By Dr. Becker
Not too long ago I wrote about Bideawee1, an animal shelter in New York City that installed remote-controlled cat toys to help enrich the lives of resident kitties, and hopefully improve their chances of being adopted.
The toys are manipulated by visitors to the shelter's web site, allowing them to interact with the kitties in real time.
But the New York shelter isn't the only facility taking steps to improve the lives and adoptability of the cats in their care.
Rethinking Housing for Shelter Cats
The cats at the San Diego Humane Society shelter2are housed in a separate facility from the dogs to alleviate the stress kitties feel surrounded by barking dogs all day and night.
The feline shelter residents at the Animal Rescue League of Boston3get to hang out, play and socialize in the lobby one morning a week before the doors open for the day.
Shelter housing isn't ideal for any animal, but it's especially difficult for cats.
Felines are naturally territorial and don't do well emotionally or physically in situations where they have no control over their daily lives.
Dr. Martha Smith-Blackmore, former president of the Association of Shelter Veterinarians, puts it this way:
"The constant stress of barking dogs, crammed conditions and the inability to socialize and play can lead to suppression of the immune system and greater risk for upper respiratory diseases, ringworm, gastrointestinal upset and more in cats."
Five Ways Animal Shelters are Making Life Better for Feline Residents
- Cat-friendly quarters. Most kitties aren't comfortable in the typical shelter kennel, so some facilities are installing roomier condo-like accommodations that give cats multiple sleeping and hiding places. There's also plenty of room for kitties to stand, scratch and stretch out without disturbing the litter box or food area.
- Human interaction. Contrary to popular belief, most cats need recognition and regular human contact. Workers and volunteers at some shelters are making it a point to interact with resident cats by using their names more often, brushing them, and providing extra TLC to kitties who are feeling under the weather.
At the Animal Rescue League of Boston, shelter workers bring one or two cats to their office each day to hang out and get socialized to the presence of humans.
- Entertainment centers. In an effort to enrich the environment for cats, some shelters are installing flat-screen TV's so kitties can cure boredom by watching feline-friendly videos.
- Compare and contrast displays. Some shelters are using lobby displays to showcase two very dissimilar cats. For example, they'll put an adorable kitten in one display and a less adoptable cat that has been at the shelter awhile in the other display.
For some reason this compare-and-contrast approach works, and at the Animal Rescue League of Boston, the average stay for all cats has dropped from 6 weeks down to 3 weeks.
- Using social media to encourage adoptions. In San Diego, the Humane Society shelter creates videos of adoptable kitties as they interact with people, play with toys, and generally appear irresistible. At the end of the video viewers can click on one of three buttons: Adopt Me, Sponsor Me, or Spread the Word.