1 year ago

Alliance Magazine_Winter 2016

“Four weeks after

“Four weeks after these cats were removed from deplorable, inhumane conditions, four of them were made available for adoption. Lisa Stemcosky Behavior and Training Specialist ” 6 ALLIANCE

I blinked my eyes at him and he blinked back. Reciprocating eye blinks—yes! Sia and Sybil, two of our adolescents, approached the front of their cage and sniffed a hand. Rick, another ginger tom, however, was still hissing, spitting, charging, and swatting. While each of the cats progressed at their own pace, it was obviously time for some of them to move on to the next step: touch and engagement. Using operant conditioning, we rewarded the cats with a tasty treat when they performed the behaviors that we wanted to encourage. If a cat offered eye contact, moved forward, or touched their nose to a trainer’s hand or a target stick, we would mark the behavior with a clicker and give them a highvalue treat because behaviors that are reinforced have a higher likelihood of being repeated than those that aren’t. Again, some cats continued to become more comfortable with us while others…not so much. RELOCATION BRINGS REWARDS Three weeks into this process, one of my colleagues had an idea. Because these cats had never been confined and had lived amongst one another, perhaps we should move them to the behavior and training department office where they could move around at will. One by one, we loaded cats into carriers and took them to our office. Some of the cats were easily handled while others had to be wrapped in a towel to reduce their stress. Rick was his usual fractious self and had to be cornered by carrier until he stepped inside. We placed the carriers on the floor of our large, multi-person office and opened the doors, letting the cats come out at their own pace and explore. For the next two days, our team continued with the plan, tossing treats toward the more cautious cats and rewarding touches and pets with the more social ones. One day, three cats—including Rick!—were lined up next to each other beside my desk. So I sat on the floor and placed a few flakes of salmon in front of each of them, which they all ate. I repeated this exercise over and over. Then, I began to rest my hand near them without giving any food. If they solicited any kind of engagement, I rewarded them. When it was Rick’s turn, he reached out his paw toward me in an inviting way; I moved my hand closer and he rubbed his cheek and head on my hand! On August 16, exactly four weeks after these cats were removed from deplorable, inhumane conditions, four of them—Sia, Sybil, Georgie, and Rick—were made available for adoption. And by September 10, all of them—including Rick—had begun new lives in loving homes where they receive the care and individual attention they deserve. Bowie soon followed and it’s just a matter of time before Cliff, too, gets a happy ending and new beginning of his own. RESCUING RICK When I saw Rick, I knew I needed him. It was definitely love at first sight. My boyfriend Peter and I adopted him the Tuesday after Labor Day. When we first got Rick home, he hid in the bathroom, wouldn’t look at us, and was very scared and unsure. Within two weeks, however, he started trusting us more and more. I think we set ourselves back a day or two when we took him to the vet, but he has since forgiven us. Rick is a happy, healthy kitty. He loves the cat tower we got for him and is finally comfortable and totally trusting of us as cat parents. He loves his food, his treats, his feather toys, and his laser pointer. He greets us at the door, meowing nonstop; it’s his way of saying, “I want food!” or “Play with me!” He’s active and spry and a total crack-up once he gets going with his eye on the prize (his feather toy or catnip mice.) Anytime I nap on the couch, Rick comes up and sleeps right in my lap. He wakes me up by sniffing and licking my face and is so sweet and gentle. I am so glad we were able to give Rick the home he deserves. He is a beautiful and wonderful kitty and just gets better and better each day. BRITTNI W. ALLIANCE 7

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