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July 2, 2024

The Importance of Feline Enrichment: A Shelter Director’s Take

EC Michaels

It’s another busy summer season here at Cat Care Society. As is typical for this time of year, we are seeing a rise in requests to take in cats as we — and many other shelters — navigate the influx of kittens. As we head toward the final peak of the season around October, we also have several irons in the fire for CCS’ future. You may have noticed some construction recently as we install a new elevator. More special projects are in the works to ensure our building can best serve the cats in our care.

In our summer 2024 Cat Care Quarterly, you will find several articles about cat behavior and enrichment — two topics that we’ve been focusing on lately that you will hear more about! It’s so important to us to offer experiences that help build the minds and bodies of our feline friends so that they are happier, healthier and more adoptable.

But there are actually some common misconceptions about why exactly enrichment matters. In fact, research about cats has been significantly behind what has been done for behavior modification in dogs. Why is this? While there is a long and varied list that has brought about this lag, much of it is related to the idea that cats are more independent and not as social as dogs.

Posing a potential risk to the public, animal welfare policy has been directed at statutes focusing on dogs as well as the creation of animal shelters to house them. This focus is partially why they’ve received the bulk of behavioral research! Unfortunately for cats, they haven’t received the same level of support until recent years.

Throughout my time working in shelters, I’ve seen a few trends play out. Dog owners experiencing unwanted behaviors often think about working with a professional to resolve an issue. Plus, it’s easier to find a dog trainer than a cat behaviorist. Cat owners are more likely to view a problem as unfixable (or too hard to fix) and rehome or surrender them.

Some shelters don’t take in cats in the first place, and even more aren’t able to offer formalized enrichment to the cats in their care due to capacity. The flip side of this is that cats are more at risk for health issues in shelters because they don’t handle stress well. Additionally, behavior exhibited by cats is often  labeled incorrectly, limiting our ability to create possible interventions and support plans.

That’s what we’re trying to change. By building a comprehensive cat enrichment and behavior program, we hope to begin slowly changing the narrative and evening out these trends. Cat Care Society has long been dedicated to supporting cats and their owners through adopter education and seminars. But now, we’re ready to take it a step further. We want to up our game and offer better avenues for cats in our care to exhibit normal behaviors. The opportunity to learn to trust humans, to play with toys, stimulate their senses and increase their physical and mental development, is something we are so passionate about and excited for.

When we take in unsocialized or fearful cats, we’ll now have a system for them to gain confidence faster, to address their needs in meaningful ways and create opportunities for those who have a need that has gone unfilled.

We couldn’t do this work without the support of our partners, though. We are so thankful for the other shelters in our area who trust us to take in their animals and work with them successfully. Because other rescue groups — especially those in rural areas — don’t have the same resources, we welcome their animals to our facility to work with our medical and behavioral team and have a real chance.

We have seen countless animals who weren’t thriving in other shelters or a prior home come out of their shells and completely transform once they’re in an environment that offers them the space and support to blossom. No shelter is the same as a home, but the closer we can get to that, the better a cat will do. Our free-roaming spaces and enrichment opportunities means that these kitties can become their true selves, find their natural behaviors and let their personalities shine. This makes adopters be able to envision that cat in their home easier and have a more successful adoption story. And every adoption — and foster home — means that we are able to help one more cat have that same opportunity.

If you’re looking for more information on cat enrichment or need help finding a behaviorist, please visit our website’s Resources, Enrichment and Blog pages, or reach out to talk to us about how we can help!

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