A green-eyed gray tabby named Roxanne has been at the Simply Cats shelter more than six months — the longest of any cat in their care.
But volunteers are optimistic that she will get adopted soon because she’s been learning some new tricks through Cat Pawsitive Pro, a socialization program created by “My Cat From Hell” TV show star Jackson Galaxy.
Now the 2-year-old tabby, who gets a little grumpy without enough play time, high-fives like a champ. She repeatedly tapped her paw in the palm of shelter volunteer Jerome Berner’s raised hand Tuesday morning, happily devouring a treat after each trick.
“It’s astonishing how fast they learn things,” said Sandi Perkey, a volunteer at Simply Cats for about 12 years. “After one session, they’re on it.”
Simply Cats is the first Idaho shelter to participate in the program, working with five cats since February. Three of those have since been adopted, several volunteers said.
In a phone interview from Los Angeles, Galaxy told the Statesman that he came up with the idea of teaching cats to high-five when he was working in an animal shelter in the 1990s. He found that teaching a series of simple behaviors was a way to help calm and connect with the cats. It nurtured a bond and made the cats more adoptable.
“The high-five is a culmination of a bunch of other smaller things,” he said. “Just getting them to come to you from the back of the cage, just getting them to touch their nose, these are things that help tremendously. You do have to start small. Remember that we’re dealing with animals that are shut down to one degree or another.”
Simply Cats volunteers have been working to help a cat named Critter come out of his shell. Initially, he was so scared that he’d hole up in his cubby and barely acknowledge anyone. Now he comes when called, Berner said.
“While not as exciting as high-fives or rolling over, this is arguably the biggest success so far,” said Nicholas Edge, Simply Cats outreach program coordinator.
With information they get from weekly webinars, Simply Cats volunteers use clickers and dehydrated chicken treats to get the cats’ attention and direct their behavior.
“One of the big differences between dogs and cats — cats are not wired to please us,” Galaxy said. “Because of that, we need to rely on food. That is the entry point.”
The volunteers are enthusiastic about the new training program, despite some challenges.
“They keep coming back after getting scratched and bitten by our more scared or feisty participants,” Edge said.
This is the second year of the Cat Pawsitive program. So far, more than 100 animal welfare groups have participated, helping 1,000 cats get adopted, organizers say. They’re hoping those of you who already have cats will participate in the 2nd annual Cat Pawsitive National High-Five Day contest.
Here’s how you do that: Read an online tutorial on six steps to teach your cat to high-five, and then submit photos and video of your cat to the contest here from April 18 to May 16. Galaxy will pick the top 25 entries for the public to vote on from May 20-June 2. The top three will be announced June 3.
The winner will receive a $5,000 for the shelter of their choice and an invitation to join Galaxy in attending a birthday party for Internet cat sensation Lil BUB. Second place is a $3,000 grant to a shelter, and third place is a $2,000 grant to a shelter.