Poupack and Shiboo

Poupack braced herself against the blowing snow as the made her way towards her apartment building. Her hands and feet had begun to tingle in the biting Nebraska weather. No creature should have been outside in the miserable winter, but shivering next to Poupack’s apartment building was a black cat.

Poupack ran upstairs to her apartment for food. She and her husband didn’t own any cats, which meant they didn’t have any cat food on hand. Poupack settled for a piece of sausage. “The cat ate the sausage very fast,” Poupack said, “and I could hear her saying what sounded like ‘yum, yum, yum’.”

After the hungry cat had gobbled down the sausage, Poupack gestured to the cat to come inside with her. The cat backed away in fear.

For the rest of the evening, Poupack worried about the stray cat. She fell asleep dreaming that she had a black cat of her own.

While attending her university classes the next day, Poupack continued to think of the stray cat. She watched the minutes tick by and could hardly wait to drive home to see if the cat reappeared. To her delight, it did. Poupack wasted no time heading to the store for cat food.

Shiboo in her adopted home, Photo from Poupack
Shiboo in her adopted home, Photo from Poupack

She treated the cat daily to milk and food. Within a few days, the cat braved the threshold of Poupack’s apartment and ventured inside. Poupack had no qualms about spoiling the cat and soon her new companion was returning to her apartment every evening, where she would sleep on blankets surrounded by cat toys. “She became a good friend of mine. She purred in her blanket, and I knew she was happy,” Poupack said.

Three weeks later, on Christmas Day, it seemed as if Poupack and her husband had received a most wonderful and unexpected gift. Poupack detailed the night in a notebook: “The snow made everything white. I was making a potato soup to get warm and singing a Christmas song. That night I waited by the window, and I prepared a gift we had brought for our cat.”

But her new friend didn’t show. Poupack didn’t know what to do. As she tucked herself into bed that night, she felt sad and anxious.

The next day there was still no sign of the black cat. Poupack’s thoughts were a whirl: Did the cat get sick? Did she have food? Did she have a place to stay? “After a few days I had to accept that she was gone,” Poupack said. “Probably she went to another neighborhood.”

But while Poupack might have given up hope, she had not been forgotten by her new friend. After a long day at school, Poupack came home to the sound of a cat’s meow. Poupack shouted with joy, “This is her!” Indeed, it was her new friend. Poupack said, “She came to me, and I took her home, and I named her Shiboo.”

Poupack, her husband, and Shiboo soon became a family. Shiboo never strayed far from her new home, and she’d always come running when called. When inside, she happily received attention, and her purrs could be heard throughout the house.

Their story could have ended here but in March another surprise awaited Poupack and her husband. For several weeks, Shiboo had been eating more than normal, and putting on weight. “I thought maybe she is growing up or maybe she is getting chubbier,” Poupack explained.

In her notebook, Poupack wrote: I was getting ready for spring. The weather was still cold, but the birds were chirping. I fed Shiboo as usual, but she wasn’t very energetic. She laid down and she fell asleep.

In the morning, Poupack woke to hear small mews. “I thought I was dreaming,” a teary-eyed Poupack wrote in her notebook, as she described her discovery that Shiboo was a mother. “The kittens were very small and cute. Two of them were gray, two were black, and one was gray and black. I touched them. They were tiny, and they were drinking their mom’s milk. I put Shiboo and all her babies in a box. I was happy, and I went back to sleep. That night I got a special gift.”

Stan in his adopted home, Photo provided
Stan in his adopted home, Photo provided

Fast forward to May. Raising five kittens is a lot of work for anyone, let alone for a couple who had little experience with cats. By this point, the kittens were several weeks old. Poupack and her husband contacted The Cat House for help. In her notebook, Poupack wrote: Shiboo’s babies are growing up and ready to be adopted and to have their homes with other families.

On May 6, The Cat House called Andy and me. We’d been eagerly awaiting our first opportunity to foster for The Cat House, and the moment had finally arrived. That Sunday afternoon, we brought Shiboo and her kittens to our home. In my journal, I declared: In one afternoon, our household increased from three cats to nine!

Their first afternoon with us began quietly with Shiboo hiding under the bed, two kittens exploring the room, and three kittens snoozing in their crate. The calm lasted for about five minutes.

Then chaos! One kitten struggled to climb into a litter box. Another kitten crawled onto a scratching ramp. Two kittens romped on blankets. The first kitten finally succeeded in using the litter box, which meant that all the other kittens suddenly had to use the bathroom too. The kittens’ exuberantly flung cat litter everywhere. Soon one kitten was poking at Andy’s camera while another kitten was trying to haul himself onto our guest room’s bed by clawing his way up the comforter. Eventually, the kittens grew hungry and tired. Peace reigned again while they ate and slept.

In the month that followed, our days continued to be filled with a mix of calm and chaos. Shiboo warmed up to us and occasionally came out from under the bed to seek attention. The kittens clambered over us begging for food, playtime, and love. Andy and I soaked up every experience with them, feeling that we too had been a special gift in having the opportunity to foster Shiboo and her kittens.

At Poupack’s request, The Cat House had put us in touch with each other. Although Poupack and her husband were headed out-of-state to visit relatives, Poupack offered to answer any questions we might have and expressed the hope that we’d stay in touch. The same day that we brought Shiboo and the kittens home, I emailed Poupack a quick update and several photos. Every few days after that we exchanged emails. I asked what foods and toys the kittens liked best. I also shared lots of stories about them as they settled into our home and their personalities began to emerge.

On May 20, Poupack emailed to let us know that she and her husband were back in Lincoln and to ask if they could visit. They dropped by late that afternoon, bringing a thank you gift of chocolates. As soon as they saw the kittens, Poupack exclaimed, “Oh, they’ve grown!” Shiboo was hiding under the bed, but came out for food, and there was an instant connection. Poupack chattered at her, and later Poupack’s husband sat next to Shiboo and brushed her. While the kittens amused themselves with a turbo track toy, we made plans for future visits. Every few days for the next two weeks, Poupack and her husband came to see Shiboo and the kittens.

On June 1, Andy and I took countless photos and cried when we delivered Shiboo and the kittens to The Cat House. The heartache of letting them go was eased somewhat due to Poupack and her husband deciding to adopt Shiboo. Poupack’s dream of owning a black cat came true after all.

After briefly mourning her separation from her babies, Shiboo settled back into a comfortable indoor life. She ate well, slept well, and resumed the playfulness that she had lost during her pregnancy. In her fall, Poupack told me she had become used to talking with Shiboo at the end of a stressful day and giving her hugs. She also shared that Shiboo loves the puzzle toy we gave her.

Katie in her adopted home, Photo provided
Katie in her adopted home, Photo provided

Despite knowing that Shiboo had found her forever home, we missed our fosters. At the end of our June vacation, we eagerly visited Shiboo’s kittens at The Cat House. These kittens had spent a month with us, and had become part of our hearts. Seeing them again brought tears to our eyes.

Over the next few weeks, we continued to visit the kittens and rejoiced each time their numbers decreased. Katie and Chloe were the first to be adopted, then Stan, and finally Leo and Georgie were adopted as a bonded pair.

Katie’s adopter shared that, “Katie (now Finley) is doing great. She loves to snuggle and follows us from room to room. She has come to an understanding with our two dogs. They’re not exactly friends but they can sleep at separate ends of the couch together. She LOVES to play with little toy mice and will do that for hours. She has even learned not to bat them under the range or refrigerator. We absolutely love her.”

Stan’s adopter shared that, “Stan is doing well. He is the best! He bonded quickly with our ‘middle’ child cat. She’s two years old. They snuggle and play all the time. He loves to sleep with us & always falls asleep on our chests, purring very loudly. We love him dearly!”

Poupack could have ignored the hungry and shivering black cat next to her apartment building. Instead she offered her food, shelter, friendship, a name–and, finally, a home. When Poupack and her husband needed help with their unexpected cat family, we stepped in to foster Shiboo and her kittens through The Cat House. For a month, we gave of our home and our love. When the kittens were ready to be adopted, The Cat House took them into their building where they cared for them while they were visited by prospective adopters. And then as the summer wore on, each of the kittens were adopted by loving owners. So many people came together to find homes for this family of strays. My husband and I are proud to have played a part.

LAA & TCH Raised $9,000 at Meow & Chow

The ninth annual Meow and Chow, which took place the evening of October 27, raised $9,000 for Lincoln Animal Ambassador and The Cat House.

Lincoln Animal Ambassadors and The Cat House are grateful to the numerous businesses and individuals that donated food and prizes. Attendees dined on a selection of 18 soups, a dozen breads, and several desserts. About 100 prizes were won through numerous bingo games and raffle drawings. In addition, 75 people won M&M bags of various sizes.

Appreciation goes to Nature’s Variety for sponsoring the fundraiser and the Center for People in Need for offering the venue space. Also invaluable were the 50 volunteers working behind the scenes.

LAA and TCH also thanks the 200 diners who showed support by attending the event and buying raffle tickets.

By 5:30 p.m., energy ran high among diners as each table awaited their turn in the food line. Sharon, who has attended for several years, said she came to support a good cause and to reconnect with people in animal welfare. She always looks forward to trying a variety of soups.

After the meal, TCH volunteers Wayne and April Skoda called several games of bingo. Another long-time attendee, Lauren, said she appreciated that the services of LAA and TCH benefit the whole Lincoln community. Prior to attending Meow & Chow she hadn’t ever played bingo, and said she enjoys playing it.

The evening culminated in a raffle that featured an iPad, $250 Target Gift Card, Husker Football tickets for the Illinois game, and two Cat House embroidered red fleece jackets. Another long-time attendee, Mickey, declared that the whole evening was fun. She particularly likes all the opportunities to win prizes.

New this year, 12 diners entered the Halloween costume contest. The three top winners received raffle tickets and an assortment of other prizes. The winning couple dressed as superman and wonder women. Unfortunately, superman himself joked that “his kryptonite necklace may have caused them some advanced aging.”

Both Lincoln Animal Ambassadors and The Cat House are volunteer-run, and proceeds from Meow & Chow go towards their operating expenses. Lincoln Animal Ambassadors addresses the root causes of animal homelessness in the Lancaster County through a voucher-based low-cost spay/neuter program, an income-based pet food bank, and humane education. The Cat House is a no-kill shelter and adoption facility for cats in the Lincoln area. The group also runs a Trap/Neuter/Return program for feral cats.

Guest Post: Pet Safety in The Garage

We may not even know it but our garage holds items that can be hazardous to not only us but especially our pets. By understanding and taking the necessary steps to pet-proof the garage you will find peace of mind when your pet wanders around the garage.

Growing up my family had a Cavalier King Charles. He had a doggy door that led to the garage and out the back door so that he could go in and out as he pleased. This meant we always had to make sure there wasn’t anything left on the ground, especially something that could be lethal to him. However, it’s not only items left on the ground that are hazardous but flammable products or heavy items prone to fall over. These tips will help you make your garage safe for your pets.

Improperly Storing Chemicals

Leaving chemicals such as gas, antifreeze, and pesticides on the ground or out on lower open shelves means your pet could easily knock over and consume the chemicals. To properly store these items consider installing cabinets or high shelving. Place the items in sealable plastic bins so that if the bin falls over the chemicals will stay inside.

Falling Items

Extension cords, hoses, ladders and so much more can be slipped on, tripped on or knocked over in the garage. When these items are pulled or knocked out of place they could cause other items to fall on your pet. Overhead racks and hanging your items on a bar and hook system in the garage will help these items stay in place and out of the way.

Work Tools and Power Tools

When tools are left lying around curious pets may try to chew on them or may even step on them. Power tool cords are especially dangerous if a pet were to chew on the cord and could shock them if they are left plugged in. Instead, store these items in a cabinet or on a slatwall which will hold the items in place out of reach.

Having Too Much Clutter

Pets love to explore and get into things because they are curious. Taking the time to get rid of items you and your family haven’t used in years will not only clear up space in your garage but also make your garage safe for your pet. Get rid of old toys, expired food or chemicals, sports gear that doesn’t fit, and really anything else you didn’t remember you had.

Propane Tank And Fire Safety

A small leak can ignite a spark in a propane tank creating a fire or even blowing up. A pet could easily knock this item over. Propane tanks should be stored away from your home and away from any other flammable items. This also is a reminder to make sure you have a proper working fire alarm in your garage.

Dim Lighting

It’s not always easy to see your pet in the garage especially when your garage has poor lighting. Imagine pulling in or out of your garage and not being able to see where your pet is standing or laying down. By updating the lights in your garage or adding lights in areas that previously didn’t have any, you will be able to make your garage more visible and get rid of any areas that were previously shadowed.

Our pets are family. It’s important to make every area of our home safe for them. Once you have taken these steps to pet-proof your garage it will be easier to keep it that way so your pets and family members are always safe in the garage. We want to know, what is your favorite pet proofing tips?

Written by Olivia Waddell for LAA Pet Talk. Olivia is a community manage at Classic Garage Solutions here in Lincoln.

If you’re 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’re interested, please post in the comments and we’ll be in touch.

Rainy Out and About Town

After reading an article about dog-friendly businesses in downtown Lincoln, I decided to write my own article about cat-friendly Lincoln businesses. My cat Rainy and I visited five businesses this past summer. For variety, we also visited a couple of parks.

Panera Bread was the first business on our list. My husband, Andy, and I took Rainy and our toy poodle, Barnaby, to Gateway Mall for lunch on the patio at Panera Bread. While I stayed outside with the pets, Andy went inside to order our meals. When he returned, Barnaby eagerly claimed his lap, while Rainy admired the scenery from the comfort and safety of her stroller. When the server brought us our meal, he complimented our pets. Shortly after he returned inside, another server came out to see our pets. Either pets are a novelty at Panera Bread or are just well-liked by staff. Encouraged by a few table scraps, Rainy coaxed at this point to sit on my lap

Earl May was the next business on our list. Andy and I took Barnaby and Rainy with us to research the mulch, rock, and brick selections available at Earl May. Unlike Panera Bread, our visit was low key. No one paid attention to the little leashed dog or the cat in the stroller. For their part, our pets had no interest in mulch, rocks, or anything else Maybe this was a sign that they were already becoming at ease in public places?

In July, Rainy also visited two parks. One was a neighborhood park. When my friend Ingrid came for a visit, she joined me on a walk with Rainy and Barnaby. She walked Barnaby on a leash, while I pushed Rainy in a stroller. Barnaby was on a leash; Rainy was in a pet stroller. Near the end of our walk, children at a playground ran up to us and asked to pet Barnaby. When they noticed Rainy, they asked to pet her too. They also asked questions. They wanted to know why she was in a stroller, why she wore a harness, and when I told them she was an indoor cat they wanted to know why. It was a fun and educational moment that I’ve been able to repeat throughout the summer.

The second park Rainy visited was Holmes Lake. As with every other outing this past summer, Andy took Barnaby on a leash and I started out with Rainy in the stroller with the canopy closed. After we’d gone about half way around the lake, I decided to take Rainy out and let her explore–leashed, of course. Rainy is not yet a fearless adventure cat. She did not want to explore. She wanted to crouch next to the wheels of her stroller and hide As soon as I returned her to the stroller basket, Rainy relaxed and began taking in the scenery again. I tried two more times to expose her to the outdoors. One time was near the water’s edge, but Rainy didn’t show any interest in the water. Another time was on a rock, where Andy took photos of Barnaby and Rainy together. Not long after I placed her on the rock, Rainy showed more interest in hiding in the nearby bush than sitting on the rock, and so again I returned her to her stroller.

Home Depot was the third business on our list. This time, Andy and I took just Rainy. I walked into the store wearing my “Proud Pet Mom” shirt and pushing Rainy in a pet stroller. Suddenly, I was struck by how much I probably looked like a “crazy cat lady”. I wanted to turn heel and leave. Then I told myself that I had deliberately picked my outfit for a reason. As a cat advocate, I wanted to invite conversation. I took a deep breath and tried to look comfortable. While Andy deliberated his choices of door knobs and other supplies, I lifted up the stroller top so that Rainy could look out. She calmly observed the happenings around her and never once tried to leave. At the checkout lane, an employee told her she’s pretty and asked if he can pet her. Rainy remained her poised self and soaked in the attention. When we reached our car in the parking lot and I opened the back door, Rainy jumped out of her stroller and into our car. She’d enjoyed her adventure but was also ready to go home!

Hobby Lobby was the fourth business on our list. Once again, Andy and I took both Rainy and Barnaby. As is my practice before I bring a pet to any business, I called ahead ask about the store’s pet policies: “In the case of this particular Hobby Lobby, small dogs on a leash are accepted; bigger dogs must be restricted from jumping on anyone; cats must be in a stroller. Andy and I were on a mission at Hobby Lobby to find pet-safe ink. I wanted to make paw prints of Rainy to give to seniors that she visits. As we roamed one aisle and then another, a family stopped to ask if they could pet Barnaby. They ignored Rainy due to their having allergies, but Rainy eventually had her moment to shine. In the checkout line, the man behind us told me that he used to have a cat and that he missed her. I invited him to pet Rainy, and he said this made his day.

Petco was the final business on my list. During the past year, I’ve taken Rainy to Petco occasionally, but always just to purchase food. In one of the online cat groups to which I belong, a member mentioned that she liked to take her cat to pet stores to look at the various animals for sale. This inspired a recent visit during which Rainy and a ferret took great interest in one another. They even “touched” noses through glass. Rainy and the mice were also intrigued by one another. Or perhaps the mice simply wanted to put on a show. At any rate, they danced for Rainy, and she watched enraptured. We visited the birds, turtles, and fish too; Strangely, none of them caught Rainy’s attention. The birds were probably too high up in their glass enclosures, while the others frankly seemed to bore her.

Thanks to our summer adventures, it’s become clear to me that Rainy prefers to see new places from the safety of her stroller. But it’s also clear that she does like exploring, unlike our other two cats. They act agitated at even the idea of going in a stroller, let alone being out in public. They’re homebodies. In contrast, Rainy likes to meet new people and see new places. When we’re in a store, restaurant, or some other business, Rainy sits up to take in the sights. She’s also eager to greet people with a purr. Finally, I’ve discovered new reasons to admire Rainy. While at home she jumps on counters and otherwise gets into mischief, Rainy is a model cat in public. She’s friendly and calm at all times.

I wish to thank the businesses that allowed Rainy and Barnaby to visit. Not all allow animals and I consider it a privilege that some do. If Rainy and I inspire you to follow our lead, please call each business ahead of your first visit to confirm that pets are allowed. Also, ensure your pet is on a leash or in a stroller and is well-behaved during a visit. Then treasure your time together, take photos, and leave a comment here about your experiences. Who knows? Maybe one day taking pets with us on outings will be an everyday occurrence.

Veteran’s Dog Helped by Sadie Dog Fund

“Daisy!” John called from the hallway of the apartment complex where he lives.

Without hesitation, the 10-year-old Labrador retriever-border collie mix raced to her person.

As John stroked the gray-muzzled dog, Daisy showed no signs that this past April her life had been in danger from a life-threatening disease, or that in February her previous owner had died.

Instead, with bright eyes, perked ears, and a wagging tail, Daisy is a picture of friendliness and health. Energy vibrated through her as she greeted her visitors: me and her other guests.

Daisy had been a faithful companion for ten years to a veteran named Monte. During those years, Daisy became a familiar face to other veterans in the apartment complex, including John and Colin.

Colin and John had become friends with Monte through their shared love of dogs, and in Colin’s case a fondness for Daisy in particular. Daisy’s eyes reminded Colin of his dog from years back which inspired him to write a song for her.

When Monte’s health began to fade, Colin and John stepped in to help care for Daisy. They took note of her friendly personality, and called her “Little Miss Helper”. Colin said, “Daisy goes up to everyone and lifts them up.”

Then this past February, Monte passed away in his room. Daisy had been lying next to him, her head on his chest, when Colin found them.

“Daisy was down in her spirits,” Colin said. “I had presence of mind to say, ‘Good girl, Daisy, for staying with Daddy.’” With this praise, Daisy off the bed and danced around Colin.

He and John became Daisy’s new caretakers. According to Colin, Daisy adjusted fairly quickly to her new life. Colin speculated that one reason might be that the apartments in the complex are identical in layout, and another could be that he and John had taken over Daisy’s care prior to Monte’s death.

Aside from an ache in their hearts over the loss of Monte, life settled into a routine for the three. Daisy became a stabilizing force for Colin. “There have been times when I’ve been down,” Colin said. “Daisy makes me feel better and I want to take care of her.”

He noted that the same was true of some of the other veterans in the building. “A lot of the tenants here are recovering alcoholics and addicts,” Colin explained, “and Daisy brightens their lives.” Some of them will ask if they can take Daisy for a walk or even care for her for a day, which is how Daisy has earned the title of “Mascot of the Building.”

Then in April, Colin and John noticed a fatty deposit on Daisy’s shoulder. She was ten pounds overweight and the two didn’t think too seriously about the lump but did want it removed. After saving up $300 to cover the cost of surgery, they took Daisy to a veterinarian in May.

During what they thought would be a standard procedure, an infection was discovered in Daisy’s uterus. Their bill was going to increase by $700, a hefty cost for two veterans on fixed income. Yet the infection was part of a life-threatening condition called pyometra, and so there was no question in Colin and John’s mind of what to do.

By now, Daisy had become a lifeline not just for Colin and John but also to many of the veterans in their building. They arranged to pay $50 a month towards Daisy’s bill, while also applying to Animal Control for a grant.

Unknown to the two at the time, their veterinarian had contacted Sadie Dog Fund. Later in the spring, Colin and John received word that their bill had been paid in full. “We were ecstatic!” Colin said. “We thanked the Lord. Our bill being paid has been the biggest blessing financially, and we’re putting up flyers up everywhere about Sadie Dog Fund. I’ve also talked to another person who will need Sadie Dog Fund.”

According to Pam Hoffman, saving the lives of dogs is what Sadie Dog Fund is all about. Pam is the founder and director of the charity, which has a special fund for veterans. “We realize how devastating it would be for a U.S. veteran to lose their dog because of the inability to cover necessary veterinary expenses.”

Studies show that dogs can help veterans feel safe and calm. In addition, dogs can help veterans become more comfortable with family members, and give them a reason to remain part of the world. Pam recognizes that “dogs can be a lifeline for a veteran when humans can’t.” She hopes that Sadie Dog Fund can make a difference by being a resource “that Nebraska veterans can reach out to for financial assistance for their dogs’ medical needs.”

In addition, Pam feels a special concern for veterans who suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Studies show that dogs can decrease anxiety and depression simply due to their warmth, love, and companionship. Some dogs can even be trained to sense when their owners are having a nightmare and nuzzle them awake, or remind their owners to take medication. “Twenty plus veterans commit suicide each day in our country,” Pam said. “Sadie Dog Fund wants to be a part of reducing those numbers.”

On November 18, from 10 a.m – 5 p.m., Sadie Dog Fund will host a fundraising event for its Veteran’s Dog Assistance Program. The event is called “Pawsome Holiday Pet Portraits” and will be held at Cherished Images by Beverly at 6220 Havelock Avenue.

Support for “Pawsome Holiday Pet Portraits” and similar fundraisers will enable Sadie Dog Fund to help more dogs like Daisy. Thanks to the life-saving surgery Daisy received, Colin says his “little wolfie” is full of energy again. “You wouldn’t know Daisy is ten-years-old. She’s living her second puppy hood.”

7-Day Cat Training Crash Course

Cinder, Rainy, and I are going to school. We’re enrolled in the online school called Clicking with Your Cat, taught by Julie the Cat Teacher. So far, we’ve completed the 7-Day Cat Training Crash Course. This article will overview the course and share what we’ve learned.

The first series of lessons is called Welcome to Cat School. It includes a note from the teacher, an overview of clicker training, and a list of needed school supplies. In her note, Julie encourages students to take their time completing the lessons. I’ve appreciated the freedom to speed through some of the lessons and repeat others. As with all the Cat School lessons, the overview of clicker training includes a video demonstration, written explanation, troubleshooting tips, and access to Julie through email and Facebook. When I enrolled the course was free but didn’t include supplies; now it’s bundled with a $30 Cat Training Kit that includes a quiet clicker ideal for cats, The Karen Pryor Clicker Training Clik Stik™, and a 24-page step-by-step training guide written by Julie.

The second series of lessons is called Using Food to Train. Julie talks about the importance of having a food-motivated cat, and lists ways to improve one’s cat’s motivation for food. Then she discusses the different food options, dry and wet, and how to use them to train. Wet food turned out to be the most awkward and messiest for me to use, although like Julie I found puree of help for more challenging behaviors. Dry food remains my preference, with the drawback that with daily training Rainy was gaining too much weight. To offset the treats, I’ve reduced the size of meals and sought out the most nutritious treats. Last, Julie offers advice on how handle training in a multi-cat household. Her suggestion is to keep one cat busy while working with another; I train ours one-at-a-time in a separate room.

The third series of lessons is entitled Teach Your Cat to Touch a Target Stick. The topic is a huge part of the reason I wanted to take this course. Clicker training is relatively new to me. It’s also a skill that I find difficult to learn from printed material but prefer to see videos. The next step is to build on this gradually by moving the stick further away, with the result that the stick can be used to direct your cat to jump onto objects or go into a crate I taught Cinder and Rainy to jump onto their cat tower, cardboard boxes that serve as agility tables, and even a home gym. Julie next describes how to generalize the skill by using one’s finger to point instead of the target stick. Julie then describes how to use targeting to teach a cat to perform a relatively simple trick, using “spin” as an example. I’ve enjoyed teaching Cinder and Rainy to perform a command simply with a hand signal.

The fourth series of lessons, entitled Teach Your Cat to Sit, served as a partial review for me. All of our cats already knew the Sit command before I enrolled them, but I used the opportunity to enhance their training by combining a clicker. Julie covers two methods for teaching a cat to sit. The first uses food as a lure, while the second (called “capture”) waits for a cat to perform a skill and then rewards the cat. I’ve used the capture method in subsequent lessons to teach Cinder skills that otherwise she hasn’t grasped. I also intend to try using it with Bootsie, who has yet to progress past lesson four because she isn’t overly motivated by food.

The fifth series of lessons is entitled Teach Your Cat High Five, Low Five and Fist Bump. It took the cats and I into new territory. To teach a cat to fist bump, one must put a treat under a target that then one’s cat will push with her paw. After one’s cat successfully touches the target with her paw, one lifts the target. The final goal is to have one’s cat touch one’s hand with her paw. I must confess that initially I gave up on this skill with Cinder. She insisted on using her nose. When this didn’t result in my rewarding her with treats, she’d growl and walk away frustrated. My husband recently worked on the skill by capturing her in the act of extending a paw and since then I’ve been able to teach her to touch a target for a treat. I also must confess that I cheated in how I trained Rainy to do these skills. I first tried using clear objects to cover the treats, then tried a Kong-like toy. When nothing worked, I searched online for a video about how to teach a cat to fist bump. The video I found suggested holding one’s hand up and having a treat visible between the fingers. Rainy figured out that touching my hand earned her a treat, and then generalized the idea so I could teach her high five, low five, and fist bump.

The sixth series of lessons is entitled Teach Your Cat to Come. It returned us to familiar territory but I did learn an invaluable new technique. For the first step, Julie instructs: “Toss a treat away so your cat gets a little bit of distance from you.” I don’t know why this idea hadn’t ever occurred to me before, but until this class I had always been the one to create a distance by stepping away from my cats. Thanks to generalizing this idea, I now enjoy playing chase the treats with my cats. The idea has been particularly useful with Bootsie. She’s not an overly active cat, but by turning mealtime into a game where she has chase her food, I’ve been able to get her to lose some needed weight.

The seventh and eighth lessons teach similar skills. The seventh lesson is called Teach Your Cat to Jump Through Your Arms and the eight is called Teach Your Cat to Jump Through Your Legs.” As with all Cat School lessons, I got to see a video demonstration and read a written explanation. The troubleshooting tips proved invaluable here. Prior to enrolling in Cat School, I’d tried to teach Cinder and Rainy to jump through a hoop, but both preferred to go under it. They made a similar choice when I tried to teach them how to jump through my arms, but then I followed Julie’s recommendation to place an obstacle under my arms to force them to jump, and now they can jump through a hoop and over one arm and over one leg.

Despite their still needing to master jumping through both arms and legs, a skill they only perform when my husband lures them with treats, I consider us graduates of the 7-Day Cat Training Crash Course. The final assignment requires to combine four of the behaviors we learned in the course. You can see our successful completion of this assignment in the video on this page.

The tenth and final lesson suggests some ways to find more tricks and training ideas, a few of which don’t require enrollment in Julie’s Cat School.

  • Subscribe to Cat School’s YouTube channel for more tricks and ideas.
  • Join Cat School’s Facebook group to meet others who enjoy cat training.
  • Share your training on Instagram.
  • Email a testimonial (helloATcatschoolDOT.com) or leave Cat School a review on its Facebook page.

Videos aren’t my forte, and so I have been lax as a student in posting my cat training progress. This article (with its two videos!) therefore serves as a thank you to Julie for the creation of her economical cat training courses, free supplementary materials, and accessible communication. I’ve already enrolled in another one of her courses, Teach Your Cat A Secret Pawshake, and so expect a write-up about it later this year!

The Pets of Lincoln Downtown Businesses

Three years ago, an article appeared on the Downtown Lincoln Association’s newsletter about the pets of downtown businesses. It was the brainchild of Gabriella Martinez-Garro, marketing coordinator for DLA.

“Working for the Downtown Lincoln Association has a lot of perks,” said Martinez-Garro, “especially getting to know the ins and outs of the neighborhood.” Martinez-Garro loves meeting business owners and telling their stories through the association’s newsletter.

As a dog owner, Martinez-Garro is always looking for dog-friendly places to take her dogs, and wanted to create a list for other dog owners to easily access. “The response has been overwhelmingly positive,” said Martinez-Garro. “Many people have utilized our list and been grateful for the guide.”

Martinez-Garro’s research led her to also spotlight the pets of downtown, believing that they deserved to be profiled due to being favorites of customers. To find downtown’s furry friends, Martinez-Garro contacted businesses contacted businesses that she knew had resident pets. At the end of each interview, Martinez-Garro asked the owners if they knew of other downtown businesses with resident pets.

Although Martinez-Garro isn’t aware of any downtown businesses that welcome cats, she told me that there’s more than one business with resident cats. A Novel Idea and Trade-A-Comic are two such businesses that she included in her article. The profiles, Martinez-Garro said, have been well-received. “People loved to read about the pets they often see in their favorite downtown businesses.”

Photo from Bluestem Books

Inspired by Martinez-Garro’s article and my own visits to businesses with pets, I conducted a few of my own interviews.

Thirty-four years ago, Scott and Pat Wendt opened Bluestem Books in a former warehouse. After discovering a number of resident mice, they added a kitten that they named “Thurber” to the staff. “We don’t believe Thurber ever actually harmed a mouse,” Pat shared, “but the population decided to move on.” Over the next 17 years, Thurber made hundreds of friends—and won the “Employee of the Month” award 206 times.

Photo from Bluestem Books

A few years after Thurber died, the Wendts created a Customer Relations Department. In charge of it they put a small, fluffy puppy named Don Diego. “Like Thurber the cat, Don Diego also won hundreds of hearts during his 2005-2016 career,” Wendt said. Don Diego, a Havenese who’s named after Zorro, made sure to greet each customer who enters Bluestem and could often be seen sporting baby socks to help reduce the symptoms of his seasonal allergies.

After losing Don Diego to bladder cancer, the Wendts hadn’t planned on adding another pet to the staff, but life surprised them when Miss Maribel joined the bookstore a year ago as a trainee. Miss Maribel is a Havanese too and Don Diego’s grand niece.

Photo from Bluestem Books

Like her predecessors, Miss Maribel has brought happiness to an ever-widening circle of friends. “Well-behaved animals in the workplace can be a source of love and happiness for employees and customers,” explained Pat.

Since 1976, there’s been some kind of dog at State Printing. For 42 years, staff and customers have been treated to the presence of a cocker spaniel, black retriever, and four German Shepherd at the privately-owned company. The two current German Shepherds are nine-year-old sisters, bought from a rural breeder in Nebraska.

When I asked owner Lonnie Simpson why he brings dogs to work with him, he replied, “This isn’t being smart…. but we bring them because we can.” Simpson said most of the customers enjoy seeing the dogs and ask about them, while the rest don’t care and ignore them.

Occasionally, a customer even forgets the dogs are there. Simpson told of one long-term customer who came to the business after a long absence. He’d forgotten about the dogs. When the dogs barked, they startled him, and he said, “I need to go home and change my pants.”

Katie (L), Kirby (R)
Photo from Trade-A-Tape Comic Center: Katie (L), Kirby (R)

Trade-A-Tape Comic Center has had a resident cat in its business since 2006. Katie was found in a downtown alley in sub-zero temperatures one February. Despite being a street cat, she allowed herself to be carried and petted. Her friendliness led owner Larry Lorenz to believe she’d been abandoned by previous owners, and so he gave her a new home.

John Doan, an employee, said that Katie sleeps a lot and loves attention. “She’ll often come right up to customers begging to be petted,” said Doan.

Unknown to Lorenz at the time he rescued Katie, she was pregnant with three kittens. One of the kittens died and another was adopted by a friend, but Herbie remained at the comic book store. Doan described him as having, “a unique personality—grumpy yet needy, brave yet hiding at the oddest thing. Kirby is very affectionate with some people, and stand offish to others.”

According to Doan, most of Trade-A-Tape Comic Center’s customers love the cats. “Kids get excited upon seeing them and often rush up to pet them,” said Doan. “We always advise asking us beforehand though, for safety reasons.”

Doan added that the Trade-A-Tape Comic Center staff enjoy when a customer picks up Katie up and walks around the store with her in their arms. “Katie seems right at home then, purring and content,” said Doan.

Photo from Downtown Lincoln Association
Photo from Downtown Lincoln Association

For this article, I also contacted Burlington Antiques. At the time of Gabriella Martinez-Garro’s article, Jeff and Diane Cunningham owned a ten-year-old dog named Max, whom they had adopted from the Capital Humane Society. They had assigned their dog Max to act as the Canine Executive Officer (CEO) of their thirty-year-old business. Martinez-Garro described Max as a friendly dog, who especially loved kids and had a fondness for customers who gave him treats. Unfortunately, Max passed away in June of this year. The Cunninghams still miss him, and haven’t gotten another dog.

As noted in her article, “For many downtown businesses that house animals, this relationship extends beyond the owner and to the customers as well … Each adds a unique element to the stores they call home.”

To read more about downtown’s furry friends, check out of Gabriella Martinez-Garro’s article, which includes additional profiles.

If you own a Lincoln business with a resident pet, Lincoln Animal Ambassadors would love to hear from you for a follow-up article.

To find dog-friendly downtown Lincoln businesses, check out the Downtown Lincoln Association’s list. For a list that includes dog-and-cat friendly places in Lincoln, see Lincoln Animal Ambassadors’ list.

Guest Post: Seniors, Loneliness, and the Pet Solution

Written by Aurora James for LAA Pet Talk. Aurora believes there are no bad dogs. She created DogEtiquette.info to share her dog training tips and advice to dog owners everywhere. DogEtiquette.info welcomes and encourages anyone to use its infographics in their writing. It simply ask that you please cite and link to them as the source.

Stock photo, Pexels
Stock photo, Pexels

Pets provide unconditional love, comfort and support, which make them the perfect companions for seniors. The loneliness problem in the senior community is real. According to a recent University of California in San Francisco survey, more than 40 percent of American seniors experience loneliness on a regular basis. The lack of social connection and emotional isolation is as damaging to a person’s health as smoking 15 cigarettes a day. There are even connections between loneliness and the progression of cognitive decline and issues such as Alzheimer’s disease.

Taking care of a pet does more for senior than just reducing loneliness. Pets provide a sense a purpose for seniors as they know that another creature relies on them for care and affection. They also help keep seniors active as they have to get up to feed them, take them outside, bathe them, and play with them. Furthermore, pets reduce stress, anxiety, and can even ease feelings of depression.

When it comes to picking out a pet, seniors do have particular needs. It’s not typically the best idea to get an older person a young cat or dog. Kittens and puppies are needy, rambunctious and more likely to wreak havoc on a person’s home and belongings. In the end, a baby animal may actually cause stress, not reduce it. That’s why it’s best to look for an adult animal whose personality is already established and compatible with the person’s own personality.

Not picking a kitten or puppy is just the start. Consider the following with helping a senior adopt a new pet companion.

  • Adopting from a shelter saves a life and your small adoption fee goes back to helping more animals in the community. Plus, shelters have adoption agents that will work with you to find the perfect pet for your situation.
  • Consider the senior’s living situation when deciding what kind of pet to adopt. A large dog needs a yard or some sort of outdoor area where he can run off leash. Cats tend to do better with smaller spaces and are perfect for people living in apartments. Of course, you can’t convince a dog person to get a cat. Luckily, there are plenty of apartment-friendly dogs out there.
  • Cats are great for people who prefer staying indoors as well as those with mobility issues as they don’t need to be walked.
  • If adopting a dog, be sure to go over dog-walking safety with the senior. Make sure they have the right kind of leash and collar. Provide reflective gear they can wear if walking the pet at night. Finally, go over training the dog and how to let him approach other animals in the street.
  • Help the senior set up their home for the new pet before its first day. Provide water and food bowls, toys, a bed, potty pads/litter box, and any other pet accessories they may need.
  • When it’s time to bring the pet home, let the new companion explore the new place. It can be exciting having a new animal in the house, but be patient.

Pets are perfect companions for seniors as they reduce loneliness, provide a sense of purpose, encourage activity, and reduce feelings of depression and anxiety. When helping a senior pick out a pet, avoid a young cat or dog that will only disrupt their environment. Instead, look for an adult cat or dog well-suited for their situation, so they can reap all the benefits of pet ownership without all the headaches.

If you’re 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’re interested, please post in the comments and we’ll be in touch.

Guest Post: Emotional Support Animals Vs Therapy Pets

Are you like me and thought you knew the difference between an emotional support animal and a therapy animal?  Upon doing some more in-depth research, I found that I did not know much if at all between the two.  Did you know that guinea pigs can be emotional support animals and therapy animals, talk about a win-win!

Emotional Support Animals

An emotional support animal is defined as a companion animal in which a doctor sees beneficial for someone with a disability.  Most emotional support animals are dogs, but there are other animals suited for this task also.

Did you know an animal doesn’t need the training to become an emotional support animal? I’d like to add that in recent years some courtrooms have provided emotional support dogs to those who’ve been on the stand to give a testimony; the dog is right there beside them providing comfort.

Most emotional support animals help a person that has anxiety and/or depression, but they’re not limited to those specific areas. Emotional support animals has even been proven in some cases to be more helpful than medication for depression/anxiety.

Therapy Animals

A therapy animal is defined as an animal that provides treatment for a person. Therapy animals also can be used in providing medical care, behavioral, and emotional care. Therapy animals can be in a wide variety of places such as nursing homes, prisons, schools, and libraries.

The most used animal for this type of task is a dog, but other animals such as cats, birds, and horses have been certified as ones too. The most important requirements are they like meeting new people and going new places. Therapy animals teams will also need to pass an evaluation.

Guinea Pigs

These little creatures are a compact way to provide comfort either as an emotional support animal or therapy animal. Speaking from personal experience, after my husband or myself would have a stressful day, just petting our boy guinea pigs would help. Guinea pigs can be very loving and entertaining, providing an excellent source of laughter and a feeling of well-being to a person.

To serve as a therapy animal, the guinea pig should remain as calm as possible without a nibbling session. Some handlers during sessions recommend the use of veggies or fruits as an incentive for the guinea pig. For a moment, a person interacting with a therapy guinea pig can forget what’s going on and just enjoy life.

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.

More Therapy Pet Teams Needed

Rainy and I dropped in on a patient who I had been told was missing her cat. She held and petted Rainy as we talked about our cats. When the time came for us to leave, she looked up at me from her hospital bed, and with a big smile on her face, she said, “You made my day!”

Pet therapy teams bring happiness to others. Unfortunately, there aren’t enough teams to meet the need.

Shaundra Montague, a State of Nebraska Certified Activities Director and Dementia Practitioner at a retirement community, said that she’d like to increase the number of therapy pet visits at the retirement community where she works. “Right now, I’m at about once a week. My residents would love more.”

Jillian Harold, in her position as a Hospice Volunteer Coordinator, utilizes pet therapy teams to enhance her patients’ quality of life, believing that pet therapy teams provide comfort, peace, and soothing companionship for those who are on their end of life journey.  “Many of our clients or their family members request therapy pets because they once had pets but are unable to care for a pet full time and miss that bond with them,” Harold said.

Studies have found that therapy pets provide a number of benefits: releases the happy endorphins, lowers blood pressure, improves cardiovascular health, and decreases physical pain. Mental benefits include: encourages communication, increases socialization, provides comfort, lowers feelings of isolation and alienation, and lessens depression and anxiety.

At the facilities where Montague and Harold work, a variety of therapy pets are welcome.

“Any pet could be a therapy pet,” said Montague. “The residents at my facility love to learn about the animals. We have a bearded dragon that sometimes visits, and they love her!”

Harold also pointed out, “Some clients have allergies or other restrictions and being able to offer them visits from other animals is important.”

To serve as a therapy pet, a pet must be fully vetted. Facilities will need copies of all current shot and bill of health records. Proof of certification is also required.

The certification process varies dependent on the group and sometimes the species. The most important criteria are that a pet is friendly and calm, will wear a harness and leash, and enjoys meeting new people and visiting new places.

While the therapy pets are important, Montague stressed that their human handlers are an essential part of the team. “They add so much value to people’s lives. Yes, the pets get loved on, but the conversations and bonds are also real. My residents like to get to know the handlers and chat about everything.”

During a recent visit to one of our regulars, a resident clasped my hand and told me she looked forward to our visits. The feeling was mutual. I squeezed her hand, and promised to return. On our next visit, maybe we could demonstrate a few of Rainy’s tricks

If you’d like to team with your pet to bring hope and happiness to others, please don’t hesitate to contact a pet therapy group or email me at allisontalkspetsATgmailDOTcom. The need is great, and the rewards are immeasurable.