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!
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!