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Alliance Magazine_Winter 2016

A NEW LIFE for Hoarding

A NEW LIFE for Hoarding Survivors By Lisa Stemcosky Behavior and Training Specialist 4 ALLIANCE

On the evening of July 19, animal control and humane law enforcement officers with the Humane Rescue Alliance (HRA) removed 63 cats and kittens from a home in Northwest Washington as part of a case of hoarding and inhumane treatment of animals. The vast majority were kittens under a month old who were placed in foster homes. Several adult and adolescent cats were taken to our adoption center on Oglethorpe Street. All of them were unsocialized and shut down. MUSIC, TREATS, AND MORE The first thing I did was set up a boom box and put in a CD called “Through a Cat’s Ear,” a collection of classical music recorded acoustically for the feline ear and proven to relieve stress in cats, setting the player for play and repeat. Then, armed with syringes filled with baby food and packages of flaked salmon, my behavior and training colleagues and I went to work. Our first goal was to help these hissing, swatting, growling cats to develop a new association with us approaching them. For this, we used classical conditioning, the pairing of two stimuli to produce a new learned response. In this case, really delicious food appeared when people approached. Several times a day, we would simply open a kitty condo door, present ourselves, and deliver a yummy dollop of chicken baby food or flakes of salmon. Some of the cats ate, some didn’t. A handful of the cats hissed, swatted, or charged at us, but we didn’t stop. By the third day, we started seeing a difference. We celebrated little victories. Cliff, a stunning white cat, had moved! He was no longer curled up under his raised bed; he was sleeping on top of it. Bowie, a handsome ginger tabby, who would hiss and spit at anyone who opened his cage, blinked his eyes at me, a feline signal for “I mean no harm.” CONTINUE ON PAGE 6 ALLIANCE 5

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