When we met Genever over a year ago, she was so afraid and defensive that we weren’t sure whether she was feral or not.
Typically, it’s better for the emotional well-being of feral cats to be spayed/neutered, then released back to their colonies as soon as possible. It’s important that they be released quickly to give these cats the best chance at surviving outdoors. But, if Genever was able to live happily in a home as a pet, this would be a safer option for her.
We had a decision to make.
Luckily for us, cats show us loads of pro-social signals, even when they are terrified. All it took was one signal from her—one slow blink—and our Behavior Manager, Melissa, knew that we had a chance of earning her trust. We started with rewarding any sign of social interest we could see, then eventually we were working on contact through the bars of her kennel. In no time at all she was touching, then head-butting the fingers of staff who would visit and work with her. Soon after, she was moved into a communal cat room, acting like any other friendly cat. She loved to be picked up and cuddled and would even do a few tricks for pieces of hot dog. You never would have known that she was once considered a feral cat.
Fast forward to the best part; not only has she long since been adopted, but her adopter sent us an amazing update. It shows that this little girl is like any normal young housecat: funny, happy, lovable, and loved.
“She is doing great. She is very sweet and likes to be loved on all the time. She plays a lot and knocks things off my dresser, counters, desk as everything seems to be a toy to her still. I am constantly picking up behind her but she is very sweet and has brought me a lot of joy. She is a pretty easy-going cat. I had to get used to her wild night antics but she is slowly calming down at night as well.”
Piper had been a housecat all her life, but because she was so terrified and didn’t show well at the municipal shelter, her life was on the line.
At traditional shelters, these fearful cats are typically euthanized or released (after spaying/neutering), into outdoor cat colonies. Whether they are able to survive on the street or not is left to chance.
In mid-April we welcomed Piper to the Friends For Life shelter to give her that chance at finding a loving home.
Piper started out in the Fraidy Cat program, and we gave her a hiding spot and didn’t force her to interact until she was ready.
We started using what’s called “negative reinforcement” training with her. In behavior training, reinforcement is something that makes a behavior stronger. Negative reinforcement removes something as a form of reinforcement.
With Piper, we would move out of her field of view whenever she offered us blinks. After this, we slowly started rewarding her with baby food whenever she offered pro-social behavior. She quickly abandoned her hiding spot and would approach the kennel bars, calling for company. Piper has since been adopted into a loving home where she gets all of the attention she wants.
The Program Continues
Today we have a number of Fraidy Cat program graduates living in our communal cat rooms, interacting with new humans who come to visit. What we do takes patience. Patience these animals wouldn’t be afforded at most other shelters. This program also requires an ingenious behavior team that isn’t willing to give up on these animals and will get creative to ensure they have a chance.
The Polka Dot Towel Solution
One of the newest aspects of the Fraidy Cat program includes using red polka dotted towels which the cat behavior team uses to indicate cats that are a little too scared right now.
If volunteers see one of these towels on a kennel, that means it was placed there and is positioned in a specific way that is best for that cat right now.
These cats make up part of the more than 75% of animals in our program that are considered “unadoptable.” We are proud to offer them this safe space as they adjust. They reward us, daily, with their personality and quirks as they learn to trust and love humans again. They are the proof that believing ‘every animal matters’ works.
Interested in getting involved? Sign up to become a part of the volunteer team.