Saturday, April 29, 2017

Adoptable Cat Caturday

Happy Caturday 😸!

Every Saturday Caturday I'll be posting a handful of adoptable cats at the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando. I'll a post a photo I took of them, their name, gender, age, and link their adoption profiles. I will go back and update these weekly posts to let you know when these cats were adopted! Obviously, these posts will become outdated once the cats are adopted, but I'll leave them up because who doesn't love cat pictures?!?

Tabby cat up for adoption
Coco

Gray cat up for adoption
Joey
Khufu
 Khufu, M, 10 yrs. 
*Adopted 4/29/2017

Tuxedo cat up for adoption
Nightshade
Seven
 Seven, M, 6 yrs. 
*Adopted 4/28/2017

Senior cat up for adoption
Sophie

If you live in the Orlando area and are looking for a new kitty family member or know someone who is stop by PAGO and check these kitties out! Feel free to share this post too!

That's all for meow 😻!

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Volunteer Series: Why I Love Being An Animal Shelter Volunteer

Hello kitty cat friends,

Did you know that this week is National Volunteer Appreciation week? I want to thank all of my readers out there who volunteer their time to serve others or animals in any capacity! I sometimes feel a little uncomfortable when people thank me for being a volunteer. I don't ever feel like I'm doing anything that requires a "thank you". I love the time I spend a the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando so much that it never feels like a commitment or a job. I don't have to be there, I want to be. In so many ways becoming a volunteer bettered my life, so I feel like I owe PAGO and the cats there a "thank you" for letting me be a part of it all.

Why did I decide to be a volunteer?

It had been on my mind for a few years. I had become invested in reading up on cat rescues and watching the Friends of Felines Rescue Center kitty cam online. This rescue really touched my heart as they took in special needs cats and gave them a second chance at life. The hardship and expenses that go into caring and housing cats in need inspired me to want to help out with local cats in my area. I can love cats and be a cat addict, but I knew I could do more and be better than that. In March 2013, I signed up to be a volunteer at PAGO and the rest is history. I would look forward to going every week and I still feel that way now!

I wanted to make a list below (have you noticed I love lists?) of why I love being a volunteer at an animal shelter and why I think many of you would too. These are numbered, but they're not ranked. They're all #1's!

1. You Get To Pet/Cuddle/Play With Cats

Duh! The thing with this is that it actually makes a difference. Interacting with cats doesn't only make you happy it is extremely helpful and crucial for cats in shelters. Shelter cats need plenty of socialization and enrichment. This is mostly the job of volunteers as shelter staff already has their plate full with other responsibilities. Volunteers are doing an amazing service by handling, petting, and interacting with cats. They're helping cats feel not only loved but safe and comfortable in their environment. This helps them to get adopted sooner and adjust better in new homes. Those are the goals! Adoption ✅. Forever Home ✅. Interested in learning how I approach and interact with different personality cat types in the shelter? Read my 5 Personality Types of Shelter Cats post!

2. You Meet Great People

Something I did not expect to get out of volunteering was the opportunity to make lasting friendships and work with great people. I've always had difficulty making friends as an adult. A lot of my other hobbies I've found people involved cliquey, petty, and disingenuous. Animal lovers, especially people who volunteer with animals are the most authentic people I've met. There isn't any competitiveness or fakeness with people in this area. People genuinely want to be there and want to make a difference. This includes the shelter staff. The staff at PAGO are an amazing group of enthusiastic, welcoming, and warm-hearted individuals. They're also incredibly dedicated and hard-working and deserve more appreciation in my opinion.

3. Working With & Educating Adopters

Adoption is the main goal of probably any animal shelter. I love being able to help potential adopters find their "purrfect" match in a cat. Since I'm doing a lot of kitty cuddling, I do get a good grasp of the personalities of the cats in the shelter and can help direct people to cats who may be a good fit. It's an amazing feeling to know that a cat I showed to a person gets adopted by them! I also love the opportunity to answer questions and educate adopters on cat care. A lot of people are uninformed on basic cat care and behavior and to be able to extend that knowledge prepares them to be better pet owners. I want our shelter cats going not only going to loving families but responsible and informed families too. I see that as my responsibility as a volunteer working with potential adopters to make sure they're going to the right homes.

4. It Helps With Your Mental Health

I'm going to get a bit personal here, but I have struggled with anxiety, depression, PTSD, and low self-esteem throughout my entire life. I've had periods in my life where it was so bad I couldn't leave the house. When I started volunteering it completely changed my life and significantly improved my mental health. It gave me passion and purpose being able to provide care and compassion to cats while working alongside caring and compassionate people. When you're someone who has dealt with emotional trauma such a welcoming and compassionate environment is truly healing. The more I volunteered the more I recognized within myself that I had an innate skill connecting with cats. This gave me confidence and assurance that was later recognized by our volunteer coordinator who promoted me to be a lead volunteer. I can't even tell you how much that meant to me and how a lot of that is the reason I am where I am today. I never had the opportunity to shine in my life ever until PAGO. Volunteering there helped me find the strengths within myself and the encouragement I've received from many people there is a blessing that I am forever grateful for.

5. The Organization Itself

I think this is so important if you're interested in becoming a volunteer. You want to volunteer with an organization whose values you share and are comfortable with. I love that PAGO doesn't have a timeline for the animals who are brought to the shelter. All of the animals that are up for adoption will stay up for adoption until they find their new home. This is regardless of age. We've had 16-year-old cats find new homes! This was of utmost importance to me to know that our shelter animals have a real chance at finding a home and having a full life. I also love PAGO because they're not strictly all about the animals, they're about serving our entire community. They help provide the community with educational programs regarding pets, affordable spay/neuter and pet care Pet Food Pantry for seniors, a summer camp for kids, and etc.
These are just a few of the many reasons I love being a volunteer at an animal shelter. I really think volunteering is life changing and it becomes of one of those "who rescued who?" situations. It provides me with so much while providing animals so much in return. It's truly a win-win! 
I know the idea of volunteering at an animal shelter can be difficult for many people. I'm often asked how I can do it without crying or how I don't bring home all the cats?  A lot of that is because of #5. I know how well loved and cared for our animals are at PAGO. I know they will get adopted and when I leave another volunteer steps into my place. That being said, I know it's not for everyone so I will have a post in future sharing other ways you can help animal shelters in your area without having to have your heartstrings pulled too much!
That's all for meow 😻!
Stephanie 

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Vet Series: Has Your Cat Had Their Yearly Checkup?

Hello kitty cat friends 😺,

Did you know cats need annual vet visits? I'm always surprised that many people do not know this or do not think this is important. When I'm at PAGO our shelter cats have paperwork from their previous owners and under the "Who is your cat's veterinarian?" section  I see many "none" or "hasn't been". This, unfortunately, is fairly common with cat owners. Bayer DVM did a study a few years back that found that 52% of cat owners do not take their cats to the vet for annual wellness visits.

There are two main misconceptions I come across most.
  1. Cats are self-sufficient and take care of themselves so they don't need as much attention and care. 
  2. I have indoor cats so they're not at risk for a disease like outdoor cats.
Both of these are absolutely false. Read down below to find out why and the reasons your cat should see the vet for an annual checkup.
Cat inside carrier at vet check-up.
Chara isn't a fan of her carrier unless we're at the vet! 
1. Cats Hide Pain and Discomfort

Cats are excellent at hiding pain. Sometimes if you're not an observant cat owner you won't know your pet is in pain or ill until is in extreme crisis. There are also illnesses and injuries that can lurk inside your cat that not even the most observant cat owner could be aware of. This is why an annual exam at your vet is crucial. Your vet will examine the physical condition of your cat. They will check their eyes, ears, teeth, and feel around their body to check their organs, listen to their heart and lungs, check their temperature, and weigh them. The physical condition of your cat is the first step to identifying other issues. 

2. Early Disease Treatment & Management

Indoor cats can get diseases and illnesses. They can have heart murmurs, diabetes, thyroid issues, bladder stones, parasites, kidney disease, and etc. If you take your cat to the vet for their yearly checkup you're more likely to be able to catch many of these illnesses early on and either treat or manage them. These are often diagnosed through a physical exam, blood work, urine, and/or fecal samples. It's tremendously better to catch these things early on because not only can you prolong your cat's life, your cat will live more comfortably, and you'll save yourself the expenses of dealing with them in crisis mode because you'll catch them early. Older cats around 7 years+ should get yearly blood work. Senior cats around 11 years+ may need to get bi-annual blood work.

3. Vaccines & Disease Prevention

This is an area that is dependent on your cat, their age, your cat's lifestyle, and where you live. There are a handful of core vaccines for your cat. The frequency and whether or not your cat needs them will be something you will need to consult with your vet. Rabies vaccinations are often required by law and the frequency of them depends on the brand of vaccine and/or what your state/country requires. I think it's important cats are vaccinated because vaccines prevent disease and save lives, but there are sometimes risks. My cat, Chara, is very sensitive to combo vaccines (multiple vaccines given in one), so my vet separates those vaccines and we space them out over a 2-3 week period. Some cats with chronic illnesses may not be good candidates for vaccines. Cat vaccination and vaccination frequency can be a hot-button issue, so it's best to educate yourself (check out this article from The Conscious Cat) and discuss with your vet to find out what best serves your cat's needs. Don't be afraid to ask questions!

4. Peace of Mind

If you take your cat in for regular vet visits you can build an excellent rapport with your vet and their staff. This gives me a lot of peace of mind with Chara. I've been using my current vet for 7 years. They know me and Chara very well and take care of both us. I feel very comfortable calling or approaching them with questions and concerns. I never worry when Chara is in their care. I know they're truthful and wouldn't steer me in unnecessary or wrong directions when caring for her medical needs.  I wouldn't be able to say this if I didn't take her to a vet regularly. It's very comforting and reassuring to know that if Chara is sick I have a place I know I can go to that is familiar, trustworthy, and knows me and my cat by name.

*NOTE- If you have a cat who is straining to urinate or defecate, has labored breathing, profound lethargy, hasn't eaten in two days, is excessively vomiting, ingested a toxin, seizing, yowling in pain, or has been injured TAKE YOUR CAT TO THE VET IMMEDIATELY. Do not consult Dr. Google or ask on Facebook what to do. Your cat needs medical attention NOW

**Please also note that I mention doing this if your cat hasn't eaten in approx. 2 days. When cats go without food even for a short period of time they can develop fatty liver disease quickly which can be lethal. Their bodies are incapable of going days without food unlike some other animals.

These are four main reasons every cat should get yearly checkups. Cats may be independent but that doesn't mean they're hands-off. They get diseases and illnesses just like people. It's our responsibility as cat parents to provide them with medical care. The expenses of veterinary care are something you should consider before even bringing a cat into your home. Cats require more than just food, water, and a litter box. They're living creatures who rely on us to care for them properly!

Stay tuned for more posts regarding veterinary care and visits (i.e. finding a vet, addressing medical concerns before behavioral, how to prepare your cat for a vet visit, and more)!

That's all for meow 😻!
Stephanie



Sunday, April 23, 2017

I Wasn't Always A Cat Person......

Hello, kitty cat friends 😸!

Are you a cat person or are you a dog person?

I used to be a 100% dog person and a 0% cat person but bear with me. Let me explain! My mom was allergic to cats, so I never had the opportunity to really be around cats. We only had dogs when I was growing up. My first experience with a cat was not positive so that shaped my opinion of them at a young age.

My mom's good friend had a beautiful black long-haired cat named Chloe. The dogs I grew up around were always friendly, affectionate, and cuddly. When you're a toddler you don't have the ability to discern and understand different animals personalities and mannerisms. You see an animal and you want to touch it, love it, and be its best friend.

Not all cats are cuddly and not all cats want to be your BFFs. As a more experienced cat person these days I understand and respect that in cats, but as a toddler no way!  I learned that the hard way from Chloe when I was very young and it, unfortunately, made a strong impact on how I felt about cats.

I assumed all cats were mean and disinterested in human attention. When I came across cats as a child I always met them with awkwardness and trepidation assuming they all hated me. Trust me a cat can sense when you're uncomfortable around them too and they meet you with the same discomfort! Cats are very keyed into how we're feeling.

What changed?

When I was 23 back in 2009, my boyfriend (Joseph) and I moved in together and wanted a pet. We knew a dog wasn't feasible option living in an apartment. One day we went to just look at the SPCA (now the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando) with only the intent to look. We came across this beautiful gray cat sitting up on a shelf in one of the free roam cat rooms and the second we came up to her she greeted us a series of loving head butts.
(Our first photo of Chara when we saw her at the SPCA Sept. 2009)

We instantly fell in love with her. She was the most affectionate cat I had come into contact with and she seemed to have chosen us. Her name was Chara and she was 4 years old and was at the SPCA because her previous owner had died. We had no intention of adopting that day and were not prepared, so we made a pact that if she was there when we could come back that Friday we'd take her home. Sure enough, she was still there and she became ours.

It was the bond I had with Chara that made me fall in love and appreciate cats. I realized that as introvert myself that cats and introverts have a lot in common. They're very independent, like solitude, and really appreciate the ones who understand and respect them. I think that describes me and describes a lot of cats! Cats are also very complex and have their own idiosyncrasies.  I know that's one of the reasons I love them so much. They all have so much character and every cat has their own unique personality. They're a bit of a mystery and challenge and I like to try to figure them out!

Over the past several years my love of cats has grown. I started regularly watching "cat cams" from different rescues and shelters across the country which propelled me to begin to volunteer at PAGO. When I started interacting with a variety of cats I really recognized how much I do connect with them and in many ways understand them. That's what's lead to me where I am now in pursuit of becoming a Feline Behavior Specialist.

Surprisingly, Joseph and I still only have one cat. Chara has had some rough spots in regards to health issues that have been rather expensive to treat. She's been a rather expensive kitty, but well worth every penny. She'll be 12 this year and it's already brewing in the back of my mind that she may not be around much longer. She recently had a vet check up and all was good, but she'll be needing her teeth cleaned 😸. Hopefully, she has a few years left in her! She really is my baby and she's changed my life in so many ways.
(Chara's most recent photo 2017)

Tell me about your cat(s) in the comments below! 

That's all for meow 😻!
Stephanie

Thursday, April 20, 2017

The 5 Personality Types of Shelter Cats

Hello, kitty cat friends 😺!

I want to talk a little bit about shelter cat personality types. The reason I'm highlighting shelter cats rather than just cats, in general, is because cats in a shelter are in an unfamiliar environment and under stress. There are so many cats in shelters (too many 😞)  you really get a lot of experience working with so many different cat personalities. Also, note I'm talking adult cats here, not kittens. Kittens are going to be a different post!

I think it's important for volunteers who work with shelter cats to recognize these personality types. This will allow a volunteer to know how to approach a cat and provide the most beneficial interaction that fits the cat's needs. The more we're aware of a shelter cat's behavior and adjust to make that cat comfortable the more likely they'll be adopted sooner. Happy, comfortable, and well-adjusted cats attract more attention than insecure and scared cats from potential adopters. That's why it's important for cats to receive consistent and regular (multiple times a day) socialization, so those insecure become confident and happy cats more quickly!

These 5 personality types are not from a textbook or official. These are types I've personally identified through my experience working with shelter cats. In this list, I will share with you what I observe in each cat and how I best interact with each type. I would recommend revisiting my "It's All About Body Language" post while reading through this post because it will help you identify the body language you often see with each cat personality I list.

Let's get started!
1. I love you! Please love me back!
Friendly shelter cat wanting attention.
  • These are the cats who just want you to love them. They approach you first. They really are very trusting and open to you rather quickly. They rub their faces on your hand continuously, purr, and sometimes even lay down and nuzzle up next to you. They're very affectionate and are in even greater need for affection from you. If I have a cat who approaches me in this manner I feel pretty comfortable reciprocating that affection. I run my hands along their face and neck. In general, with any unfamiliar cat, I stick to petting them in the face, neck, and shoulder region only. These are the areas of cats where they're most accepting and comfortable being touched.  Number 1's are some of the easiest cats to interact with, but that doesn't mean they're less needy than more cautionary types. They're just more accepting of touch and attention, so lay it on them. They want it!  
2. I love you, but on my terms! 
  • These are the cats that may start off seemingly they're #1's, but they're really #2's. These are the cats who for a few minutes are soaking up all of your affection and then seemingly out of nowhere will take a nip or a swat at you. These cats are overstimulated. It may seem like this comes out of nowhere, but it really doesn't. This is when you need to remember cat body language and look for signs of agitation. I notice this mostly in the tail. The tail will start twitching and their body and face will tense up. You just have to pay attention and you can save yourself the need for a band-aid! If a cat starts to exhibit these signs, stop the interaction and give them their space. Some cats just have limitations to how much interaction they want and it's best to respect their boundaries and socialize them again at a later time. 
3. Don't pet me, play with me! 
Active and energetic shelter cat ready to play.
  • These types of cats are less interested in the cuddles and kisses like cat #1s. They're energetic, really active, and want interaction but they'd rather you play with them. When I give these cats the once over before I attempt interaction they're often wide-eyed, inquisitive, and antsy. They're not overstimulated they're understimulated! These are cats that will benefit from playtime before you pet them. If you attempt to pet them first they may get swatty or mouthy. This is not out of fear or anger, but rather out of the need to play. Teaser toys are a great way to play with #3 cats. This will get them to put their hunting instincts into action and have them burn off that energy. Once, they tire of playing, gauge their body language and see if they're open to being petted. 
4. Stop right there, don't come any closer! 
Shelter cat who is scared and shy.
  • Number #4's are probably going to be the most obvious to you. They are the very scared, insecure, and sometimes terrified cats. They're tense in the body, their breathing is rapid, pupils dilated, ears off the side, growling, and/or they may hiss at you. Did you notice how I did not use the word aggressive in describing these cats? They're frightened and uncomfortable, they're not aggressive. Number 4's are hands off for me at first, but I still interact with them in other ways. How I do this is I sit down near them ( about 3ft distance), give them some "slow blinks", and softly talk to or even read to them. It may seem silly talking or reading to a cat, but the goal here is for the cat to get comfortable with your voice and your presence. Number 4 cats who are more on the timid side rather than fearful usually warm up to you sooner. Go slowly with any #4 cat and gauge their body language before you engage in touch.  I sometimes see volunteers shy away from interacting with cats like this, but they need the most interaction of any of the numbers. Remember interaction/socialization doesn't have to mean touch. Please don't fear or pass them by because they seem mad or angry. They're just scared and need your help 😿.
5. I don't know what I want! 
  • Number 5's are the most confusing cats to me. They're the cats who may hiss at you, head butt you, purr, and then swat at you all within the same one minute time span. They're bizarre and they have me stumped. Thankfully, I find most cats fit into numbers 1-4. Number 5's are not as common in my experience. I think these cats want affection but are probably confused and uncomfortable by their surroundings, so they're not sure how to act. These cats are trickier to know how to approach because you're not entirely sure what you're going to get. I tend to start off treating them as a #4 and go from there based on what I can identify in their body language. Sometimes I still get it wrong, but hopefully, as I learn more about cat behavior #5's will make more sense to me! 
I want to add there may be some gray areas here. Not every cat is going to fit perfectly into one of these numbers, but I this is a really good baseline for the type of cats you will encounter. I hope this helps those who work with or are interested in working with shelter cats understand how to approach a variety of different cat personalities. In addition, I think if you volunteer at a shelter and they don't already have a behavior log you should request one. This is an excellent tool to use so you can make notes on individual cat's behavior. This helpful because once you leave and different volunteers come in they can see those notes and approach the cat in a similar manner. Consistency here is key!

Please let me know if you have any questions in the comments below.

That's all for meow😻!
Stephanie

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

It's All About Body Language

Hello, kitty cat friends 😸!

One of the most important elements in understanding cat behavior is understanding their body language. A cat's body language can clue you into how a cat is feeling and most importantly guide you in how to approach that cat. This is particularly important when it comes to working with cats in shelters/rescues and fostering. You'll be exposed to a large number of different cats with an even larger range of personalities and backgrounds.

Many people see a cat and instantly think "KITTY! I have to pet you and love you now!".  If you're from my generation, Elmyra from Tiny Toon Adventures comes to mind. Do no do this! Yes, there are some who will welcome this type of attention, but not all cats are created equal so it's important to be able to read cat body language first. 

This chart is a great starting point in understanding cat body language.

The difficulty in understanding cat body language is that it can be subtle and confusing in comparison to other animal body language. For instance, a wagging tail from a dog is a sure sign that a dog is happy. A wagging tail from a cat is the opposite. A wagging/twitching tail from a cat often means they're agitated. If a cat's eyes are wide-eyed and alert, you might assume the cat is interested or curious when really the cat may be stressed or fearful.

Here is a short video I really like showcasing important cat body language.


In order to be a better friend to felines it's important we pay attention, recognize, and respect their body language. I think the eyes, ears, and tails are the most obvious regions of cat to help you understand their current mood. I actually rely mostly on eyes followed up by tails. As you can see in the poster above cats can express a lot in their face. Cats also can hold a lot of tension in their face as well as their body.  

The most common features I see in a fearful cat are bugged out eyes, ears back or toward the side, and a lot of facial tension. They almost look like they're holding their breath. You notice I did not say hissing? That's because in many cases I'm able to observe these signals before they have to hiss at me to tell me what's up. That doesn't mean that won't hiss at me eventually, but I spend some time observing before I make direct eye contact or interact with a cat. It's important to get a gist about what they're all about. If you glare at a fearful cat they'll feel threatened so it's best not to stare at them directly in the eyes.

Once I'm able to interact with a cat by petting it I then look at the tail to give me clues. Just because a cat has accepted me doesn't me they want me around them forever. A lot of people are unaware of this aspect of cat behavior. Many cat owners are confused as to why their cat who seemed to be loving to be pet all of the sudden swats at them or takes a nip! Cats can be overstimulated by touch very easily, and often a slight tail twitch is the first clue that you're cat has had enough! 

Be very aware and present when you're interacting cats. It's important we respect their signs and signals. Cats are our teachers. We have to take the time to understand them so we can serve, care, and provide for them better. Cat body language is just the starting point. Stay tuned for Thursday's post on The 5 Personality Types of Shelter Cats to see how I put my understanding of body language to use to know how to approach every cat I encounter.

That's all for meow 😻!
Stephanie 

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Plastic Easter Egg Catnip Toys

Happy Easter kitty cat friends who are celebrating today!

One of the things that you will find a surplus of during Easter and afterward on sale (even better!) are plastic Easter eggs. I'm sure many of us have a bunch of these laying around after Easter and do not know what to do with them. Fear not, I can tell you what you can do with them. You can turn them into catnip toys for your cats!
Shelter cats playing with plastic egg enrichment toys
(L-R Scarecrow, Semoran, and Luna)
How to create these toys is self-explanatory. Instead of filling up a plastic egg with candy you fill it up with catnip or cat treats. Often times the toys we buy our cats never seem to amuse them. It usually is the small mundane things they like to play with that are free or hardly cost a thing. This is a simple toy that many cats enjoy and are quite content entertaining themselves with. 
Plastic Easter egg catnip cat toys
Cats love to bat these eggs around for play and it really gets their senses going when they smell the catnip or yummy treats inside. You can even have an Easter egg hunt for your cat. This is an excellent way to provide some enrichment and help them utilize their hunting instincts. Place some treat filled eggs around your house and when your cat discovers an egg open it up for them and reward him/her with the treat inside!
Shelter cats playing with plastic egg enrichment toys
(L-R Gertrude, Peaches, and Luna (again!)
If you have a lot of leftover plastic eggs I would highly recommend donating them to an animal shelter or rescue. I use plastic eggs as one of my Kennel Coaching enrichment activities. They're perfect because they're easy and affordable toys for shelter kitties who definitely are the most in need of playtime and stimulation. If you're in the Orlando area the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando would love some more plastic eggs! If you're not local ask around at your local animal rescues and shelters to see if they would like some for their kitties to play with 😺.

What are some of your cat's favorite toys? Let me know in the comments below! 

Adoptable Kitties Featured:
Here is a list of the kitties I featured in today's post. They're all up for adoption at PAGO as of 4/15/17. I'll list their gender, age, and link their adoption profiles. All of our shelter kitties are spayed/neutered or will be spayed/neutered before they go home!

That's all for meow 😻!
Stephanie