Glenwood Springs shelter selected for national, feline life-saving initiative
Program proves the paws-ibilities are endless for cats in need of a home
Colleen Hickman is a firm believer that all cats can share a positive connection with their owners, sometimes it just takes intentional interactions to make this sort of relationship possible.
Colorado Animal Rescue (C.A.R.E.) was one of 11 shelters selected across the country to participate in the Cat Pawsitive Pro training program to improve on the work they’re already doing to help shelter cats come out of their shell and have more confidence when potential adopters come to see them.
“I think cats are often really misunderstood so implementing something as meaningful as … just playtime or enrichment in your home really does make a big difference,” Hickman, feline specialist at CARE said. “Cats can give you back so much and they’re so awesome and rewarding when you give them the chance to be.”
The program was founded by The Jackson Galaxy Project (JGP) and made possible by the Petco Foundation and GreaterGood Charities. Jackson Galaxy formerly starred on the show “My Cat from Hell,” and often said there was no such thing as a bad cat, just a cat in need of help, and the program’s partnership with shelters follows this ideal to a tee.
CARE will be paired up with an animal behavioral specialist and sit in on Zoom meetings with her to discuss cat behavior and review footage from enrichment exercises they are putting into practice.
“We’re really excited to expand after this. We plan to become a hub and share these resources with other our partner shelters in the area so they can also work on more things with their cats, so it’s gonna go beyond just us. … Being a resource in our area for people who already have cats at home, adopters and cats in our shelter,” Hickman said.
When Hickman hears people say their cats hide under the bed all day long and that they’ve just accepted them as reclusive, she said this isn’t indicative of the cat not wanting anything to do with them.
“There’s a lot of misunderstanding like ‘oh cats are bad, I got my hand clawed by one,’ well that was probably for a reason. They’re big communicators but it’s about knowing the signals and what they’re communicating about.
Cats can come into the shelter in a range of states, some close to feral and others with high confidence already. Hickman said the shelter’s goal is to meet the felines where they are. The current enrichment program aims to keep the cats mentally stimulated through interactive play, reading books or playing podcasts, grooming and a slew of other things that will have them use their five senses.
“Some of our cats when we first started the program were almost at a semi-feral borderline, they came from a hoarding situation. … We started by rewarding them just for making eye contact, which is a big deal. … It’s these little baby steps we take to reduce stress and let cats know we’re not here to harm you, you’re in a safe place and it’s a rewarding situation, where that cat is now up and rubbing, rolling around and happy,” Hickman said.
In addition to the animal behavior specialist, Hickman said the shelter staff and volunteers will be provided with learning materials on how to interact with various cat dynamics and be a part of a Facebook group where they can share challenges and success stories with other shelter workers in the program.
Hickman said the enrichment activities aren’t meant to be like a cat circus, showing off high-five skills or other tricks, but intended to reduce the cat’s stress during their time in the shelter and prepare them to be as comfortable and confident as possible for when their future owner does come along to meet them for the first time.
“I always try to follow up with adopters just to be like how’s this cat doing. … The stories you hear, you know kind of just melt your heart because knowing where this cat came from to now it’s so happy with it’s new family is the whole goal.”
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