KITTEN WIRE: 10 TAKEAWAYS FROM THE LAST YEAR

OAKLAND — We launched the Kitten Wire one year ago to document Cat Town’s innovative approach to rescuing older kittens — the ones who hide in their shelter cages, bolting from hands, hissing instead of purring. These are the kittens who missed out on positive human interactions in their first few months and are deemed “unadoptable” by traditional shelter standards.

  Building trust with older kittens takes time and patience, but is no where near impossible. Photo by Cathy Niland.

Building trust with older kittens takes time and patience, but is no where near impossible. Photo by Cathy Niland.

The Forgotten Kitten Project is changing that. We spent the last year providing a behind-the-scenes look at what goes into socializing these stressed or shy cats — and the results that we know are possible. Check out our top 10 takeaways from the last 12 months of working with forgotten kittens and enjoy photos of some of our favorite feline friends who were featured on the Kitten Wire.

1. The world is full of big-hearted adopters

Take, for example, the story of Natalie. A father-son pair took a chance on a shy tabby who spent many months withdrawing from pets and skillfully avoiding laps. It was only after her cat dads took her home did she fully blossom. 

"We knew that with a little love she would reveal herself," her adopter said, "and she has!"

2. Bonded pairs bring so much joy

Last summer, we met a pair of sisters who couldn’t be more different: Aspen was a confident, cuddly girl quick to climb into laps, while Leaf would often cower in the corner, growling. Volunteers worked daily with Leaf to help her get comfortable around humans. When a mother-son duo came along looking to adopt a kitten, they quickly fell for sweet Aspen but were also charmed by Leaf, recognizing all the progress she'd made. As a bonded pair, the two have helped each other adjust to life in their new home.

"Leaf not only needed a patient person, she really needed Aspen. She wouldn't have seen what it is like to be a confident cat."

  Aspen (left) and Leaf cuddled up in their Cat Town studio. Photo by Cathy Niland.

Aspen (left) and Leaf cuddled up in their Cat Town studio. Photo by Cathy Niland.

3. The weighter meaning of ‘kitten season’

The term "Kitten Season" has such a joyful ring to it. But in the animal welfare community, we know it means the time of year when unfixed homeless cats have their litters and shelters become overwhelmed, straining resources for all of the animals. We shared the key ways all of us can make a difference in preventing the overpopulation of homeless cats.

4. Modeling works

We told you about the heart-warming breakthroughs shy kittens have had after being paired with more confident ones, like the first time sweet Fawn eagerly accepted full-body pets from a new visitor after just a few days of shacking up with a rambunctious pair of outgoing kittens.

5. Fostering saves lives

The generosity of our community never ceases to amaze us. When there are cats in need of a loving but temporary place to land, volunteers have always stepped up and opened up their homes. Last summer, three different cats who came to Cat Town extremely fearful of people, blossomed in the care of foster parents and went on to find their happy ever after. Eloise, Summer, and Gwyn are reminders of the core mission of Cat Town.

6. Transformation is possible, if unpredictable

Sometimes we meet a cat and think this is a tough case  — will she ever be happy to see a human? And then they floor us with their quick transformation. Other times, socialization takes weeks or months. We can’t predict how long it will take for cats to show us their true selves after leaving the shelter cage behind, but we are certain of the strategies that make transformations happen.

  Suzy has made so much progress through the Forgotten Kitten Project. Photo by Liz Lazich.

Suzy has made so much progress through the Forgotten Kitten Project. Photo by Liz Lazich.

7. Patience is the key ingredient

Visitors often ask how long it takes for a cat to become socialized. At Cat Town, the answer is as long as it takes. Some cats we rescue are traumatized or recovering from illnesses. Others were homeless and had no positive human interactions. For members of the Forgotten Kitten Project, often the only human interaction they had before arriving at Cat Town was being put in a cage. It may take just days or maybe months, but we take the time to help each cat reveal herself, at her own pace.  

8. Play is important

When we first meet a cat, often our instinct is to stick out our hand and reach for pets. But that can be scary for some cats. A good alternative to begin interacting with an under-socialized cat is to play. We saw this work time and time again in helping build confidence with playful but shy kittens. 

  Tyra, like lots of Forgotten Kittens, has built confidence through play. Photo by Scott Russell.

Tyra, like lots of Forgotten Kittens, has built confidence through play. Photo by Scott Russell.

9. Cats can do tricks, too!

The concept of “cat training” is gaining more attention as animal behaviorists share the benefits and pet lovers dive into the various how-tos of using reward-based tactics to train cats to do things like sit, twirl and even high-five. We saw the benefits of this with a shy tuxedo girl named Alaska. A Cat Town staffer spent time rewarding Alaska with treats for tricks, and it helped her build confidence during her time in the Cat Zone. Now living her best life with her new family, this cat who high-fives has her own Instagram account, @alaska_fives.

10. Goodbye is hard, but always the goal

It’s a common question: Don’t you get attached to the kittens? Of course! Everyone who spends time in animal welfare knows saying goodbye can be heart-wrenching. We've had many bittersweet moments sending our charges off to their new homes. But goodbye is the goal — it’s what allows us to save more lives.

  Leaf heading home with her new family on adoption day. Photo by Marie-Luise Klotz.

Leaf heading home with her new family on adoption day. Photo by Marie-Luise Klotz.

First visit to the Cat Town blog? Learn more about our Forgotten Kitten Project in our regular Kitten Wire dispatches.

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