In the field of shelter behavior, chances like this don’t come along often. Earlier this year, the East Bay SPCA was selected by The Jackson Galaxy Project, a Signature Program of GreaterGood.org and supported by the Petco Foundation, for a unique opportunity.
After an interview and selection process, the organization was chosen to participate in the Cat Pawsitive Pro program, a state-of-the-art intensive training that provides one on one attention from The Jackson Galaxy Project’s team of feline professionals. The course has a goal dismissed by many: namely, training cats.
Jackson Galaxy, star of the television show My Cat From Hell on Animal Planet, and founder of The JGP, developed Cat Pawsitive Pro with a team of behavior experts.
Core principals of the program include:
• Improving “adoptability” through fostering feline social skills, particularly for fearful cats and long-term residents;
• Enriching day-to-day life for cats in shelters with physical and mental activity;
• Strengthening the cat-human bond;
• Teaching and empowering animal shelter staff and volunteers;
• Debunking the “you can’t train a cat” narrative.
Cat Pawsitive Pro team members learn how to use positive reinforcement training to help cats gain confidence, reduce stress levels, and build connections with the people around them. With training that focuses on reinforcing desired behaviors, the program can encourage a shy cat to feel comfortable coming to the front of her kennel, a feisty cat to play nice, or an outgoing kitty to give an endearing “high five” to his visitors to seal an adoption deal.
Frosty was one of the East Bay SPCA’s first candidates for Cat Pawsitive Pro. He was surrendered with his roommate, Pepper. When he first arrived, Frosty was so fearful and aggressive that staff members could only feed him or clean his kennel using a barrier. The Cat Pawsitive Pro team began by working through protected contact (closed kennel door) and capturing and reinforcing eye contact. This nonthreatening, hands-off approach was the steppingstone he needed. When he was comfortable enough, he was able to be transported to a larger habitat with Pepper.
The combination of a larger space and Pepper’s presence had an incredible effect on Frosty. He felt more confident exploring his area and would no longer hiss or growl at people. In fact, he became the program’s first rock star learner!. Sitting, offering high fives, and jumping through hoops helped Frosty create positive associations with the staff members and volunteers. Now whenever someone approaches his habitat, he’s already pawing at the door waiting for them.
The methods from Cat Pawsitive Pro have helped many cats, including Frosty, build rapid positive associations with both people and the shelter environment. Since the program started in early February, seven cats in the program have already been adopted.
The East Bay SPCA is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization committed to the welfare of cats and dogs in Alameda and Contra Costa Counties. Its mission is to eliminate animal cruelty, neglect and overpopulation by providing programs and education that support people and companion animals. Founded in 1874, the East Bay SPCA is one of the nation’s oldest animal welfare organizations. Follow East Bay SPCA on Facebook and Instagram to follow the progress of cats in the shelter’s program.
Micah McKechnie is a behavior and training associate at the East Bay SPCA. She began training using positive reinforcement at age 12 and graduated from UC Santa Barbara with a degree in environmental science. After college, she continued to volunteer in animal welfare, training and handling dogs, cats, rodents, horses, sheep, goats, donkeys, alpacas, and birds of prey. She is currently working on her CPDT-KA certification in dog training, as well as Susan Friedman’s LLA Professional Course. In her free time, she loves riding horses, training circus arts, baking with her husband, sewing costumes, and hanging out with her two cats, Pants and Goblin.
Shadow is a 7-year-old female cat at the East Bay SPCA in Oakland. She’s looking for someone who will pamper and adore her, while also respecting her boundaries. If you think you’re ready to welcome The Queen into your home, meet Shadow to see if it’s a good match.
Caption: Meet the Cat Pawsitive Pro team at the East Bay SPCA.
Main article photo by: Photos courtesy East Bay SPCA