Happy Cats Haven:
What: A no-kill cat shelter
Where: 1412 S. 21st St.
Cost: $95 to adopt cat, $125 to adopt kitten (spayed or neutered with shots)
Drop-offs: Appointment only.
“If it eats, it can be trained.”
Apparently, that old saying applies even to one of the most fickle and independent creatures to inhabit our human world: the house cat.
At a new west-side cat shelter, staff members believe just about any cat can be taught to perform tricks, from sitting to shaking hands to “sitting pretty” to jumping through hoops.
“Cats are trainable. It’s a little different than training some other animals, just because cats are fairly independent. They’re solitary hunters,” said Melissa Shandley, manager at Happy Cats Haven, which had a grand opening Thursday. “But if you find a reward they like and use positive reinforcement, they learn very quickly.”
It’s not just about making them adorable — though few things in life are as adorable as a kitten jumping through a hoop — but giving them a better chance at finding a home.
(Watch a video of the cats in action just below this story.)
“A black cat that can do a ‘sit pretty’ and high-five is going to make an impression,” said Sara Ferguson, president of the nonprofit shelter. “It also helps when you’re in the home and want the cat to stay off the counter and not try to run out the door. These same kinds of training techniques can be used so that the cat learns to live with you in harmony.”
It’s a no-kill shelter with about 20 cats that live in “colonies” instead of cages to socialize them with each other. They focus on “clicker training” and “behavior modification.”
The click is a tapping with a wand or clicking with a noisemaker that tells the cat it is time to perform a trick. It’s accompanied by a tasty few licks of something —Thursday it was baby food — as a reward.
It starts with simple things, like getting a cat to go where you point a wand.
Anyone who has owned a cat knows even that can be difficult.
After only seven training sessions, kittens Polly and Ming were jumping where they were told and “sitting pretty” Thursday. Slightly older kittens Crossey and McRae jumped a hurdle and are being taught to leap through hoops. All came to Happy Cats after being left at other shelters.
It’s important to start training early, because the lessons can last a cat’s lifetime.
Said Ferguson, “If you can do this with them in that first 15-16 weeks, you can have a cat that’s not skittery, that’s not hiding under the bed and will be a real good companion.”
But it turns out even old cats can learn new tricks.
Roxy, 12, was dropped off at a shelter by her family. Though she was clearly camera shy with strangers in the room, she was persuaded to show off her trick, shaking hands with Ferguson for a few licks of baby food.
Still, cats being cats, all those put on display Thursday lost interest after a few minutes and wandered away. Roxy, clearly sick of facing the press, curled up with her back to the humans.
“She’s a real lover. She’s a lap kitty who just hasn’t had enough lap time,” said Ferguson.
The shelter takes cats from owners by appointment only. To adopt a cat, it’s $95 for an adult and $125 for a kitten, which includes neutering and their first shots.
Said Ferguson, “And it might include a high-five and ‘sit pretty’ as well.”
Contact R. Scott Rappold: 476-1605
Facebook Gazette Scott Rappold
Read more: http://www.gazette.com/articles/shelter-128719-kill-tricks.html#ixzz1eluDEt4j