Interview with Lincoln 55+ Pet Columnist, Kathy Ward

Since the Summer of 2010, Kathy Ward has been delighting Lincoln 55+ readers with her quarterly pet column. In those seven years, she’s written about her own experiences with our animals, organizations that serve animals, and other pet-related topics such as senior living communities and their pet policies. I’m excited to shine a spotlight on a fellow pet writer.

KathyWard1ALLISON: How did you become a columnist for Lincoln 55+?

KATHY: I worked in the same agency as Keith Larsen, the editor of Lincoln 55+, for many years and wrote an article or two on health issues. When he mentioned writing a column, I told him that while I am passionate about health issues, I’ve spent my whole life caring about pets, and that is a topic of special interest to me.

ALLISON: Tell me more about your passion for animals.

KATHY: I grew up on a ranch, loving my Border Collie, Ring, and a barn full of cats. I still have tears in my eyes when I think about Ring, even though it has been more than 60 years since he died. I helped my dad by socializing the cats who kept the granary free of rodents. The cats and Ring followed me everywhere I went, often in a single file line of animals. They kept me from ever feeling lonely on a ranch in the middle of nowhere. From 1996-2000, my husband and I owned a store in the Haymarket named “Treats!, A Bakery and Gift Shop for Dogs”. He made the treats, and we sold a wide variety of gift items for and about dogs and cats. We did fundraisers for the Capital Humane Society, and my husband served on the board.

ALLISON: What’s a personal favorite column of yours? Why?

KATHY: I wrote a column about a particularly memorable dog named Montie (a Shetland Sheepdog) that we fostered and then adopted. When he died, I wanted to tell the story of some of his adventures and personality quirks. That was the column that resulted in the most reader feedback. I even heard from a woman who at one time had been interested in adopting Montie. When she had come to see him, he had no interest in interacting with her. She wrote to me in response to that column that she now understood that Montie wasn’t interested in finding a new home because he already had one. Her letter was so touching to me. I never wanted to give Montie up after the first day we met him at the Capital Humane Society, but we were trying to do what foster families are supposed to do. It was a prime example of being “foster failures”.

One of Kathy's early columns.
One of Kathy’s early columns.

ALLISON: What was the hardest column to write? Why?

KATHY: I spent a long time writing the column on pet insurance, because I wanted to be sure that I wasn’t misleading people on whether or not it was a good idea. For me, it is a comfort to know that finances don’t have to influence decisions on my pets that are insured. But I also know that premiums are difficult to pay and that putting money aside to self-insure your pets can sometimes be a better financial decision. It’s a gamble that depends on when in their life cycle pets are going to be seriously ill or hurt, how much it will cost to treat them, and how long they will need treatment.

ALLISON: Share a memorable reader response.

KATHY: I don’t get a lot of written response to my columns, but it always surprises me to have people mention a column I wrote. One time a stranger came up to me and apparently recognized me from my picture in the column. She said that she and her husband always looked forward to reading my column because they loved pets so much.

ALLISON: If I were to look at your first column and compare it to today, what’s changed?

KATHY: I don’t know that a lot has changed. Sometimes I interview people about their pets or their rescue work, and sometimes I write based on my own experience or research (Internet or making calls).

ALLISON: How many pets do you currently have?

KATHY: We have two Bearded Collies and two cats.

ALLISON: What are some fun pet moments?

KATHY: Two words describe the fun that pets bring me: comfort and joy. This morning one of the cats woke me by tunneling under the covers and cuddling for a long time. The purr of a cat is better than any meditation that I’ve ever tried. The dogs’ playtimes are the best manifestation of pure joy. When they go racing out of the house to make sure there are no squirrels invading our yard and then chase each other in circles, there’s no way that anyone could not recognize the presence of joy. The sight of a long-haired Bearded Collie with head thrown back and long-hair flying in the wind just makes me happy. The snuggle times with any of my pets brings me peace and comfort.

ALLISON: What’s one thing that you’ve learned about caring for animals from being a pet columnist?

KATHY: I’ve learned that there are a lot of people out there in our community doing an extraordinary amount of work to save and care for animals, including running large rescue operations, helping people pay for vet bills, and providing education.

KathyWard2ALLISON: How has animal welfare changed since you started writing your column?

KATHY: I don’t know how much it has changed in the seven years I’ve written the column, but over time I have seen a significant shift in how people view their animals. I think there are a lot more people who see animals as part of their family and as beings with rights and feelings.

ALLISON: How would you like to see it change in the future?

KATHY: Sadly, there are still some people who see pets as disposable or who don’t invest the time or money training and caring for them. I’d like to see all pets wanted and cherished, and I’d like to see all families with pets experience the comfort and joy that I described above.

ALLISON: What other activities do you enjoy besides writing columns?

KATHY: I’m loving retirement, with lots of time to do volunteer work, master new crafts, read books, hang out with my hubby, lunch with friends, etc. The days go by so quickly because I never get everything done that I’d like to do.

Starting with the Spring 2018 issue, Kathy will be taking a break from her quarterly pet column. I asked her if there were other publications where readers might find Kathy’s work. At the moment there isn’t, but Kathy did hint that she’d like to write a book about their rescue dog Montie. I look forward to her future creative endeavors!

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A Pet Foster for Capital Humane Society

Always glad to talk about fostering.

A long-time owner of pets and donor to the Capital Humane Society, Colleen Seymour is a retired teacher who got interested in fostering homeless animals because of a colleague. She has fostered over 100 cats and kittens since she started in July  2017. Her most recent fostering involved a mother cat and two kittens.

ALLISON: What are the highs of being a pet foster?

COLLEEN: The highs of being a foster is socializing the cats and kittens so that they will be adopted into their furever home.

ALLISON: What are the lows of being a pet foster?

COLLEEN: Cleaning the cat box, cleaning up messes, medication, expense ( the humane society will give you cat food, etc, but I usually donate it).

ALLISON: Share some memorable moments.

COLLEEN: Several memorable moments come to mind. One, a thunderstorm blew open a window and flooded the room some kittens were in. Two, a kitten disappeared and it took half an hour to find out that he’d climbed into a freezer. Three, a scared mama who escaped into an uncovered vent in the ceiling until she finally returned to feed her kittens. Fourth, kittens tried to nurse off my male ragdoll cat. Last, my golden retriever making sure she could find some foster kittens. I think she actually counted them!

ALLISON: Do you stay in contact with any of the adopters? If so, what are some memorable follow-ups? If not, why?

COLLEEN: Some of my kittens have been adopted by my sister-in-law, my sister, or by friends. All of those cats are in good homes and doing fine.

 

ALLISON: What have you learned about pet care from fostering homeless animals?

COLLEEN: The most important thing I have learned from fostering is that it makes a difference. Foster pets are more loving and have a better chance of being a forever pet. They’re more likely to be adopted when people come in and hold them because they’ll purr or let you hold and pet them. Two of my fosters that were on 1011 news the other day for at least five minutes let the host of the show hold them. I’ve also learned that patience with the most nervous cats and kittens and kindness can gain trust. Oh, and I’ve learned how to spot illnesses, give medication, and administer an IV.

ALLISON: What are some tips for other fosters?

COLLEEN: One tip would be: make sure you have a suitable “kitty room”. No carpet!

ALLISON: What are other ways ones can help homeless animals?

COLLEEN: Do not ignore strays. A stray can also be taken to a vet for a microchip check. Stray cats can be trapped them and brought to the Capital Humane Society to be spayed or neutered.

Whenever possible, educate about overpopulation. It is NOT okay to let that dog or cat have a litter so your children can experience it. People also need to understand that dogs need a lot of attention. They need to pick a breed that suits their life style. Dogs are social animals and need to be with people. Cats also develop bonds with people.

ALLISON: Why should others foster?

COLLEEN: These cats and kittens are in a very stressful environment at a shelter. When you foster you give them a chance to become healthy and loving, so that they’ll be adopted.

For anyone who is interested in fostering through Capital Humane Society, volunteers are needed to provide foster care for a variety of reasons including:

  • A mother cat or dog that needs a quiet place to nurse her litter
  • Kittens that need to gain weight before they can be spayed or neutered
  • A shy dog or cat in need of socialization
  • Dogs or cats that need a course of medication for respiratory illness
  • Dogs or cats recovering from a surgical procedure
  • Cats or dogs available for adoption but do better outside of the shelter environment

In 2015, over 85 different foster parents for the Capital Humane Society helped prepare 380+ homeless animals for adoption. The Capital Humane Society is always looking for new foster parents to better help the animals in its care. Fostering may last anywhere from two weeks to several months, depending on the pet’s needs. As part of the program, CHS provides fosters with all needed supplies including food, litter, and medications. For more information, check out this page: CHS foster care.

Guest Post: 10 Reasons To Adopt A Cat

Written by Daniel Richardson for LAA Pet Talk. Tuxedo Cat is run by Whisky with assistance from Dan. Whisky was born in August 2014 and was adopted from the cat rescue home 6 months later. Whisky is the brains behind Tuxedo Cat. She hopes to educate and inform people about how great Tuxedo Cats are while hopefully having some fun along the way too! Dan keeps things ticking, answering emails on behalf of Whisky, scheduling social media posts, replying to comments, sorting mail, and occasionally writing for the site too. 

Not so long ago (well roughly 5,000 years ago) what we now call domestic cats were pretty much exclusively wild animals, undomesticated animals that roamed the outdoors hunting to survive.

The Egyptians led the charge in the domestication of cats. Many cats were kept to keep the rodent population down. Of course, it’s well-documented that the Egyptians considered cats to be sacred. You only have to see the famous Sphinx to begin to understand something of their love for the cat!

Unfortunately, the world has changed a lot since the times of the ancient Egyptians and this hasn’t played too well into the paws of many cats. While a large number of cats do live very happy lives in comfortable homes where they are well-cared for, but a cat overpopulation crisis exists. There are literally thousands of more cats than there are people or shelters to take care of them. In addition, there are an alarmingly large number of community cats worldwide.

How You Can Help

If you’re a cat lover, you’re no doubt worried about the number of stray cats. Happily, there are things you can do.

  1. If you find a cat which you suspect may be a stray the first thing you should do is tag it. You can do this by simply attaching a paper collar to the cat with a message on asking the cat’s owner to contact you if the cat is theirs.
  2. If you don’t get a response and the cat returns, you should report the cat to your nearest lost pets organization and/or rescue. They may be aware of any cats which have gone missing.
  3. If the cat will allow you to get close enough, you should next take the cat to your local vet and check them for a microchip.
  4. If none of the above yields results, the cat should be re-homed by you or a rescue.
  5. Most important, whoever decides to take responsibility for the cat from this point onward must ensure that the cat is spayed or neutered. This will help minimize the growth of the stray cat population.

Why You Should Adopt a Cat

Adoption is important for cats as it minimizes the dangers to their life and helps deal with the growing stray cat population.

There are also tons of fun reasons why owning a cat will also enhance your own life. We’ve put together the cat adoption infographic, by tuxedo cat, to show those reasons.

 

Why Dog Rescue Starts

Sometimes good pet owners can’t keep their dogs. And often the dogs that end up in shelters would make good pets. That’s why Beverly Sack started Good Dog Rescue.

One day while Bev was walking her Doberman, a man asked her about a dog, and soon he was telling her about the dog rescue where he volunteered. About six months later, when her Doberman died, Bev contacted the Doberman rescue to adopt a dog and volunteer with the breed-specific rescue. She ended up enjoying rescue so much that in 2009 she started one of the first mixed-breed rescues in Nebraska. On average, Good Dog Rescue rescues about twenty dogs per year, with each dog taking about maybe six months to get adopted.

We are most frequently asked: “Why is this dog in rescue? Was it mean or sick?” People often think it’s the dog’s fault that it needs a home.

Good Dog Rescue prides itself on not just taking on dogs that are easy to place. While the nonprofit does rescue young, healthy, and cute dogs, it also takes on older dogs, bigger dogs, black dogs, and even less healthy dogs. Highly adoptable dogs would certainly be better for the rescue’s bottom line: less time in foster care means lower food bills, fewer vet bills, etc. But finances aren’t everything, and so Good Dog Rescue also helps the dogs those that are most at risk of being euthanized in shelters. These dogs cost more because they’re slower to adopt out, but they are just as deserving of a second chance as the dogs that are more easily adopted out.

Sometimes the reasons for relinquishment are due to the owner’s circumstances and nothing to do with the dog. The owners have fallen ill and need hospitalization, or they can no longer care for themselves and need a nursing home. Other times the owners have lost their home due to foreclosure and can’t find an apartment that allow pets, or they have been let go from their job due to downsizing and can no longer afford a pet.

The poor training is usually the reason we get them into our rescue. Thus, we really value the input of our trainers!

At times, owners will relinquish a dog due to it being hard to live with. The owners may have misjudged the needs of the dog or they may not have trained the dog. Untrained dogs tend to mouth, jump on people and counters, and/or pull too hard during a walk. The dogs don’t know any better. When owners of such dogs call Good Dog Rescue, the first response is to offer the phone numbers of skilled trainers. Sometimes pet owners will then contact the trainers and continue to work with their dog and relinquishment is avoided. Other times, people will tell Good Dog Rescue that they’ve already worked with a trainer and are now at the end of their patience.

The training provided our dogs starts with where the dogs are when they arrive at our rescue.

In the latter case, Good Dog Rescue will accept the dog and retrain it with the help of professional trainers and University of Nebraska student volunteers. Some dogs have fear issues. Good Dog Rescue allows these dogs to “chill” for at least a couple of weeks and focuses on simply letting them know they are safe and fed. Other dogs lack obedience training and so they’re taught basic commands: sit, stay, down, leave it. Eventually, dogs are also taught to walk calmly with a leash. Finally, Good Dog Rescue provides any needed follow-up support after the dog is adopted.

If you’re interested in helping Good Dog Rescue, it would appreciate assistance in a variety of ways: more trainers to suggest individual plans to help make the dogs more adoptable; more volunteers to walk dogs, bathe and brush dogs, supervise doggy play time, and just spend one-on-time with the dogs. Good Dog Rescue could use help with promoting its rescue and its dogs through social media. Finally, while Good Dog Rescue does seek out grants, donations are always welcome.

There remains a pressing need for animal rescues. Of the 18,000 dogs and cats that enter Nebraska shelters each year, about 5,000 are euthanized. Check back over the months ahead to learn more about how Good Dog Rescue and similar groups help animals find their forever homes.

Rescuing dogs is a sort of addiction. There’s always another dog that’s in serious need of a home. It’s challenging to figure out how to handle that dog to make it adoptable. And also, each dog is so unique, and so we learn from each dog. It’s almost like having a bunch of children, but dogs are easier.

Guest Post: The Many Ways Guinea Pigs Feel

Emotions are part of our everyday lives. We are sometimes happy, sometimes sad, or bored. Unless you’re a robot, you’re going to have emotions. Today I’m going to talk about guinea pigs and their emotions.

Stock photo, Wikimedia
Stock photo, Wikimedia

Boredom: Is your guinea pig starring at you? Watching your every move or wheeking as loudly as possible trying to get your attention? If your piggy is less active, chewing its fur off or biting on its cage, then your pig is bored and would like some toys or some of your loving attention. If your pig is alone, please interact with it as much as possible, or get it a fellow guinea pig if finances allow. Fun fact: It is actually illegal in Switzerland to only own one guinea pig due to the nature of these sociable animals.

Stock photo, Wikimedia
Stock photo, Wikimedia

Sadness: Unfortunately, guinea pigs do feel sadness. Normally, they’ll go into a corner of its cage or some form of hiding spot. A guinea pig will attempt to hide it’s sadness, which can prove difficult. Sometimes, a guinea pig will be sad because it is sick. If you suspect that this is the case, please take it to see an exotic veterinarian.

Stock photo, Wikimedia
Stock photo, Wikimedia

Fear: Being considered an entree strikes fear into the heart of a guinea pig. When a guinea pig is scared, it’ll freeze in place, show the whites of its eyes, or shiver. If your guinea pig shows fear, approach it cautiously, since it may begin to “chut-chut” as a sign that it may bite. Talk to it in a soft voice to try to make it feel better.

Stock photo, PXHere
Stock photo, PXHere

Anger: Whenever a guinea pig is angry, watch out! An angry guinea pig will chatter its teeth together quickly, making a “chut-chut” sound. Other guinea pigs know that this is a sign of anger and will tend to stay away. Also, angry guinea pigs may sometimes make themselves appear larger by puffing out their fur.

Stock photo, PixaBay
Stock photo, PixaBay

Happiness: When guinea pigs are happy, they tend to purr, kind of like a cat. They’ll also “pop-corn” by jumping straight up and then run around. Guinea pigs are usually happiest when their owner is petting them. When guinea pigs are relaxed and chilled out, they’re a state of happiness.

There you have it, the top 5 emotions of guinea pigs. They may be small, but their minds are anything but! Guinea pigs make great pets and remember, “Adopt don’t shop!”

Written by Nikki Harbeston, Creative Stuff, for LAA Pet Talk. She resides in South Carolina with her husband and dog. Her blog features Diary of a Chubby Piggie and Into the Journey of Dog. Copyright August 2013-March 2014.

If you are a pet owner with writing skills, Lincoln Animal Ambassadors would love to hear from you! We’re especially looking for content about birds, exotic animals, and horses. Content may take the form of an advice column or how-to articles. You may even simply wish to act as an expert consultant. If you are interested, please post in the comments and we’ll be in touch.

Cinder’s Advice: Growling and Food-Guarding

In December 2013, my husband and I adopted a one-year-old tortoiseshell cat from Hearts United for Animals. Cinder has taught us so much about cats that it seemed proper for her to have her own advice column.

QUESTION: Why do cats growl and how does one stop them from guarding their food?

“Grrr!” I growled as Allison placed my breakfast in front of me.

Allison pulled back. “Cinder, no!” she scolded.

She turned to Andy who had just entered the kitchen. “Cinder growled at me!”

He approached me. Before I could stop myself, I growled again. “Grrr!”

Allison shook her head. “I thought only dogs growled.”

Ha! I thought. If a dog can growl, so can a cat! We can get just as annoyed as dogs. And scared. Even angry.

Andy shrugged his shoulders. “What are we going to do about it? How can we teach her not to growl?”

Puzzled, I glanced up at them. Growling had been the only way I could tell all those other cats at the shelter to stay away from my food. Why would I stop growling?

A common reason cats growl is to protect their food. But why do some cats feel the need to guard their food? Like me, some do so because they were in a situation where it was necessary. Some reasons cats guard their food are:

  • As kittens, they were separated from their mothers too young and never properly weaned.
  • They were forced to live outdoors and to scrounge or even fight for food.
  • They receive too little food or are fed too often during the day and their protective instinct gets aroused.
  • As part of a multi-cat household, it’s just the presence of other cats that triggers the instinct, even if none of the other cats are actively trying to steal their food.

After I’d cleaned off my plate, Allison leaned in and gently stroked my head. “Sweet Cinder. Your food is safe here. No one’s going to take it,” she whispered.

Wow! I couldn’t believe what I’d just heard! Allison understood what I felt. Instead of rushing off to play, I basked in her attention.

For a long time, nothing changed. Then one day at mealtime Allison didn’t immediately place my food in front of me. Instead she ordered me: “Sit!”

My heart began to race. I started to frantically turn in circles. Allison had been teaching me to “Sit,” but telling me to sit now didn’t make any sense. Was she trying to taunt me by withholding food? I could see my dish in her hand. Why wouldn’t she give it to me? When Allison wouldn’t budge I reluctantly sat, but the instant she put down my food, I growled and hunched over my dish. No one was going to keep me from my food!

“Cinder, you have terrible manners!” Allison scolded and took back my food. I began to whine and pant.

Allison’s face looked sad and she tried to soothe me. When I finally sat, she returned my dish. I instantly growled. I couldn’t help it.

Every day was like this. I started to hate mealtimes. Maybe Allison figured this out, because after a while she tried other ways to teach me this thing called “manners”. One day after preparing my food, she gave me a treat. I gobbled it up. “Good girl for not growling,” Allison murmured and then gave me another treat. I soon figured out that my Allison was giving me treats whenever I didn’t growl at her, but I still couldn’t quell my panic.

There are many ways to teach dogs and cats not to guard food. My pet mom has tried them all!

  • Don’t feed at the table. This only trains us to always expect food.
  • Restrict our exposure to food of any kind except at meals, which means you pet parents can’t eat in front of us.
  • Give meals at a set time, so we take comfort in knowing when the next meal will come.
  • Give attention, not food. When food is always used to meet our demands, we’ll always want food.
  • Play with us before meals. That way, we’ll be in a positive mood before our meals.
  • Feed us more than once a day. We like our independence and take comfort in having some control over when we eat.
  • Add more food to each meal so that we have the chance to feel full. Don’t let us get overweight, but just give us more food so that we feel more secure.
  • Make us work for our food by using puzzle feeders. These reward us when we figure out the puzzle, along with keeping us slim.
  • In multi-pet households, feed everyone in different areas or rooms. Separating where we eat eliminates competition and our need to bully.

One day Allison had a talk with me. She told me again that I didn’t have to worry about anyone stealing my food, and then told me that she was going to stop trying to change me. Instead she said that she and Andy were going to give me privacy at mealtimes. “We love you the way you are, with all your quirks, and we want you to be happy.” I touched her with my paw, thanking her. Maybe one day I’ll stop being stressed about food, but for now it feels good to be accepted as I am.

Interview with Nebraska Humane Society

Founded in 1875, The Nebraska Humane Society was originally established for the protection of both animals and children. In the mid 1940’s, state agencies began to embrace child welfare issues, leaving the Nebraska Humane Society as the sole organization within the Omaha area designated for the protection of animals. The Nebraska Humane Society is the fifth oldest humane society in the United States and today is also one of the largest.

Its mission is to protect, save, and enrich the lives of animals in the Omaha area. To that end, it offers many programs such as training classes and behavior modification programs, a low-cost spay/neuter center, humane education programs, a free behavior help line, a pet food pantry for residents in economic distress, Project Pet Safe for companion pets of victims of domestic abuse, and Animeals, a program to deliver pet food to elderly pet owners who no longer have the freedom or ability to leave their homes. Nebraska Humane Society also advocates for animal welfare in the state, having lobbied for the end of puppy mills and dog fighting and the enforcement of responsible pet ownership guidelines and dangerous dog ordinances. 

A huge thanks to Pam Wiese, head of Public Relations and Marketing at the Nebraska Humane Society for taking time for an interview. This interview is part of LAA Pet Talk’s Animal Welfare Takes A Village series. Stay tuned for future interviews with other Nebraska Humane Society staff.

ALLISON: What are the most common reasons an animal is relinquished to the Nebraska Humane Society?

PAM: We see animals come into NHS for all different reasons. Probably the most common is “time and responsibility”. People’s lives change and they feel they no longer have the time that it takes to appropriately care for an animal or they might be moving to a place that doesn’t allow their pets. Others cite financial issues: Someone loses a job or sometimes a pet develops a medical issue that the person can’t or doesn’t want to afford. Other times it’s a medical issue for the person: allergies or possibly something debilitating that won’t allow them to care for a pet.

ALLISON: Why did Nebraska Humane Society decide to release its shelter statistics?

PAM: NHS releases statistics because we are a non-profit organization and as such, we need to be transparent with our donors about how we are spending their dollars.

ALLISON: Why did the foster care program get started and what is its success rate?

PAM: The foster care program has been at NHS for many years but about 15 years ago we really formalized it. Last year, we had 344 foster homes care for 1989 animals. Most of them were kittens during the warmer months–getting them up to weight and weaned so they could go through the adoption program. However, we also foster animals who may need longer term treatments like heartworm, or surgical recovery. Animals grow and heal better when they are not in a shelter environment, but are in a homier setting. Babies (and adults) get more socialized with more intimate caregiving and one-on-one attention. Plus, getting animals who need a little time before adoption out of the shelter also frees up space for those who ARE ready for adoption…so it’s a win-win situation.

ALLISON: What kind of educational support is provided to fosters/adopters? What are common questions do you get from fosters/adopters?

PAM: We offer training in the shelter, plus handouts to our foster families. Our coordinators also do a site visit before any placement is made to talk with the families, see the environment, and answer any questions families have before starting out. Our coordinators also give out their cell phone numbers for questions and they confer with our vets regularly. Foster families usually ask about the time commitment and if they can foster even if they work most of the day. They also ask about their own pets and if they can foster if they have other animals.

ALLISON: How is the environment enriched for cats that are brought to the Nebraska Humane Society? Do you provide training for cats? Why or why not?

PAM: Cats at NHS get enrichment every day. Whether it’s a laser light in the cattery, or toys in our free roaming areas, we try to give them something to do. But they don’t get as much enrichment as dogs do, simply because we don’t have an easy way to get them outdoors like the dog walkers do. However, we do have people who come in and brush the cats, get them out of their kennels to stretch their legs, and then the planned enrichment that the staff provides.

We don’t provide much training for cats. Most cats don’t like to travel and are scared in the shelter. Even if people came for classes , the cats would likely not respond. We also don’t have enough staff to train the cats here.

ALLISON: What kind of behavior questions do you get about cats?

PAM: Most of the cat questions center around litterbox issues, or cats scratching and destroying things in the home. So our behavior helpline (which is free) offers up tips for getting a cat back on track. Our behaviorists usually advise to rule out anything medical, and then work to get a picture of the environment so they can offer advice on how to change it to help the cat.

ALLISON: How do you provide support for community cats?

PAM: Omaha has a “Cat colony caretaker permit” which allows responsible people to feed free roaming cats, with the goal of reducing their colonies through natural attrition. The caretakers offer food and shelter and then trap, neuter, and release the cats (TNR) back into the colony. The colony can’t reproduce so when the cats die, they don’t have offspring continuing the group. The cats in that program are brought to the NHS SNC (Spay and neuter center) for free sterilization. We also work with Feline Friends and others to trap, neuter and release so that we try to control population but still let those cats live their lives. And our SNC is low cost, so anyone who has a cat and wants to sterilize it can do so at a greatly reduced price.

ALLISON: Tell me about the Star Equine Rehabilitation Facility.

PAM: The Star Equine Rehabilitation facility is located on owned land that the owner allows us to use free of charge. Next door is an indoor arena that we are also allowed to use free of charge, so our trainer can work with undersocialized horses to get them comfortable with handling. Most of the horses we get are abused or neglected, so we often need lots of good food and time to get the horses healthy. Then they are worked with so that they can withstand basic handling. (you can put a halter on them, they will stand for the farrier and let their feet be lifted, they will load into a trailer ect.) We try to get most under saddle too because horses that can be handled and ridden are much more attractive to adopters than a horse that can’t be approached or ridden.

ALLISON: What are the best ways people can help the homeless pet population?

PAM: One of the best ways to help homeless animals is to be a responsible pet owner. License vaccinate and care for your pet appropriately. Spay and neuter your cats and dogs. If you want a pet, adopt from your local shelter or rescue groups. And help those groups continue their good work by donating your time, talent, or funding to them!

When Your Cat Won’t Use A Litter Box

Stock photo, Wikipedia
Stock photo, Wikipedia

If you’ve ever faced the challenge of a cat not using its litter box, you’re not alone. At least 10% of cats have litter box problems. These are one of the most common reasons cats are surrendered to shelters. To spare your cat this fate, there are a couple of things you can do.  The first step is to take your cat to the vet. If your cat receives a clean bill of health, the next step is try behavioral intervention.

MEDICAL REASONS

It is my general opinion that cats don’t stop using the litter box out of spite or anger towards you. They usually have a problem that they need help with.—Dr. Megan Ehlers, Ehlers Animal Care

According to Dr. Jody Jones-Skibinski of Cotner Pet Care, refusal to use a litter box should be considered a medical condition until proven otherwise. Dr. Megan Ehlers of Ehlers Animal Care agrees, saying that by inappropriately urinating or defecating, a cat might be conveying that something about their health is off. Dr. Jen Hiebner of Pitts Veterinary Hospital wrote that the right time to call a vet about bathroom issues is “ANYTIME!”  She advised that early intervention is vital.

What medical problems could cause a cat to stop using the litter box? Dr. Hiebner cited urinary issues such as infections, stones, or inflammation of the bladder. “Any of these can cause an increase in urinary frequency as well as pain and can cause the cat to seek more convenient places to urinate.” Dr. Jones-Skibinski offered the hypothetical example of Betty, a cat that was caught urinating outside the litter box. “A bladder infection was the final diagnosis. The infection caused the bladder to become more and more painful as it stretched to hold urine, until Betty couldn’t hold it anymore and urinated wherever she was to remove the pain.”

All three vets I consulted also advised that arthritis or general pain can be another reason that cats stop using the litter box. Unfortunately, pain is often overlooked in cats because they don’t always show obvious signs of discomfort. If your cat starts eating less, sleep more, or otherwise change its routines, you should take your cat to the vet. These symptoms may indicate an illness, which could also cause anxiety, depression, or other forms of stress, and lead to inappropriate urination.

A likely culprit in older cats is kidney disease which is a leading cause of death in cats. Knowing the risk factors and early signs is the best way to catch the disease while it can still be managed. Kidney failure is always on my radar, because my first cat died from it.

An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Dr. Hiebner advises cat owners to encourage their cats’ intake of water, which can help prevent many medical causes of bathroom issues. This can be done by keeping fresh water available, using water fountains, and restricting cats to canned food. Dr. Hiebner added that “Prescription foods are available to neutralize urine pH, decrease crystals, and can even contain supplements to help reduce stress in your cat.”

Stress can be reduced with Feliway (a calming hormone diffuser or spray), Zylkene (a milk protein that helps calm the brain), homeopathics (holistic approach to medicine) or even prescription stress medications. Arthritis or other medical issues can be treated both medically and homeopathically. Medications can be given in pill form, mixed with food, by injection or made into liquids or even transdermals which can be applied to the skin.  Veterinarians have multiple options to help your feline friend be healthy and happy.—Dr. Jen Hiebner, Pitts Veterinarian Hospital

BEHAVIORAL INTERVENTIONS

Underlying many of these issues is stress.  Despite the happy appearance of your cat, life can be scary. Seeing a cat outside, adding new family members, or simply moving the furniture can be enough to stress your cat.  Stress can cause a negative association with the litter box.—Dr. Jen Hiebner, Pitts Veterinarian Hospital

Stock photo, Wikipedia
Stock photo, Wikipedia

If no medical problems are found to explain your cat’s litter box issues, don’t give up hope. Behavioral issues can be treated. Below are ways to encourage cats to use a litter box.

Kittens: Contrary to widespread belief, kittens aren’t born knowing how to use a litter box. In the case of orphaned kittens, they may randomly choose a spot for their bathroom needs, and this could be your carpet or clothes. To prevent these accidents, you’ll need to place the kitten in a litter box after naps, meals, and play. You can further help your kitten by taking her front paws and showing her how to scratch the litter. My husband and I had to do this for a feral kitten that we rescued. If you show a kitten how to use the litter box a few times, she should catch on. Normally, by the time kittens are four-weeks-old, they’ll have been taught what and where the bathroom is by their moms. Even so, one of the first things you should do when you bring home a new kitten is to show it where the litter boxes are.

Strays: The same steps apply to a stray cat, except you might need to start with the material he most likely used outside, such as soil, sand, leaves, or grass. Make the switch by slowly changing the amount of old litter to new litter over several weeks. A stray cat will have had many sites to choose from; a negative experience could drive him to seek out a more secluded spot that will be less desirable to you such as the back of a closet. Make the litter box a desirable place by playing with him before putting down food, and after he’s eaten call him. Even if he doesn’t use the litter box, further encourage him by heaping on the praise for hopping into the litter box. The more positive his experience with the litter box, the more likelihood he’ll want to use it.

Occasional Litter Box Users: What about a cat who only sometimes misses the litter box? First, never punish her when she’s near the litter box. You’ll be teaching her that the litter box is a bad place, and she’ll be more likely to avoid it in the future. Second, clean and treat all soiled areas with an odor-neutralizing product. Third, if possible, visually change the most often soiled areas by adding a lampstand, an end table, or whatever would be suitable in those locations. Finally, if your cat sniffs around a forbidden area, redirect her gently but firmly towards the litter box.

Stock photo, Flickr
Stock photo, Flickr

Always Missing the Litter Box: If your cat stops using the litter box entirely, put on your problem-solving hat by asking yourself the following questions:

  • Is the litter box clean? At least once a day, scoop pee and poop from the box and replace old litter with about an inch of fresh litter. No less than once a month, clean the litter box with water. A little vinegar or lemon juice added to the water will help neutralize odors.
  • Is the litter box in the right location? Cats don’t like to soil the areas close to where they sleep or eat, so don’t put the litter box near these. They also prefer quiet and calm spots. Dr. Hiebner pointed out that if the boxes are in a utility room or basement, there may be noises that will cause your cat to avoid the area. If you have more than one cat, make sure the litter box isn’t in a location where one cat can corner the other. Cats should always have an escape route. If you have a dog that hangs around when your cat is using the litter box, Pet Coach suggests using a baby gate to block its access to that room. Place the gate a few inches off the floor so that only your cat can get under it or place the gate close to the floor and put a stool on both sides to help your cat jump over it. Finally, all three vets I consulted said that if there’s anything around the litter box that is causing your cat obvious stress, you either need to remove those things or relocate the litter box, as this might be reason enough for your cat to avoid the litter box.
  • Is the litter box the right type? Some cats fear covered litter boxes that hinder escape, while others feel more secure in them. Similarly, some cats detest the noise of self-scooping boxes while others aren’t bothered.
  • Is the litter box the right size? Cats need to have room to turn around and give the litter a few kicks. Also, it’s recommended that the sides be six inches high, but kittens and seniors will need at least one lower side.
  • Do you have enough litter boxes? The rule of thumb is to have at least one more than the number of cats, and to have at least one on each level of your home.
  • Is the litter the right type? Most cats prefer unscented, clumping litter. However, cats can be choosy about litter, so you should experiment with several types.
  • Did you change anything in your house around the time your cat stopped using the litter box? It could be as simple as a new mat underneath the litter box. If so, change it back!

If your cat is still occasionally or regularly missing the litter box, you might need to retrain him. Start by limiting your cat to a single room, preferably one with non-porous floors. Petfinder recommends a bathroom, which offers him privacy but also ensures he won’t be alone for prolonged periods of time. Provide him with bedding, water, and food on one end of the room, and a freshly cleaned litter box at the other end. A regular feeding schedule is also encouraged so your cat will develop a corresponding bathroom schedule. After he’s been successfully using only the litter box for at least a week, if possible, allow him access to other rooms one at a time. The best time to let him roam is right after he’s used the box. When your cat reliably returns to the litter box on his own, begin to cut back on the supervision. Do not rush this process; instead focus on building a solid foundation to set your cat up for success. Dr. Hiebner recommended also trying “Feliway” which is a calming hormone diffuser or spray that makes a cat feel more secure or “Cat Attract” which is an herbal additive designed to attract cats to the litter box.

Changing a behavior problem related to the litter box may take patience.  The cause has to be found, changes need to be made, and then finally determining the response to the adjustments.–Dr. Jody Jones-Skibinski , Cotner Pet Care

The above article is based on research, personal experience, and consultation with vets. My deepest gratitude goes to Dr. Ehler, Dr. Hiebner, and Dr. Jones-Skibinski who offered their expert advice on bathroom issues and cats.

Kindness Matters

I recently received the following message from an animal rescue volunteer: “Sadly, I have been struggling a lot in the animal rescue field. Sure, I’ll continue to donate and adopt from shelters or rescues, but I’ve just been burned financially and emotionally too many times by those in rescue. Too many folks in rescue are so blinded with helping save as many as possible that everything else becomes lost in the fray. As a pet foster parent, I always end up feeling forgotten and abandoned. After this current foster is adopted, I’m done.” As yet another volunteer wearied of the animal welfare field I began to think about those who are just starting out. The advice I’d offer them can be summarized in two words: Be kind.

Dear New Volunteer:

Welcome to the wonderful world of animal welfare! For many volunteers including myself, it’s a field where one forges multiple friendships and discovers one’s passion in life. Unfortunately, it’s also a field where one can sometimes drown in sorrow and drama. As you delve deeper into the animal welfare field, I encourage you to find balance by embracing kindness.

Be kind to fellow volunteers

The motto for the Best Friends Animal Society is “together we can save them all,” with emphasis on together. As animal welfare volunteers, we all have one motivation for giving our time, energy, and money to the cause—a love of animals. For that reason, working together should be easy to do. Unfortunately, we don’t always agree on the best way to help animals. Moreover, unity can be hard to practice when caught up in the emotional angst of a moment. One day a conversation in a Trap-Neuter-Release Facebook group turned mean. The discussion started when the sole caretaker of a feral cat colony vented about the physical, emotional, and financial toll her responsibilities were taking on her. Initially, others chimed in to commiserate. Next she started criticizing those volunteers who were “not in the trenches,” such as marketers, photographers, writers, etc. A few caretakers disagreed, only to find themselves a target of criticism. The discussion then disintegrated to the point that even those “in the trenches” were being criticized if they were part of a larger group instead of a one-person operation. As I read all of this, I felt disheartened. After all, when people who share a common passion can’t support each other, is it any wonder that so many animal welfare volunteers split off to start their own groups or quit the field?

In contrast, what follows is an example of a situation in which kindness and cooperation ruled. My husband and I were driving through Ohio, a two-day drive from where we live, on our way home from a vacation. At the hotel where we stopped overnight, I saw some stray cats, including one that was injured. I had no idea what to do other than to post a plea for help in at a Trap-Neuter-Release Facebook group after we got home. To my relief, no one judged me for not intervening myself, but instead suggested people I could contact. One wonderful woman, who has since become a friend, took up the call. She talked to the hotel manager and to residents about the cats. In cooperation with a spay-neuter clinic, she proceeded to trap the cats and have them spayed/neutered, vaccinated, and treated for injuries. She also enlisted the support of locals in providing continual care of the cats. At any point, this situation could have turned sour. My friend could have demanded cooperation from the hotel manager, which might have resulted in the cats being taken to the shelter, where no doubt they would have been euthanized. My friend could’ve blasted the residents or not taking better care of the cats, which might have turned them against the cause, leaving the cats without any caretakers. Instead, the situation had a happy outcome. The hotel continues to this day to manage the feral cat colony. In addition, four cats have been adopted.

Be kind to pet owners

The longer you volunteer in the animal welfare field, the more often you’ll hear the sentiment: “I love animals; I hate people.” If you scroll through enough media stories, there’s certainly justification for this negativity. Animals across our country are suffering and/or dying due to neglect, abandonment, hoarding, and even abuse. The longer you stay in the field, the greater the likelihood that you’ll personally encounter these situations. However, while sometimes the right response will be to advocate for legislation, report a crime, or confront a neighbor, the reality is that many pet owners act out of ignorance, lack of resources, or a feeling of being overwhelmed. In these cases, while it might prove hard to keep your emotions in check over questionable decisions, kindness to your fellow pet owner is the best action.

I follow pet forums where members can ask pet advice and even attempt to re home a pet, and sometimes the discussions get heated. A recent situation involved that of a pet owner with two senior dogs that had grown up together, but the one had turned aggressive in its senior years, and so the owner raised the possibility of finding another home for the aggressive dog. Some commenters offered empathy and/or practical solutions, while others accused the pet owner of being callous and even expressed the desire for the person to suffer that same fate as the aggressive dog, that of being discarded in his old age. While this particular pet owner remains active in the group, there have times when instead such bullying has caused a member to leave. While blasting a pet owner for what we view as wrong might feel good at the time, I question the long-term outcome. The pet owner will in the future feel reluctant to ask for help. In addition, in the absence of constructive advice, the animal in need will undoubtedly end up in a shelter where euthanasia is a real possibility.

In contrast, what follows is an example of a situation in which kindness and education ruled. Years before I met her, a dear friend of mine setup a non-profit, Lakes Animal Friendship Society, which is dedicated to improving the lives of companion animals in northern British Columbia. Through her volunteer work as a humane educator, my friend teaches residents about animal care while also providing practical solutions to community problems. Her non-profit started the Doghouse Project, which builds shelters for dogs and cats in need. The organization shares its designs online, making its practical solution available worldwide, so that “even more dogs and cats can have a place to stay cool in the summer and warm in the winter”. By offering pet owners practical assistance, her organization does far more to help animals than if she had chosen instead to berate pet owners who were not providing adequate shelter for their outdoor pets.

Be kind to those who don’t own pets

When you volunteer in animal welfare, you are a representative of the position that animals should be treated humanely. Each time that we interact with other people, especially those who don’t own pets, we have the opportunity to shape their opinion about animals and the humane treatment of animals. For example, this past month my youngest cat and I started visiting a senior retirement community. As we entered and exited the facility, we drew attention; people were surprised to see a cat in a stroller. The next two things to catch people’s attention were Rainy’s harness and leash. People are always surprised to learn that cats can be trained to accept a leash. People then asked about the reason for Rainy’s visit, which gave me the opportunity to tell them about therapy cats. This has led to people wanting to see Rainy up close and even pet her. These encounters might not convince anyone to go out and adopt a cat, but you never know. It’s better to be kind and sway people’s opinion of cats towards the positive rather than towards the negative. I grew up having no interest in cats due to hearing that they were independent and moody. It was because I found a special cat that my opinion of cats changed for the better. Now, with cat therapy, Rainy and I have the opportunity to shape other people’s opinions.

Be kind to yourself

Compassion fatigue is real. This became all too apparent to me when I began to read of suicides in the field. Dr. Sophia Yin, a veterinarian and internationally recognized pioneer in the field of animal behavior applied to pet training, took her life in 2014. Two years later, a veterinary doctor and director of an animal shelter in Taiwan made the news when she killed herself due to being distraught about her shelter’s euthanasia rate. She was only thirty-one. On the heels of these incidents, a recent study by the American Journal of Preventive Medicine revealed that animal rescue workers have a workplace suicide rate of 5.3 in 1 million workers. While these statistics are of paid workers rather than volunteers, sooner or later everyone in the field risks compassion fatigue unless we learn to be kind to ourselves.

Those who are involved in animal welfare and especially animal rescue are constantly bombarded with pleas for help and stories of abuse. When so many lives are at stake daily, cynicism naturally develops about the dedication of your fellow volunteers, the integrity of pet owners, and even your ability to make a difference. What about those who work with animals but aren’t involved in rescue? One dog trainer shared her experience online of how she initially expected “happy skies” because she was only working with responsible pet owners who loved their pets. Except then this trainer adopted a difficult dog, which led her to work with clients who also had difficult dogs, and this eventually took an emotional toll on her.

If you push yourself to the breaking point and end up leaving animal welfare altogether, that wouldn’t be good for anyone. Instead, by taking things more slowly and taking breaks, you’ll accomplish more in the long run because you’ll be able to stay in animal welfare longer. How exactly should you avoid burning out? The first truth you must accept is that you can NOT save them all. One day all of us together might turn the tide, but for now just focus on saving one life. If you do nothing else, this single act will change the life of that one animal and its owner; and herein you’ve made a difference. And on those days when tragedies happen, seek out inspirational stories such as those that shine a spotlight on the human-animal bond. You must also take concrete steps to ensure your life doesn’t revolve around animal welfare 24/7. Make time for family and friends, including your own pets. Focus on the parts of your life that you can control, such as a healthy diet and exercise routine. Ensure each day contains fun moments, whether it’s an hour of arcade games, a bubble bath, or a nap.

Animal welfare is a wonderful path to take! I wish you many blessed years on this journey upon which you’re about to embark. When I first started visiting a no-kill shelter to socialize dogs, I had no idea how many twists and turns my life would take. Nor how failures and successes I’d have, as I started to network with rescues. As you delve deeper into the field, you’ll probably find it hard to believe that one could never need a break. I fell into that trap myself, with the result that last year I found myself no longer getting any pleasure from the field. I finally decided to take last month off from helping animals. During that month, I decided which commitments to keep, and took time to enjoy life.

On an animal welfare podcast that I recently listened to, a guest speaker stated: “People are the problem; they are also the solution.” As you too pursue the path of animal welfare, please remember: Kindness matters, to fellow volunteers who care, to other pet owners, to non-pet owners, and to yourself.

 

Therapy Cats Q&A

This February, Rainy and I will start cat therapy visits! To ensure we’re ready, I’m making a to-do list and checking it twice. Thanks to members of the Facebook group, International Cat-Assisted Therapy (I-CAT), whose advice helped me craft my to-do list.

THE MANAGER

Back in the fall, when I first contacted the manager of the seniors’ home we’ll visit, she had questions for me. She wanted to know when we could start, what day and what time would work best, how frequent and how long visits would be, and whether we wanted to start in a common room or with one-on-one visits. After a brief discussion, we decided I’d start in February. December would be too busy because of the holidays, whereas January wouldn’t. Also, a visit from Rainy in the new year could be a great morale-booster for those who didn’t get to spend time with family in December. Based on advice from I-CAT members who said that novices should start slowly and not overwhelm themselves, I suggested one-hour weekly visits. As for whether to start with a group or with individuals, one needs to know their cat to make that decision. Although our veterinarian accessed Rainy as “social, inquisitive, and sweet,” I’ve observed that Rainy needs time to acclimate to new people, places, and situations. My instinct is that Rainy will more quickly adapt to meeting strangers one-at-a-time.

Having someone who is familiar with (and to) the residents is really nice for the first few visits, until they recognize you as Rainy’s person. Also, that way you can have help if someone decides they want to get a little overenthusiastic and grab or hold on tighter to (or want to keep) Rainy.–Karen Thompson

With February almost upon us, it’s my turn to have questions for the director. Rainy’s first ten visits must be supervised for her to receive her certification, so I need to ask the director if this can be done. I-CAT members also advised that I ask for a list of the people who would most likely want or need a visit from Rainy. This will give me a place to start. On subsequent visits, people can be added or subtracted as needed. At the same time, I-CAT members said I should be flexible, because even those who say “No” initially might change their minds once they see me visiting with others.

Pop your head in the door and in a sunshiny voice ask if anyone might be interested in a visit from a therapy cat. These folks often feel like they’ve lost control of their lives and will say “no” out of reflex, because this is something they *can* control. Be patient, have your chit-chat ready, and open-ended questions, and you’ll be amazed at the stories just waiting to spill forth from some people!–Dana Gary

THE SUPPLIES

In discussions with I-CAT members this past fall I had asked about the best ways to prepare for visits, and learned of a few needed supplies. Those include:

  • Nail Clippers: to trim Rainy’s nails and reduce the chance that Rainy will snag clothes or accidentally nick someone’s skin
  • Carrier/Stroller: for transportation
  • Harness & Leash: to provide me with control over Rainy and keep her safe
  • Blanket/Basket: to provide a safe space for Rainy and protect residents from germs and/or claws
  • Non-Alcoholic Wipes and Sanitizer: to protect from litter dust and germs
  • Grooming Supplies: to provide a way to interact with Rainy and count as physical therapy
  • Treats/Food: to reward Rainy for good behavior and give seniors the opportunity to feed her

When I began volunteering at a new organization, we got a stroller. This was easier than a crate, because we’d sometimes have to cover several floors (and even though he’s small for a ragdoll, he’s still 12 pound).–Michele Tilford

With February drawing close, I started to think specifically about the first visit, and this prompted some follow-up questions for I-CAT members. I wanted to know whether experienced therapy cat handlers preferred a carrier or a stroller. The consensus is that a carrier often works best for transportation to and from the facility being visited, but that a stroller often works best for the actual visits. One handler said that she put the carrier into the stroller during a visit. When her cat would try to get into the carrier, this signaled the handler that the visit was over.

I also wanted to know whether people/cats preferred a cat bed, blanket, or basket. Based on feedback, beds and blankets make it easier for cats to snuggle with a patient during a visit. A basket is a different story. Dannie Sayers informed me that “a cat navigating the laps (tummy sizes and knee positions) is always a challenge.” For that reason, if the lap looks too difficult to navigate, Dannie will keep her in his basket.

I can’t imagine not having a basket. The basket is in the stroller. All I have to do is lift him out while he is in the basket. The basket provides more and easier options when Tino is placed on a lap or an edge of a wheel chair. He also feels more secure in the basket if the resident is a little awkward while petting. Tino lets me know when he wants the blanket over the basket by stepping out of it to sit on a lap. Towards the end of the visit, he is tired and he usually stays in the basket.–Dannie Sayers

Finally, I wanted to know what type of brush I-CAT members recommended for therapy cat visits. X advised me to buy a Love Glove, a mitten that has soft plastic bumps on it. “I’ve found that people can be rough but, if they are rough with the Love Glove, it won’t hurt Rainy. Most brushes have metal or hard plastic which can hurt.”

THE HANDLER

Throughout my preparations, my focus has been training Rainy as a therapy cat and finding a facility for her to visit. I never thought about my role as a handler until my most recent conversations with I-CAT members. They suggested that I come prepared with stories about Rainy and questions for the people we visit. Stories could include where I got Rainy, funny “facts” about her, and her favorite things to eat and do. Questions could include: Did they have a cat growing up? What was the cat’s name? Funny things the cat did? Which of their parents liked the cat better? The most important thing is for the questions to be open-ended, as these encourage conversation.

Sometimes you may have to disappoint people who want to see her, but when your cat starts giving signals that they are done–licking lips, ears held funny, looking to get down/away, you need to stop. Assure them that you will be back and they will be at the top of the list next time! Depending on patients moods, energy levels, emotional states, Rainy may be able to visit 8 people one time, but only 3 the next. It’s never an exact science where you can say with certainty how many people you will visit. I have occasionally spent an entire visit with one person who really needed it. Don’t run the risk of turning them off therapy work by overdoing it, watch your cat closely for signals.–Dana Gary

OTHER

What I like so much about having other handlers to talk with is how much I learn from them. As part of discussing the first visit, the issue arose of how to help cats realize that some people are gentle and quiet while others might be rough and loud. The proposed solution was for me to have Rainy visit with family or friends and “ask them to pet a little on the rough side, be very loud, or even touch her in weird places, like her ears and toes.”

As far as when things don’t go well, just excuse yourself: Rainy needs a bathroom break, you need to get some more visits in, get her a drink, etc.–Dana Gary

The topic of tricks also arose. As anyone knows who’s followed my cat training series, I’ve taught Rainy to accept basic care, be well-mannered, and to do agility. Karen Thompson listed several skills that I hadn’t even considered, such as: settle down, hop up, look at the camera/phone, ask to be petted, soft paws (to use paw pads, not claws), no, yes, go over to ____ (individual, place, or thing), come here, walk with me (a “heel” command for on-leash walking), visit (for visiting behavior in general, to be used when out and about as well as to be used at home when cat is really hyper and wants to sit with a person).