Thursday, August 17, 2017

Behavior Case Files: Milo's Marking Problem

I had a great opportunity a few weeks ago to do my first in-home consultation on a cat. My friend Besty who is also a PAGO volunteer was having an issue with her cat Milo house soiling. Milo was urinating on furniture on occasion. I offered to go over and help Betsy out and see what was going on with Milo.


What is the behavior problem?
Milo has been urinating on the sofa in the living room and upstairs sofa and chairs.

Can you tell us about the history/status of the animal?
Milo is a 2-year-old neutered DSH. He was neutered at 8 weeks.  He has a clean bill of health and no medical cause has been found for his house soiling. Milo was adopted by Betsy when he was a 2-month-old kitten along with his sister Millie.

Where it is being kept, is it with a family, in a shelter, somewhere else?
Milo is kept with Betsy in her home. Betsy lives with her husband, her two teenage children, and her father. Betsy also has 2 older dogs (Lucy and Minnie) who were acquired before Milo and Millie and 2 other cats she rescued as feral kittens (Bubbles and Maggie) a year after acquiring Milo and Millie. Bubbles and Maggie are now a year old.

Important Background Information:
When going through my questionnaire with Betsy, she indicated the house soiling problem started when she brought the feral kittens into the home a year ago. She said she hasn’t seen any aggression between the cats, but when Bubbles and Maggie sit near or next to Milo he gets up and walks away. She also indicated the problem had increased in frequency since remodeling her home and bringing in new furniture. Betsy said she had caught Milo in the act a few times and always had a crazed/funny look on his face.  At one point during this consultation, Betsy called for all of her cats to come over for a treat. All the animals gathered around Betsy front and center, except Milo who cautiously approached her from underneath the coffee table. Betsy has plenty of litter boxes in the home several on the bottom floor and some on the second floor spread out through various rooms. Milo does use the litter box mostly except the times on occasion she sees him going on the furniture.

My Assessment:
I’ve determined that Milo isn’t urinating on the furniture, but rather spraying/marking. This was evident to me based on when the problem started when the new kittens were brought into the home, the location of the urine on the furniture, and the "crazed" look Betsy described when she caught Milo in the act. He prefers to avoid the new cats, he is cautious and insecure around the other animals, and the problem escalated when the home was being remodeled bringing in new and unfamiliar smells. This all points to me that Milo is insecure about his territory. Additionally, he feels insecure about his place in the household among the other animals and that's manifesting itself in this marking behavior.

Goal:
Build Milo’s confidence so he feels more secure in his surroundings and his place in the household ceasing his marking behavior.

Recommendations:
  • Clean Milo’s hot spot areas with an enzyme cleaner to completely remove the urine preventing Milo from associating that area as a marking spot.
  • When bringing new furniture into the home rub a towel on Milo and then rub the towel on or leave the towel on the new furniture allowing for Milo’s scent to be transmitted there making the new furniture more familiar to him.
  • Use Feliway or Milo's own pheromones (from a towel that has his scent) and place that on his marking spots.
  • Have one-on-one play time in Milo’s hot spots areas using a wand/teaser toy and going through a prey sequence twice a day. I think separating Milo from the other animals during the one-on-one time with Betsy will not only help him re-associate those former marking areas but build his bond with Betsy and his confidence which will make him more secure of himself and his place in the household.
  • Incorporate clicker training in Milo’s hot spot areas and by teaching him “high five” and offering him a high-value treat (cooked chicken or turkey) further associating that area as a play/food area rather than a marking one!
  • Bring more vertical territory into the home in the form of cat trees or cat-friendly shelves. Also, bring more cat beds into the home. Milo may feel like he has to share a lot of his space with the other animals and would benefit from having more options to get away and have space to himself.
  • Plug in feline pheromone diffusers into the home to help diffuse any potential passive aggression/anxiety/tension going on among the other animals.
Method:
Betsy will implement these recommendations consistently for over a two week period. I will then follow up with Betsy to check on Milo's progress.

Follow-Up: 
Milo marked one of the chairs upstairs the day after I came for his assessment. Since then with Betsy following through with all the recommendations Milo has not marked any furniture in two weeks! Milo is benefiting from solo play time and now has associated his former marking areas as the place where his training paw game takes place. He now waits for Betsy on the chair to play the paw game with her!

Future Goal: 
My future goal for Milo would be to build more camaraderie between him and the other cats in the household. My recommendations for this is to encourage allogrooming between the cats by scent mixing. Betsy could use a brush to brush the other cats and then use that brush on Milo. This would help create a group scent between all the cats. Betsy could also incorporate training with the rest of the cats as well as finding an activity like food puzzles all cats can play with together.

CASE PENDING 
That's all for meow 😻,
Stephanie  

Thursday, August 3, 2017

There Are No Quick Answers In Cat Behavior

Hello Kitty Cat Friends,

This is some what of a personal reflection and cat behavior related post in one. This is something that while I'm in the process of becoming a feline behaviorist I'm encountering more frequently. I'm actually honored and flattered I encounter this, but it's not always easy.  Many people want quick and easy answers to cat behavior or cat behavioral problems. The problem is there isn't such a thing as a quick and easy answer when it comes to cat behavior. Cat behavior is very complex and complicated!


I love when people ask me questions. I want people to continue to ask me questions because I love to help and problem-solving. The difficulty comes when people ask me very broad questions without any background and want an immediate and simple answer. Here are some examples of questions I get regularly.

"Why does my cat pee outside the box?"
"What cat should I adopt that will get along with my cat at home?
"Why does my cat play aggressively?"

These are great questions, but they're not questions I can answer without an assessment or answer in only a few minutes. I wish I could answer questions like these on the spot. I feel a lot of pressure to do so because I don't want to let anyone down or give people the impression I'm a sham and don't know anything. Then again, if I could give you a quick and easy answer I wouldn't be doing my job because that wouldn't be the best answer for your particular situation.

Behavior is very complex. It's the same across all species. Cats all have different temperaments, history, home environments, and etc that contribute to their behavior. It's important that I know all of that information before I ever could answer those questions or provide recommendations. There is a questionnaire I've written up for future clients and one I've used when doing a behavioral assessment for a friend's cat. My questionnaire is any where from 50-100 questions long dependent on the type of behavioral issue I'm addressing.

Yes! That's a lot of questions, but every single one of those questions is so important for me to ask to identify a trigger for the problem. When I did a full assessment with recommendations for my friend it was a 700 word write up. When I have scenarios to do treatment plan write ups for in my current course they sometimes take 1-2 hours to write up and are usually 700-1500 words.

To give you more perspective,

  • Inappropriate elimination happens for a slew of reasons. A medical evaluation would always be my first recommendation, but the litter itself, the litter box, the location of the litter box, the cleanliness of the box, the number of litter boxes, if there are any recent changes to the home or routine, if the cat is declawed, the cat's relationship with other cats in the household, and more are all potential contributing factors to an inappropriate elimination issue. I would need to know every single aspect of that to be able to identify a problem.
  • What cat to bring into your home with someone's current cat would require me to know the temperament of the current cat, why you want to bring another cat into the home, if the cat has been exposed to other cats, what is their current cat's reaction to change/new people/new smells and etc. Additionally, in assessing their current cat I'd have to assess the temperaments of cats the owner is interested in to find possible matches.
  • Play aggression would require me to learn the background socialization of that cat, at what age was the cat acquired, does the owner know the cat's previous history, how does the owner currently play with their cat, how often is the owner playing with their cat, does the owner play rough or allow the cat to play with their fingers and toes, and more.

I'm not writing this to discourage anyone from asking me questions or from a lecturing standpoint. I want you to ask me questions! I love to help, but please understand that I may need more information to help solve your problem and I'll definitely need at least a day or more to process that information, do an assessment, and formulate recommendations. Some situations might require an in-home consultation so I can assess the cat and the environment myself. I want people to have a positive relationship and experiences with their cats and cats with their humans. That isn't possible unless I'm as thorough as possible.

I also need to give myself permission that it's OK to say "Great question. Let me get back to you on that".  I don't need to feel like I'm letting people down or deceiving people by not providing immediate answers and feedback. We're our own worst critic and it's definitely hard for me not to feel like I need to fix every problem in front of me right then and there. I'm working on it!

That's all for meow 😻,
Stephanie

Thursday, July 20, 2017

What is it like studying at the Animal Behavior Institute?

Hello Kitty Cat Friends,

As many of you know and I've stated on this blog I'm in the process of completing the Animal Behavior Institute's Feline Training & Behavior certification program. I've received a lot of questions asking what I'm specifically learning and what the learning process is like there. I decided I'd answer this question in a blog post for those who are interested just out of curiosity or might consider doing a program through them.
The Animal Behavior Institute is accredited and all professors have either doctorates or master degrees in behavior, conservation, or veterinary medicine. The Feline Training & Behavior certification program requires your completion of 3 courses (9 credits) as well as 40 hours of field work. All course work is done online. The required courses are Feline Training, Feline Behavior & Enrichment, and Feline Health & Nutrition. The entire program costs $3,555, but you can pay by the course, which is $1,185.

The Animal Behavior Institute has a quarter semester system. Each course is 10 weeks, but not every course is offered in every quarter. Currently, I'm taking Feline Training as it was the only course in my program offered in the summer quarter. Feline Behavior & Enrichment and Feline Health & Nutrition are both offered in the fall so I will take those then. That would mean I could receive my certification by December. My 40 hours of field work I'm doing obviously at the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando.

My current course Feline Training started about a month ago. This course is taught by Dr. Chalcraft who has a Ph.D. in Experimental Psychology and has done behavioral and enrichment work with cats, chimpanzees, and gorillas. The text required for this course is The Cat Whisperer by Mieshelle Nagelschneider and Clicker Training for Cats by Karen Pryor. This is our class schedule on what we'll be studying each week and the assigned readings.
Each weekly learning module consists of assigned reading, a quiz, and a discussion post component. There are also additional suggested readings and/or videos to watch regarding that weekly topic. The weekly discussion component is my favorite aspect of the course. The discussion component is often a scenario presented by the professor where the students have to explain how they'd assess and address that situation. Then the student would have to provide feedback to another student's response. The professor then would provide feedback to the student's response asking for clarification and/or challenge the student on how they'd do something different if one of the aspects of the scenario changed. My professor copies and pastes my response and adds in her feedback/questions in a different color. Here is an example of a recent discussion scenario, my response, and my professor's feedback. You can click on the photos below to enlarge them so they're easier to read.


 What I like about this learning process is it's very applicable and you have to be a critical thinker. This isn't a course where you parrot back what a book says and you've learned the material. You have to think for yourself and use your instincts. Understanding cat behavior isn't a cut-and-dried thing. Cat behavioral issues can be very complex and you have to look at a variety of angles to identify a problem and come up with a treatment plan. This is certainly a course/program where you need to have a natural ability in understanding cats and experience working with a variety of cats to succeed.

I spend about 3-6 hours a week working on this course. There are weekly deadlines to submit discussion responses and complete quizzes, but otherwise, it's very flexible. You need to be self-driven and comfortable with independent study. So far, I'm really enjoying this learning process. I appreciate being able to see other student's perspectives and receive feedback from the professor. In just 4 weeks I've been able to expand my knowledge and apply it when working with cats at the shelter. I still have 6 more weeks of this course and 2 more courses in the fall so I know I'll be gaining so much more.

I hope this helped answer some questions and give people an idea of what a program like this is like. From what I gather, the other courses are in the same format just different material. When I start those classes in the fall I'll do posts on what the material is like in those courses.

That's all for meow 😻,
Stephanie




Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Shelter Case Files: Soldier

Hello Kitty Cat Friends,

I'd like to start a new feature on my blog where I feature a cat at the shelter that has behavioral issues or concerns and how I assessed and addressed them. I started my feline training and behavior certification program a few weeks ago and am starting to incorporate the news skills and information I learn to help cats at the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando. This new feature will allow me to start developing my training/behavior plans and refine my skills over the course of my education. There will be some cats I will come back to these posts and update their progress as their issues could be more involved and time-consuming to address.

Let's start out with my first cat!
Name: Soldier

Age: 6 months

Breed: Domestic Shorthair (brown/black tabby)

Location in Shelter: Blue Free Roam Cat Room

Reason For Being At Shelter: Cannot Keep

Assessment: Soldier is a young and active kitten. He was placed in a free roam room which houses some older more dominant personality cats. In a home environment, these cats would have been introduced slowly, but that is not possible in a shelter environment. Some of the older cats are intimidating to Soldier and have attempted to show their dominance causing Soldier to become timid, reclusive, and submissive.

Goals: Cats do not reach social maturity until ages 2-4, so at 6 months Soldier is at a critical age for social development. It's important for Soldier to develop confidence, especially at this age so he is comfortable to move about his territory without being intimidated by the other cats.

Method: Play therapy. I will be utilizing play therapy using a wand toy and going through a prey sequence with Soldier. A prey sequence is manipulating the wand toy to mimic live prey by moving it in a scurrying motion along the floor, catching Soldier's attention. This will allow Soldier to stalk and eventually chase the toy. Then I will manipulate the toy by giving it some height in the air allowing Soldier to catch, bite, and "kill" the prey/toy. This prey sequence will allow Soldier to assert his dominance by utilizing his natural cat-like behaviors building his confidence.

Results: I spent approximately 30 minutes doing a prey sequence with Soldier with play therapy. He initially was hesitant to play with the toy as other cats in the room were sitting near him and staring him down. After around 5 minutes he started to engage in play. He stalked the toy and eventually began to freely chase and jump after it. The other cats definitely noticed Soldier's confidence in play and got bored and walked away from him. Soldier ended the play by grabbing the end of the wand toy and dragging it to another spot in the room. He "killed" his prey! I rewarded Soldier by giving him some treats.

Follow Up & Recommendations: I returned the next day to find Soldier roaming about freely in the cat room no longer being bullied or bothered by the other cats in the room. We did another prey sequence play therapy session and I left shortly after. Soldier was adopted later that afternoon. If Soldier had remained at the shelter I would have continued play therapy with him as well as started to incorporate some clicker training skills with him. Overall, I'm very happy with what I achieved with Soldier in the short time I had with him. I saw him become a confident and comfortable cat after being timid and fearful. It's those breakthrough moments that give me so much joy and I hope Soldier has a happy life ahead of him!

CASE CLOSED

Saturday, July 8, 2017

Adoptable Cat Caturday

Happy Caturday 😺!


Here are some of the adoptable cats I got to know better this week at the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando. I've linked their adoption profiles to their information. I'll be updating this along with the other Adoptable Cat Caturdays as these cats get adopted!





That's all for meow 😻,
Stephanie 

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

DIY Knotty Spider Cat Toys

Hellow Kitty Cat Friends,

One of the things I'm always trying to brainstorm is affordable and easy to make cat toy ideas, especially for the shelter. It's easy to buy some toys for your own cats, but when you're having to entertain 60+ cats in a shelter cat toys you buy can get expensive. Also, many DIY cat toys are time-consuming, supplies are too costly, or they're not practical for cats in a shelter. I came across this Knotty Spider cat toy video by Friskies and thought these would be great to make for shelter cats as well as your own cats at home. I did adapt the directions and supplies a bit as plastic milk jug rings used in the video are not as easy to accumulate if you're making a ton of these shelter cats. I also am using wider felt strips to save time so you're able to make more at a faster pace.
What You'll Need:
- 6-inch pipe cleaners or 12-inch pipe cleaners cut in half
- Soft felt squares, felt sheets, or fleece
- Scissors
- Dry catnip or catnip spray

Step 1:
Create a circle with the pipe cleaner by twisting the ends onto each other making sure any sharp pieces are tucked under and not sticking out.  It doesn't need to be a perfect circle as you'll be covering it with felt anyways.

Step 2:
Cut felt or fleece into approx. 6in x 1in strips. They don't have to be precise you can eyeball it.

Step 3:
Tie and double knot each felt strip around the pipe cleaner circle.
Step 4:
Continue to tie and double knot felt strips around the pipe cleaner circle until no visible pipe cleaner is showing.
Step 5:
Sprinkle some dried catnip or spritz with catnip spray.
Step 6:
Give to cat to play with.
The use of the pipe cleaners and the wider felt strips allow for you to make an endless amount of these. Pipe cleaners are really affordable and easy to buy in bulk and the wider cut strips will save you on time. If you're just making these for your own cats feel free to follow the Friskies video instructions.

These are really fun and easy to make. I like to turn on Netflix and make these as I watch my favorite TV shows. You can get creative with these and do different color schemes or whatever floats your boat!

That's all for meow 😻,
Stephanie

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Does My Misbehaving Cat Need A Friend?

Hello Kitty Cat Friends,

This is a question I hear time after time at the shelter. Someone has an adult cat that is acting out in terms of being overly active, destroying the house, and/or playing aggressively and they think a playmate will help curb their cat's unwanted behaviors. These people have not intended to add another cat to their family, but think their cat needs a friend. This does seem like a logical solution in our own human minds because the thought is the unwanted behavior will cease because the cat has a playmate to take it out on. That's the problem though we're thinking like humans, not like cats!

Please take note that I'm talking about to adult cats here, not kittens. We'll talk about kittens and playmates in another post!
First and foremost it's my rule of thumb that you shouldn't add another cat into your home unless you want another cat. When you add another cat to your home you're adding more to your budget which is something you should always consider before adopting any animal. If you want to add another cat to your home this is a different scenario. I will be writing a post on proper cat introductions in the future, but let's get back to the topic at hand.

Cats are very territorial. Cats territorial drive kicks in when they reach social maturity which is between ages 2-4. When adding another cat into a home with a socially mature cat you're going to be exacerbating your problem, not fixing it. You started out with a cat who is understimulated and play aggressive, but if you add another cat into this scenario your cat's territory is now threatened on top of it's other stressors. Cats who are territorially insecure may start to spray to mark their territory, urinate/defecate outside the litter box, and/or become more aggressive to you or the new cat! You've also changed their daily routine and their environment by introducing new foreign smells from another cat. Cats are creatures of habit too and can be resistant to change. Yes, cats are complicated! This is all a recipe for disaster and especially not wanted if you didn't want to add another cat to your home in the first place.

When people share with me that their cat is destroying their house and aggressive during play my first question to them is if they have "catified" their house? Cats need scratching posts, cat trees, cat safe spaces, and more to be able to engage in their normal cat behavior (hunting, stalking, hiding and etc). My second question to them is are they actively playing with their cat every day (using a teaser toy etc)? Usually, the answer is no to one of these questions or both.

Cats need outlets for mental and physical stimulation and if you're not providing that your cat will find other undesirable ways to get that energy out. If you have an adult cat who is engaging in these behaviors make sure to invest in cat furniture and play with your cat twice a day for at least 10 minutes each time. The solution is usually you need to put more into your cat not add another cat into the mix. Try these methods consistently for a month and then re-evaluate. If you still find your cat isn't getting what they need, then you might consider adding another cat, but only if they are introduced slowly and thoroughly which I will explain in a future post.

No, a misbehaving adult cat doesn't need a friend especially if you do not want another cat. You're not solving your cat's behavioral problems but adding another cat, you're adding to those problems. Cats who are understimulated and play aggressive need more from you in forms of "catification"and play therapy, not another cat impeding on their territory. Buy them some cat furniture and spend some time playing with them. That's what they need and they'll love you for it!

That's all for meow 😻,
Stephanie

Saturday, June 24, 2017

Adoptable Cat Caturday

Happy Caturday 😺!


Here are some of the adoptable cats I got to know better this week at the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando. I've linked their adoption profiles to their information. I'll be updating this along with the other Adoptable Cat Caturdays as these cats get adopted!

Cletus, M, 7yrs
*ADOPTED 

Martha, F, 2yrs
*ADOPTED 6/2017 

That's all for meow 😻!
Stephanie

Tuesday, June 20, 2017

Fingers & Toes Are Not Cat Toys!

Hello kitty cat friends,

I have a feeling I'm about to burst a lot of people's bubbles here. I actually burst my own over this too. It's so difficult not to do and it actually is almost an instinctual response. Your kitten or cat is in a playful mood so you dangle your fingers in front of them and let them chase or play with your fingers. You also may let your cat/kitten gnaw on your fingers because isn't it absolutely precious? It is absolutely precious, but you're also teaching your cat/kitten some pretty bad behaviors.
Do you ever wonder why your cat will dart toward your hands, fingers, toes, and even ankles and bite them? One of the reasons is probably because they were taught at a young age that your hands, fingers, toes, and ankles are toys. In a cat's mind though, your hands, fingers, toes, and ankles are not toys, but prey. You've trained your cat to treat you as prey!

Cats are hunters and it's a very natural and normal behavior for cats to chase, dart, pounce, and catch prey. These wild behaviors will never leave the domesticated cat, it's part of their makeup. This part of their behavior should absolutely be encouraged and never discouraged. This keeps your cat's mind sharp and stimulated. You want them to engage in these hunting behaviors but with appropriate prey-like toys, not you yourself. Cat teaser toys, toys they can bat and chase, and even interactive toys are ideal prey-like toys for your cat to play with that are not human extremities!

 If your cat is using you as its play toy and is used to that now is the time to train them away from doing that. Redirect your cat's play with your hands, fingers, and etc. by immediately using a teaser toy for them to play with instead. If your cat is engaged, playing, and catching the appropriate toy give them a treat. Do not swat, yell, or squirt your cat with a water bottle if they try to lunge or bite at you. Punishment does not work with cats. I will get into this more in a separate post. Continued and consistent redirection to an appropriate prey toy and reward with treats will be most effective.  Positive association and reinforcement work very well with cats!

This I know on our human side is a difficult habit to break. I still catch myself using my fingers to play with a kitten every now and then. I'm there with you all in this and you're not a bad cat owner or person for doing this with your cat. We're trying to give them what they need and it's so easy because our fingers are attached to us! We don't want our cats treating us like prey and even more so we don't want them treating our family, friends, and guests to our home like prey either!

That's all for meow 😻,
Stephanie

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Volunteer Series: How Do I Emotionally Handle The Shelter Environment?

Hello kitty cat friends,

I'm often asked how I'm able to work in the shelter environment and not get emotionally distraught? It's a very valid question. Working in animal welfare, rescue, fostering, shelters, and etc. is not for everyone. Below, I'm going explain the reasons I'm able to work in this field and how I make that possible for me.

I want to say preface this with everyone will be different. I have limitations on what I choose to open myself up to. Some people have a higher tolerance than me and some people have a lower tolerance than me. No one is better or worse of an animal advocate either way. If you're someone who can only donate money/items that all makes a difference! You should not feel guilty or be made to feel guilty because you're not emotionally/financially/physically able to do more for animal advocacy. What you can and want to contribute is enough and appreciated!
The Shelter Itself

This is the main reason. The Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando is a wonderfully run and maintained shelter. The facility is clean, the animals are healthy and cared for, and the staff is hard working. Walking into PAGO you feel that warmth, love, and positive energy. It's not a sad place like many shelters can be. The dogs and cats at PAGO are owner relinquished animals and PAGO does not euthanize for space or time. Every cat I see out for adoption will stay out for adoption no matter their age or how long they've been there. I also know how well the animals are cared for by staff and volunteers. Every morning the facilities are fully cleaned, animals get fresh bedding and food/water, and animals that are on vet check are assessed and treated. In addition to that a variety of volunteers spend 6 hours every day socializing and loving on the cats and dogs at PAGO. I know the animals there are loved to the greatest degree and to know I just add on to the love makes wonderful and positive atmosphere to be in.

Creating Emotional Boundaries

I'm able to create boundaries mostly due in part to volunteering with PAGO. I do my best to keep my realm of animal advocacy within the PAGO realm. If I start to venture into looking at what's going on at other shelters I'm done. I can't emotionally deal with the timelines animals have at other shelters or the horrors I see in photos of animal abuse and neglect posted on other animal rescue sites. Guilt is something I struggle with in general, and I do struggle with it in this too at times. I question if I'm doing enough or if I'm selfish sticking to this one thing? Yes, these horrors are realities in animal welfare, but I have to realize that I can't be everything and do everything or I'll fail at everything. I have be my best self in order to do what I know I can do where I'm needed.

Taking Breaks 

As great as PAGO is that doesn't mean there are some cats there with backstories that upset me, frustrating things I can't change, or ignorant people. It's difficult to see a cat in our shelter whose owner passed away. I can sense their sadness and feel their pain. I hurt with them and for them. There are cats who are completely unsocialized due to being in home with too many other animals and it frustrates me because now they have difficult behavioral issues. Sometimes it's a busy chaotic day and I just can't focus or think straight enough to accomplish what I want to accomplish. There are some things I want to change or do better, but due to lack of resources and funds I can't. Compassion fatigue and shelter burnout are real and that's why taking breaks is healthy and important. Sometimes I'll bypass one of my normal shifts if I'm really feeling bad, but most of the time I'll take mini breaks within a shift. I'll go into quiet space of the shelter or in a free roam cat room and just have a few moments to myself. It's difficult to sometimes recognize when I'm at my limit and even more difficult to give myself permission to take a break, but I'm working on being more aware and being kinder to myself.

Recognizing If I'm Being My Best Self

I often ask myself "Am I being my best self right now"?  I can't be my best self if I'm trying to expend myself too far or in areas I know are too emotionally difficult for me. I know I'm my best self when my focus is on helping PAGO kitties get comfortable in their environment, feel loved and appreciated, and find a home. I'm my best self also when I'm educating potential adopters, cat owners, and friends on how to be better cat guardians. These are the areas where I excel and I know make a difference. Sure, they're two tiny areas on a vast spectrum of animal welfare, but they're needed too. Everyone is needed in any capacity they see fit whether it be fostering, TNR, education, and etc. but we can't be our best selves if we don't recognize our limitations and forget to be kind to ourselves.

These are all ways I manage working in shelter environment. It's not always easy, but it's always rewarding for me to know I've improved the life of a cat. If volunteering at a shelter or doing work with animal welfare is something you're interested in but afraid of the emotional toll do some research. There are so many ways you can make a difference in this area without having to take too much of a toll on your heart. You're not selfish or weak for having limitations on what you can handle. I've been made to feel guilty for this and I've made myself feel guilty for it as well. It's such a waste of your time and skills when you get sucked into feeling guilty. No one is a better or worse person for doing more or doing less. No matter how small you think your contribution is it's needed and appreciated so don't let that stop you from doing what you want to do!

That's all for meow 😻!
Stephanie

Saturday, June 10, 2017

Adoptable Cat Caturday

Happy Caturday 😺!


Here are some of the adoptable cats I got to know better this week at the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando. I've linked their adoption profiles to their information. I'll be updating this along with the other Adoptable Cat Caturdays as these cats get adopted!



Rusty, M, 10yrs
*ADOPTED 7/2017 

That's all for meow 😻!
Stephanie

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

Cat Enrichment Garden

 Hello kitty cat friends 😸,

I can tell you off the bat cats don't *need* greens in their diet. Cats are obligate carnivores which mean they are meat-eaters out of necessity. They need meat. Cats are not meant to be vegetarians or vegans. Cats need to be eating meat! I'll do doing many future posts on feline nutrition so stay tuned!

That being said, cats do like some greens and at the shelter, we often provide cat-friendly greens to cats for enrichment purposes. Greens can sometimes aid in digestion with cats, but it's mostly used for enrichment purposes. What I mean by enrichment is to make their quality of life better. In terms of cats, enrichment can help provide them stimulation or help them utilize some of their cat-like instincts (i.e. hunting). Enrichment is critical for shelter cats especially because they're often confined in cages and are not receiving the same amount of consistent attention from an owner in a home. Enrichment is important for cats in homes too because cats can get lazy or become under-stimulated and agitated if they don't have anything to do or a way to release energy.

Chara noming some wheat grass.
Some cat-friendly greens you can grow yourself are wheat grass a.k.a. cat grass, lemongrass, catnip, and mint. Catnip and wheat grass are the most popular among our shelter kitties. Fresh catnip is incredibly fragrant. The shelter kitties perk up when I step into our cat room with it because they can smell it a mile away I'm sure. They love to roll around in it and some like to eat it. It's safe for cats to eat catnip. As we know some cats are totally unaffected by catnip too. The shelter kitties love to gobble up wheat grass. I'll put few pieces of grass in their cages and some whoof it down fast. These greens are just ways to get these kitties senses going. They can experience different smells, textures, and even tastes with these kitty greens which enriches their lives a bit more than the daily routine.
Lemongrass, Wheat Grass, and Catnip at PAGO's shelter enrichment garden
Our shelter enrichment garden is rather large, but you can create a mini one wheat grass for inside your home or grow catnip outside. One very simple way to grow wheat grass is to buy a cat garden kit. Here is one on chewy.com, but you can find these in most pet stores. Catnip is even easier to grow than you think. Do you have dry catnip around? Sprinkle some of that into some dirt and water it. There are typically tons of catnip seeds in dried catnip itself so you don't have to go out and buy seeds themselves. Catnip is best grown outside and you can cut the leaves off and bring it to your cats indoors. Both wheat grass and catnip grow like crazy! You shouldn't have any problem growing these and they grow quickly too. You will never be without either once you start growing them!

An enrichment garden of kitty greens is a great way to spice up your cat's life and give them some stimulation. This isn't anything they *need*, but it's fun and something different for them to engage in which is great. Cats need stimulation to keep their minds active and engaged!

That's all for meow 😻!
Stephanie

Saturday, June 3, 2017

Adoptable Cat Caturday

Happy Caturday 😺!


Here are some of the adoptable cats I got to know better this week at the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando. I've linked their adoption profiles to their information. I'll be updating this along with the other Adoptable Cat Caturdays as these cats get adopted!

Fufy, F, 5yrs (blind) 
*ADOPTED 6/2017

JJ, M, 3yrs 
*ADOPTED 6/2017


That's all for meow 😻!
Stephanie 

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Adoption Series: Should I Adopt A Kitten, Adult, or Senior?

Hello kitty cat friends,

I want to preface this post that it is meant for first-time cat owners and/or people who do not have another cat or dog in their home. I will be writing posts on how to introduce a new cat to your home if you already have another cat or a dog in the future.

The age of cat you adopt is something you should be taken seriously into consideration. Working at the shelter 9 times out of 10 a potential adopter will come in and ask about kittens. Kittens are hands down the most popular choice in age for people looking to adopt, especially people who are new to cat ownership. There is nothing wrong with kittens, but they have their own set of challenges that many people new to cats may not understand or have the patience to deal with. Adult and senior cats make wonderful companions as well and may very well be better suited to a new cat owner than a kitten.
In this post, I will be discussing the benefits and considerations you should take into account when adopting a kitten, adult, or senior cat. What age of a cat you choose for your life or your family will be very dependent on your personal preferences and your lifestyle. I want this to be a guide to help you determine the right fit for you so both you and kitty can live happily together!

Kittens
Most everyone loves kittens. When you get a kitten outside of unforeseen circumstances you know you can have an average of 14-16 yrs with that cat. That's definitely very reassuring for a lot of people who are looking for a pet. They want to know they have many years ahead of them with that cat. Kittens are also fun, energetic, and absolutely adorable. It's hard to resist a tiny cuddly ball of fluff! The cuteness factor is a major draw for potential adopters when it comes to kittens. Kittens also are also going to be the most adaptable as far as comfort going into a home. They will adjust quickly to living in a home and being with people because they're so young and still developing socially and mentally. Most kittens are allowed to be adopted out of shelters once they are at least 2 months, 2lbs, and are able to be spayed or neutered.

That being said, kittens can really be a lot more than you bargained for. Across the board, by cat enthusiasts, experienced cat owners, and cat behaviorists it is really ideal for kittens to be adopted in pairs. Why? Kittens require a lot of attention, play time, and handling when they're young to continue to be properly socialized and for them to be well adjusted. If you adopt a single kitten and you cannot commit the time to play with and handle that kitten multiple times a day every day during its kittenhood and teenage years you're most likely going to end up with a cat a with behavioral problems. Cats don't reach social maturity until they're 2-4 years of age, so the type of interaction and attention they receive from humans and/or a sibling kitten during their early years is very critical to their development. This also means that when you adopt a kitten the temperament they may have at weeks old may not be the temperament they end up securing as they get older. The behavioral problem I hear most about with single cats adopted as kittens is they can turn into a very understimulated cat who turns either your house, you yourself, or both into their personal jungle gym.

The solution to this is to consider adopting two kittens, preferably a sibling from the litter. The kittens will often play with one another and entertain themselves taking a lot of the pressure off of you. That's not to say you don't handle or play with the kittens yourself, but you will not have to devote as much time to the process. Kittens learn a lot of boundaries behaviorally and socially from their mother at first and their siblings second. Kittens often play fight with one another and they will tell each other in their own cat ways what is enough. Without a sibling to play with you often become the punching bag and kittens learning boundaries from other kittens are far more successful than a human trying to teach them!

This all doesn't mean you cannot get a single kitten if you want one, but I would really strongly consider if you have the time and patience you would have to commit to in raising it properly so it's a happy and well-adjusted cat. Also, you should always consider your finances if you want two kittens. They will cost more long term than just one. If either the time commitment or the finance of having two kittens is a deterrent for you there are always adult and senior cats who need homes.

Adults
There are various age charts that will have different age ranges for adults, but I'd consider adult cats to be ages 2-9. The wonderful thing about adopting a cat in this age range is by these ages they will most likely have an established personality and temperament. When you interact with a cat at this age before adopting them you're going to get baseline idea if that cat is laid back, playful, affectionate, independent, or so forth. What qualities in personality you like most is all up to you. Some people love lazy lap cats (me!), some people love high energy playful cats,  and some people even love a sassy cat with some attitude. That's all up to you, but it's a good bet you're going to know what type of cat you're getting if you adopt an adult. Adult cats can have long lives too even a 9-year-old can have a couple years left in them!

The major consideration I find with adult cats is their adjustment level. A lot of adult cats you adopt have either lived in homes before or were strays. This can make adjusting to a new home difficult for them depending on their circumstance. They could have come from an owner who passed away or they could have come from a home that was a hoarding situation and never got a lot of attention. These are two vastly different scenarios that can make it difficult for a cat to adjust to new home and environment. It can take an adult cat weeks to months to feel comfortable and confident in a new home. They may do a lot of hiding at first, so it's great to set up a safe space for them. You will need patience but it is well worth it. These cats want to be loved even if they're not sure how to ask for it and will appreciate your love and respect for them.

Seniors
I'd consider a senior cat 10yrs +. We've even had 16yr old cats up for adoption at the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando that go to find homes! Senior cats are definitely the most overlooked cats of any of these age ranges. The longer a cat is at a shelter which usually ends up being our older cats the more likely they are to become stressed, depressed, or stir crazy. These behavioral issues they develop from being in a shelter long term are definitely the most challenging cats I work with. That's a reason in itself to consider a senior cat. They need the homes the most!

A senior cat like an adult cat will also have an established personality and probably even more so. Also, they're probably going to be more interested in lounging around napping than running around your house requiring your undivided attention 24/7 like a kitten or a younger cat. Senior cats just want a nice kitty retirement home where they can find a comfy couch or even better your lap that they can snooze their days away on. Senior cats make excellent cats for someone who wants a lovey dovey lazy lap cat or an older person or couple who are looking for companionship. They will prefer a quieter home with a family or person who can respect their need for peace but will still provide them with affection and love.  Senior cats will be low maintenance when it comes to social and behavioral needs and will be easier to please because they are set in their ways.

The considerations with a senior are similar to an adult cat. They also will probably have an adjustment period coming from another home and from an unknown circumstance. Senior cats are also going to require more veterinary care. This is where a senior cat is more high maintenance. As cats age, they may have more health problems arise that may require more well-visits, medication, and sometimes long-term care for chronic conditions. The obvious kicker with a senior cat is you may only have them for a few years. Every day though I hear a new age of a cat that surprises me. The most recent is 23! I've heard well over a handful of people tell me they have 16-18 year old cats, so even if you adopt a 12-year-old you could still have a few years left in them. Senior cats make wonderful and loving pets and shouldn't be looked over because you're afraid of loss. Loss is a part of life, but the love we share and give is a powerful gift that we can give to a cat.

I hope this gives you some insight into what age of cat you might consider adopting. You really can't go wrong here if you consider your preferences and lifestyle. When I receive my certification I hope to add adoption counseling as one of consultation services I offer. I would love to be able to help match cats to families and individuals based on their preferences and needs (cats and humans alike!). Please let me know in the comments if you have any questions! Stay tuned in the future for posts on how to introduce a new cat to your home with other cats!

That's all for meow 😻!
Stephanie

Saturday, May 27, 2017

Adoptable Cat Caturday

Happy Caturday 😺!


Here are some of the adoptable cats I got to know better this week at the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando. I've linked their adoption profiles to their information. I'll be updating this along with the other Adoptable Cat Caturdays as these cats get adopted!


Curly Wurly, F, 4yrs 
*Adopted 5/2017

Fancy, F, 1yr 
*ADOPTED 6/2017


Sweetie, F, 4yrs 
*ADOPTED 6/2017

That's all for meow 😻!
Stephanie

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Protect The Paw! Don't Declaw!

Hello kitty cat friends 😺,

I want to discuss declawing cats today. I know most of the people reading this blog will be on the same page about declawing. Cat addicts are very impassioned on this topic and have a very strong stance, while a lot of the general public really do not understand it or take it seriously.
 What is declawing?

Declawing is a doctored up friendly name for what is really amputation. This is what many people do not know. There are many people who have concerns about their cats having claws whether it's being scratched themselves or ruining their furniture. They may believe that declawing simply is removing cats nails. Declawing would be the equivalent of humans having the last joint removed in their fingers and toes. It's the same for cats. It's amputating or "de-knuckling" actual fragments of their bone, not just removing nails.

What are the risks and long-term complications of declawing surgery?

In general there are always risks with any surgery with anesthesia, however, declawing surgeries can lead to lameness, bleeding, infection, and nerve/tissue damage in cats paws. Recovery from declawing surgery takes weeks and can be painful and uncomfortable for a cat. Long-term many declawed cats have sensitivity in their paws. This becomes evident in regards to litter box usage. Cats use their claws to dig through litter to help them find a desirable spot to eliminate and then cover up their waste. Declawed cats have sensitivity in their paws and may find digging through litter uncomfortable or even painful. This, in turn, leads to litter box problems which is one of the most common behavioral problems in cats. Declawed cats may eliminate outside the box because of this sensitivity. Litter box issues are one of the major reasons cats are abandoned, relinquished to shelters, or euthanized.

Why is this bad/inhumane?

If amputation and the complications are not enough to convince someone that this procedure is inhumane it's important for people to understand cat behavior. Amputating this portion of cats paws takes away their "catness". Cats are not dogs and cats are not people. Cats are cats. Cats need their claws for a variety of reasons

One of the most well known is for defense reasons. Cats without their claws are incapable of being able to defend themselves, so instead of a scratch, they will resort to a bite. If people are afraid of being scratched by a cat and choose to declaw they're more at risk of being bitten. A cat bite can be very dangerous as they're more likely to become infected than many other animal bites. While scratching has its own risks. I'd much rather be scratched by a cat than bitten.

The defense reason is only one reason that declawing takes away from a cat's "catness". Cats need their claws for other reasons. Cats need to scratch. It's part of being a cat. Scratching is a way cats mark territory, cover up their waste, and relieve stress. This is all part of normal and healthy cat behavior. People run into the problem of cats scratching in undesirable locations, but the scratching itself isn't the problem. It's getting cats to scratch in the appropriate places.

Should I punish my cat for scratching in undesirable locations?

Do no punish your cat. Yelling at your cat, squirting them with water, or swatting your cat are forms of punishment. Cats do not understand punishment. Punishing your cat can cause your cat to become fearful of you and/or lead them toward "owner-absent" behavior. Owner-absent behavior is where your cat may learn not to scratch your sofa when you're home, but when you're gone they'll scratch it. All your teaching your cat with punishment is that YOU are a source of negativity, not the sofa you don't want to scratched!

How do I get my cat not to scratch in undesirable locations?

Next, you need to train your cat away from the undesirable locations. You can use Sticky Paws to put on furniture, foil, or spritz furniture with a citrus scent (cats are not fond of citrus scents). The goal here is for those locations to actually become undesirable to the cat not just undesirable to you. Cats are not going to like the feeling of tape or foil under the paws, so they're going to associate that piece of furniture now as not a nice place to scratch. You see the difference? The cat is associating the furniture with negativity, not you yourself. Cats won't know you put the tape on the furniture 😉. These are all humane ways to deter a cat from scratching in undesirable locations.

How do I get my cat to scratch on scratching posts?

Some cats like to scratch vertically (i.e. up and down on furniture) and some cats like to scratch horizontally (i.e. on the floor on carpet). I'd get some vertical scratching posts and some that lay on the floor. There are a variety of materials in scratching posts carpet, cardboard, rope, twine, and etc. Cats will have their preference so get a few to test out. A good way to attract a cat to these posts is to sprinkle some catnip on it or use a catnip spray. If your cat is food motivated you can positively reinforce them using the scratching post by clicker training. When you see your cat scratching on scratch post click and give them a treat. Your cat will soon realize when I scratch here good things happen to me!

I'm still having trouble. What else can I do besides declawing?

Another humane alternative to declawing is using Soft Paws or nail caps for your cat. These are little cat nail shaped vinyl caps that cover your cat's nails. They're comfortable for your cat to wear and will not impede them being able to retract their claws naturally. They do require maintenance and will need to be replaced every 4-6 weeks.

Overall, declawing is inhumane to our feline friends. It takes away part an important part of their natural cat instincts which isn't fair and is cruel to them. Declawing can lead to complications and behavioral problems with cats that are often uncomfortable and painful for them to experience. There are ways to help cats use their claws in a way that is beneficial and healthy for them without our homes being shred to pieces.

It's important to note though, that cats will be cats. If the idea of a cat scratching furniture or even you is an absolute dealbreaker for you I hope you would reconsider a cat as a pet and not resort to declawing one. We're guardians to our feline friends and it's responsibility to care for them that best benefits their well-being, not try to make them into something they're not for our own benefit.

That's all for meow 😻!
Stephanie

Saturday, May 20, 2017

Adoptable Cat Caturday

Happy Caturday 😺!


Here are some of the adoptable cats I got to know better this week at the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando. I've linked their adoption profiles to their information. I'll be updating this along with the other Adoptable Cat Caturdays as these cats get adopted!

Cutie, F, 11yrs 
*ADOPTED 6/2017
Cutie

Lucy

Piper, F, 2yrs, FIV+
*ADOPTED 5/20/2017
Piper

That's all for meow 😻!
Stephanie

Monday, May 15, 2017

Adoption Series: Why Adoption Isn't Free & Shouldn't Be

Hello kitty cat friends 😺,

I get asked on occasion by potential adopters why there is an adoption fee? At the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando, our standard adoption fee for cats is $50 for cats over 6 months old and $100 for cats under 6 months old. On occasion PAGO, offers adoption specials and even free adoptions. The latter, I'm not entirely keen on, but it's usually because our shelter is full and we're low on a space and resources. Thankfully, there is an adoption application and potential adopters must speak with an adoption counselor before they are approved to adopt so there is assurance they're going to a good home.

That being said, in most cases there is an adoption fee, but why? I have 2 main reasons to share with you.

1. Caring for shelter animals and running a shelter are not free! 

It costs a lot to not only run a shelter but to provide medical care for the animals. Here is a diagram PAGO made breaking down the cost of every adoptable cat.
As you can see for every cat that goes through our shelter they receive all of that medical care which is costly. The PAGO adoption fee of $50 or $100 that you pay for a cat or kitten also includes spay/neuter, core vaccinations, microchip, feline leukemia test, FIV test, and a free post-adoption visit. I'd say $100 or $50 is a great deal for all of those preventive measures and medical care you're receiving with that fee! That fee doesn't even cover what it costs for a shelter to care for each cat. That's why shelters rely heavily on donations. Shelters can't exist without donations and in order for there to be safe havens for cats in need, shelters need to exist! Fees and donations are how that happens.

2. Pets are not free!

This is the one that ruffles my feathers when people ask for a free adoption. Pet ownership isn't free.  I always worry when someone wants a cat for free how are they going to in turn provide for the cat? Cats are costly despite what some people say about them being so independent. The bare basic essentials people will say a cat needs are food, water, and a litter box. Yes, but cats need much more than.

Cats need cat toys, cat furniture (cat tree, scratching posts, cat safe spaces and etc), flea preventative, and most importantly veterinary care. Unfortunately, many cat owners don't see these things as priorities except the bare essentials. Your cat needs toys and cat furniture. Cats are hunters and need to have ways to exert their hunter instincts. They do this through play and toys are imperative for cats to have or else you'll end up with a bored, depressed, and under-stimulated cat that may develop behavioral issues. The same goes for cat furniture cats like vertical territory, safe spaces, and scratching posts. Cats like these types of items for enrichment, territorial reasons, stimulation, and for stress relief. Cats need to be cats and they can't be cats without these items!

All cats need regular veterinary care. This will be the most costly of expenses for a cat. An annual check-up dependent on what is required for your cat can easily run $250+. An office visit when your cat is sick can be anywhere from $30-$80, and that may not include medication. An emergency visit, surgery, x-rays, and hospital stay can run you thousands and sometimes tens of thousands of dollars. Some of these emergency scenarios you can't fully prepare for, but wellness visits, mild illnesses, and mild injuries you should always account for before you consider adoption. I recommend people have around $1,000 to $2,000 on reserve for your pet if the need arises. I would also recommend any pet owner also consider looking into pet insurance as a way to help with veterinary costs.

These are the main reasons adoption isn't free and I don't think it should be. Shelters need to be able to provide and care for pets in need and they can't do that without donations from the public and implementing adoption fees. Pet ownership is never free either, so if a fee deters people who do not understand responsibility and expenses that go into pet ownership, so be it!

That's all for meow 😻!
Stephanie

Saturday, May 13, 2017

Adoptable Cat Caturday

Happy Caturday 😺!


Here are some of the adoptable cats I got to know better this week at the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando. I've linked their adoption profiles to their information. I'll be updating this along with the other Adoptable Cat Caturdays as these cats get adopted!

Cicero, M, 10yrs 
*Adopted 5/2017

Cletus

Leo, M, 13yrs
*ADOPTED 5/2017 
Leo

Red

Shelby, F, 8yrs 
*Adopted 5/2017
Shelby

That's all for meow 😻!
Stephanie