KITTEN WIRE: HOW WE GET FROM FEARFUL TO FRIENDLY

OAKLAND — It usually starts with some stinky food.

When shy, stressed or sick young rescues arrive at Cat Town, we turn to proven techniques and time-tested tools — often extra funky food treats — to begin the socialization process. Then there's the way we talk to the cats. How we walk in a room. How we introduce toys. And the way we document each step so dozens of volunteers and the staff members who care for them understand their social progress.

The process of socializing our forgotten kittens — who range in age from around 4 months to 6 months upon arrival — is different each time. It takes a bit of technique, a lot of patience and the belief that each cat is deserving of the chance to be adopted.

To understand what goes into Cat Town's trailblazing Forgotten Kitten Project, and to learn a bit more about how each of you — our community of visitors, volunteers and adopters — plays a role, check out how we get from fearful to friendly.

1. FIND OUT WHAT MOTIVATES THEM

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As a volunteer who works with our forgotten kittens, I spend a lot of time trying to get frightful felines to lick stinky stuff off spoons, popsicle sticks, even fingers. Finding out what food motivates them and strategically and generously rewarding them with it is an essential technique. For a shutdown or especially shy young cat, getting him or her to eat a treat in the presence of a human is a milestone we celebrate and build on. Not all cats are food-motivated, which requires us to look for other ways to connect and build trust. But typically, for these young cats that missed out on human socialization in their formative early weeks, using food to forge a friendship is essential. Pro tip: We go through tons of treats. You can support our work by donating a care package via our Amazon Wish List.

2. GO AT THEIR PACE

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Sometimes people ask how long it takes to get an under-socialized cat ready for adoption. Like we discussed in a recent post, there is no timetable. They can stay at Cat Town or in foster homes as long as they need. Specially trained volunteers work with them every day to help them progress and build confidence. The first time they give us a slow blink, or they let their airplane ears relax in our presence, or they move about in the big adoption center with confidence — these are the breakthroughs we strive for. We know that with the right conditions, they will blossom into terrific companions.

3. TAKE HELP FROM OUR FRIENDS

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Cat Town couldn't do this work without the support of the community — from the partner organizations that provide supplies, the experts who teach volunteers like me about cat behaviors, volunteers who do hands-on work every day, and you, the visitors who interact with the cats, donate to the cause and adopt from us. By visiting, you are part of their socialization story. The goal is to get each cat ready to meet guests and adopters, which helps them further build confidence. Members of our Forgotten Kitten Project often start in smaller studio rooms, where you can meet with them when we feel they are ready. Other times, they move into the main adoption center where they have a chance to integrate with cats of all ages and different levels of confidence, and interact with even more visitors. It's a magical moment when we see these special youngsters chase a bell ball, seek out pets, or climb into a lap.  

We couldn't do all of this with out you. If you want to support the work we do with forgotten kittens and all the at-risk shelter cats we rescue, consider joining our nonprofit team. 

Learn more about our Forgotten Kitten Project in our weekly Kitten Wire dispatch. Be sure to check out our full series

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