Whether you’re a cat person or a dog person – or maybe you’re neither – you’ve no doubt heard stories in your lifetime about pets that may tend to act up a bit from time to time.
To that end, you may be familiar with the Animal Planet television show hosted by Jackson Galaxy called “My Cat From Hell.” The premise, as you may imagine, revolves around families or individuals that are home to cats that tend to exhibit aggressive tendencies.
At Five Acres Animal Shelter, as is the case at many shelters across the country, they will occasionally take in a feline that could use the help of Jackson Galaxy. While it isn’t possible for Galaxy to visit every shelter in the country, he does offer help through the Jackson Galaxy Foundation via a program called the Jackson Galaxy Project / Cat Pawsitive. It’s mission statement sums up what they do… “To improve the lives of animals at risk by transforming the places they live and helping the people who care for them.”
When Dana Widmer of Five Acres Animal Shelter learned about this program, she didn’t hesitate to dive right in. “I found it online and there was an application process,” she said. “It was very detailed, and of the 29 that applied to be a part of the program only 10 were picked – including Five Acres.”
Being selected for the program is not only unique, but it is a lot of work. “We’re the only shelter in Missouri in the program and are the first one to be in the program in the state,” said Widmer. “There is a detailed training process, but you start the cats with really simple commands. You put your hand out, they head bump you. You reward them for doing those kinds of things.”
Of the eight cats that started out in the program, three have already been adopted. For Five Acres, that’s a great accomplishment. “Some of the cats that enter the program are just terrible, and it tends to get worse in a shelter environment. We hope to calm them down,” said Widmer. “It’s not natural to live with 40 other cats with people coming in all day, poking you, waking you up, it can be a stressful place for them.”
As the cats grow in the program, the tricks-for-food portion idea slowly turns into the cats following the commands without needing any treats. Then the commands get more difficult, they continue to adapt, and the cats feel better and become more adoptable.
“Cats can be trained just like dogs – not everyone really knows that. We had one of our cats learn to high five, he’s an amazing little cat. Hopefully, we can get him to jump through hoops eventually,” said Widmer. “Every shelter team has mentor has a weekly webinar, and we sent multiple pics and videos. It’s all documented in a behavior journal – we do two training sessions a day. We all see the results.”
The program goes for two and a half months, but Widmer says they will continue to implement what they have been taught. “When this ends we hope to continue the training,” she said. “We want to talk to other shelters and teach them some of what we have learned. The very best part of it is when the cats get adopted. We like to show people what they can do and then they say ‘wow we want that cat.’”
For more information on the Cat Pawsitive Project, visit /www.thejacksongalaxyproject.org/About-Us/Programs/Cat-Pawsitive. For more information about Five Acres Animal Shelter, go to www.fiveacresanimalshelter.org.