Cats with attitudes taught to be more adoptable

Chunkie the cat gives a "high-five" to Megann Smith as part of the "Pawsitive" cat program.


BG Independent News


Cats are known for having attitude.

While most dogs do their best to please humans, most cats feel no need to perform for their people.

But sometimes, that “cattitude” is caused by fear. And at the Wood County Humane Society, that standoffishness can make some cats seem downright unadoptable.

Take the cat named “Toothless.” The gray cat was so shy and nervous around people that the humane society staff wondered if he would end up as a barn mouser rather than a house cat.

But after going through the Cat Pawsitive training, Toothless was a cat with a new attitude – who now has a new adoptive family.

“He was a cat who went from hiding under his bed,” to reaching out with his paw at people passing by, said Megann Smith, administrative assistant at the humane society.

“Shelters are pretty scary places, no matter how nice we try to make them,” Smith said.

And scaredy cats are very unlikely to make a good impression on people looking to adopt a pet.

So when Wood County Humane Society was selected earlier this year by the Jackson Galaxy Project to participate in the Cat Pawsitive Program, the animal-lovers jumped at the chance to make their cats more adoptable.

The training program for shelter cats works to increase feline adoption rates as well as educate the shelter staff and volunteers on how to implement it.

Jackson Galaxy – star of the television show “My Cat from Hell” on the Animal Planet network – developed Cat Pawsitive Pro with a team of feline behavior experts. Highlights of the program include:  

  • Improving cat “adoptability” and feline social skills, particularly for shy or fearful cats and long-term shelter residents.
  • Enriching day-to-day life for cats in shelters with physical and mental activity.  
  • Promoting the human-cat bond.  
  • Teaching and empowering animal shelter staff and volunteers.

The program can help a shy cat learn to feel comfortable coming up to the front of the cage to meet an adopter, a feisty cat learn to play nice, and an outgoing kitty learn to give an endearing “high five” to his visitors to seal an adoption deal.

For years, the humane society has focused on socializing dogs to make them more adoptable. It was believed that cats were basically untrainable.

But the Pawsitive program is proving the opposite.

The first felines to get the training at Wood County Humane Society were two orange tabbies named Stapleton and Upchurch. They were selected because they had been at the humane society the longest and were having a tough time trusting people.

By using only the positive stimulus of edible treats and the noise of clickers, the cats were trained to gradually became less fearful, and stop cowering in their kennels. Before long, they were approaching people, and giving “high-fives” with their front paws in exchange for treats.

Though the older cats still aren’t like bouncy kittens, they did become more “adorable” and adoptable, Smith said.

Being trained now are Chunkie and Asia. Chunkie, who used to spend the bulk of his day glaring at those passing his kennel, has learned to relax around people, to give high-fives and even head-bumps.

Asia, who doesn’t like to be picked up, is still working on just approaching people.

“She’s been a tricky one,” Smith said.

The Pawsitive program also benefits the cats by reducing boredom at the shelter, said Andrea Szymkowiak, Wood County Humane Society public relations chairperson.

“It helps enrich their mental activity. It calms them down a bit,” she said.

The cats are given more social activities, have easy listening music pumped into the room, and even have volunteer readers share books with them. “All so they have a better chance of being adopted,” Szymkowiak said.

Wood County Humane Society was one of six shelters selected for the Pawsitive training.

“It’s a great opportunity, a great program,” Szymkowiak said.

Anyone wanting to keep up with the Jackson Galaxy Project’s Cat Pawsitive Pro initiative may follow on Facebook at the Jackson Galaxy Project.