Is it really my turn?
This is what was going through her head, when her adopters came to bring her to her forever home. She had watched some of her friends in the socialization room leave with nice people and not come back and she wondered, “Where did they go? Will I ever find a family?”
And the answer is yes, Golden. It’s your turn for a forever home. Even more exciting is your best friend Overlord is going with you! Once she realized this, I think Golden, in true cat fashion, did her inner version of a happy dance, excited to start this new adventure but not wanting to reveal how thrilled she was.
Golden arrived at the shelter in 2011 and took up residence in “the brick,” the main shelter building. When her friend Shelley got scared, she would run to Golden and she became Shelley’s friend and protector. It was clear that Golden was an alpha cat with a sweet side.
When it came to people though, she wasn’t particularly interested, which is a bit of a problem for a cat in a shelter that is hoping to get adopted. Golden needed to get comfortable with human interaction if she had any hope of finding a home so, in 2014, she was moved into the socialization rooms in the house (along with her friends Shelley and Mary Lou) and became a member of the Feline Charm School.
The Gifford Feline Charm School (FCS) was started to help the shelter’s under-socialized cats become more comfortable with people and, as a result, move out of the shelter and into forever homes.
The socialization steps were modeled on a program created by Best Friends Animal Society, and modified by a Gifford volunteer to meet the needs of the free-roaming shelter (the original program was used with caged cats that had been rescued from a hoarding situation). Using lessons geared towards slowly increasing a cat’s comfort level with touch, the volunteers utilize various brushing tools, transition into petting with hands and eventually get the cats comfortable with having their two front paws lifted off the ground then all four paws. The lessons can be adapted to meet each cat’s comfort level and sometimes require taking one step forward and one step back, based on the cat’s response.
The cats are never forced to interact with volunteers and to encourage them to enjoy the lessons, they are rewarded with a treat at the end of each session. In order to help the cats in the FCS slowly increase their bond with people, interactive play sessions are incorporated with the lessons, where the cats can chase toy mice, bat wand toys, flip catnip toys in the air or have volunteers guide them on a laser light chase around the room. The focus of play, as are all the techniques used in the FCS program, is to get the cats to associate people with good experiences by letting them do what comes naturally….stalking, chasing, and catching prey.
Golden had clearly established herself as the queen of the room and generally got along with her other cat roommates. She was receptive to the FCS lessons and got used to being brushed and even enjoyed petting. Her bond with Shelley slowly faded as Shelley excelled at the lessons too and got adopted. Golden didn’t seem to bond with anyone else in the room.
Then one day, the volunteers and staff started to notice that Golden and Overlord were almost always next to each other, eating out of the same bowl, bumping heads and brushing up against each other, with their tails intertwined. It was incredibly cute how Overlord seemed to defer to Golden and what she wanted, like a King looking after his Queen. When potential adopters that were initially interested in only Overlord, came to the shelter to meet him and saw how cute the two of them were together, they didn’t have the heart to separate them and decided to adopt them both! The adopters were experienced cat owners that were willing to give two shy cats a try.
The staff and volunteers that work with these cats, and the countless hours and patience they give to help them get adopted, are an essential part of the Gifford mission as a “safe haven” for cats but particularly scared and reserved cats like the FCS cats. Many shelters would deem them unadoptable and not worth the effort but Gifford is willing to give them the time they need to feel safe.
Golden and Overlord’s adopters with a Feline Charm School volunteer
When you visit Gifford and walk up the stairway to the “shy” cat rooms, take some time to read the testimonials from the adopters of these cats. In their own words, they will tell you that these special cats are willing and able to trust and love and that one of the greatest rewards they give is letting you know you are the one they have chosen to trust.