adams says that what she appreciates most about CPP is the structure and the behavioral science behind communicating with cats to help them overcome stressful situations. “What was a general intuition with understanding cats before, is a proven method now.” She concludes that there is no worse feeling in the world than seeing a cat come to a shelter and be mentally miserable. “I feel more empowered now to help make a positive difference in the lives of the ‘undercats’ and to share what I’ve learned with others.”
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.