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Rainy started her week with a visit from two of our friends. In the middle of the week, we worked on established routines. She finished her week with a trip to a major pet store.

Two weekends ago, friends from out of town came by for a visit. We invited them to visit our critters before going out to eat. The critters include our 13-year-old toy poodle, our reclusive tortie that we adopted from Tia’s Place at Hearts United for Animals, a former feral cat, and our irrepressible Rainy that we adopted as a stray kitten. Our poodle was all kisses, while our tortie wanted to sniff faces, and our feral observed from the safety of the living room cat tower. As for Rainy, she displayed a cautious curiosity. Proud pet mom that I am, I wanted to demonstrate what our cats can do. We ran through a few obedience commands (sit, stay, twirl), and I also pulled out the agility jumps. Then I handed treats to our friends, who took turns getting our cats to perform. The cats were naturally nervous, but also complied with requests.

During the week, after breakfast, Rainy and I kept up our grooming and obedience routines. I brought lots of cat snacks, so that she would associate grooming with good stuff. At the same time, I didn’t just hand out snacks but instead made her work for rewards. After I cleaned her ears, which get dirtier than that of our other pets, I asked her to “Hi-Five”. Then I brushed her, even though she barely sheds, and ask her to stand and twirl (dance). I finished up by cleaning her teeth, and asking her to do her favorite trick: roll over. All done, I put a treat in my mouth, tell her “Kiss!” and let her take it from me.

Establishing a routine hasn’t been easy. I was initially reluctant to add regular training to my schedule because of the time commitment and because I thought it’d be a chore. I finally just decided to start. I picked to work with Rainy on training near mealtimes prior to my getting absorbed in other activities. Then I simply stuck to our schedule until it became routine.

At the end of the week, my husband and I took Rainy with us to run some errands. This is a new experience for me. I’ve taken dogs on errands before, but never cats. Rainy and Andy wait in the car while I make a couple of deliveries. At Petco, it’s a different story. Rainy can come with us. We loaded her into the pet stroller. Rainy sat up, alert to passing cars. When we got inside, we filled our shopping cart with treats, food, and litter, Rainy relaxed for a ride in the stroller. As we shopped, I heard the occasional “Aw” from fellow shoppers. In the checkout line, the customer behind us, and I shared how our two cats like it for walks and about where we purchased it.

Back at the car, I spoiled Rainy with lots of treats. When we return home, she flops onto the living room floor for a stretch and snooze.  Adventure is exhausting!

Reprinted with permission from Lincoln Animal Ambassadors Pet Talk. This article is original in content and not to be reproduced without permission. Copyright 2017.

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The month of July was a full one for Rainy. We practiced a few items on the Canine Good Citizenship test. In doing so, we revisited clicker training, visited a friend, and toured a store. Oh, and we played on an agility jungle gym.

Why is Rainy working on the Canine Good Citizenship test when she isn’t a dog? Because prospective therapy dogs must pass it, but there is no such test yet for felines. What type of items are on the test? The first five items test a dog’s ability to politely and calmly meet strangers, while the last five cover obedience commands and the dog’s ability to handle distractions and separation. I figure that Rainy is learning how to handle the first five through her supervised visits; the others I want to focus on practicing at home.

One of the basic obedience commands tested in the CGC test is, “Come.” Rainy has been struggling with the command, so this week I decided to revisit clicker training as a way of teaching recall. For clicker training, one uses a small metal noisemaker to mark desirable behavior, and then rewards with a reinforcement such as a treat. When watching online clicker training videos, I realized the importance of marking the tiniest sign of obedience. I used to reward Rainy only if she fully obeyed the command. Now the instant that Rainy head towards me, I click and reward. Rainy doesn’t always make it to me or take a straight path, but the point of clicker training is to shape a behavior. The more I clicked and rewarded each time she obeyed, the more improvement I saw. (You can read a longer version of how to teach “come” on page 16 of Lincoln Kids.)

Another item on the CGC test is a demonstration of the pet’s ability to ignore noisy distractions. I enlisted my husband to help with this one. I called the cat trio into the kitchen, rewarded them for coming, and then asked them to sit. When they started to sit, Andy dropped an object on the floor. He started with a quieter item and proceeded to louder ones: first a cardboard tube, then a pill bottle, then a spoon. Despite a history of noise aversion, Rainy wasn’t fazed by any of these distractions. Next time, we’ll practice with louder noises.

As I noted, the first five items test an animal’s ability to meet strangers. This week, I accepted an invitation to take Rainy to visit a friend. When I opened the door of Rainy’s carrier, she didn’t want to come out. To help relax her, I offered her goat cheese from my hand. She ate it. To encourage her to come out of her carrier, I sprinkled a trail of cheese leading away from the carrier. She didn’t take the bait. I placed a blanket on the floor, added some cheese, and then simply lifted Rainy out of the carrier. She didn’t protest, but instead ate the cheese and sat next to me. Next, I moved the blanket closer to my friend and added more cheese. Rainy ate the cheese and sniffed my friend. I gave my friend some cheese and Rainy accepted cheese from her hand. Finally, I put the blanket on my friend’s lap and placed Rainy onto it. Rainy laid down and allowed my friend to pet her. When Rainy got down, she took time to explore, but eventually retreated under the bed. Visit over!

At the online International Cat-Assisted Therapy group, some owners of therapy cats shared that they had started their training by going to indoor places. When I told this to Andy, he suggested we visit Sit Stay, a small pet store. While my husband searched for just the right dog treat, I pushed our pet stroller up and down the aisles. Unlike one of our cats who hisses when I take her places in the stroller, Rainy sat upright and peered at the sights. The store clerk was impressed! So was I! After Andy bought a bag of fishy pet treats, I unzipped the stroller. Rainy peeked out and let the store clerk pet her. Another success!

For a long time, Andy and I have talked about having a pet enrichment day, on which we would rearrange our living room to give our pets a new environment to explore. This week we did this, and in doing so treated our dog and cats to an agility jungle gym. Our other two cats weren’t too sure about the new arrangement; Rainy took it all in stride. She jumped onto the boards placed on chairs, raced through tunnels, and climbed onto the heights of the cat tower. At one point, I followed her into the bigger tunnel. When she turned around and saw me following, she flopped down as if to ask, “What are you doing, Mom?” Then she leaped to her paws and zoomed about the tunnel as if to say, “Some fun, eh?!” The other two cats finally decided to in on of the action. Our pet enrichment afternoon was a blast!

Most nights, Rainy joins me in bed at night. She curls up under my arm and then snuggles with me until morning. Our life is full and my girl is happy!

Reprinted with permission from Lincoln Animal Ambassadors Pet Talk. This article is original in content and not to be reproduced without permission. Copyright 2017.

Rainy continues to train as an agility cat. Her veterinarian has also signed papers needed for her to train as a therapy cat. I’ll write more on that later. For now, let me tell you about our past week. It included our return to a nearby park, introduction to a puppy, and a social with one of my friends.

I’ll start with our return to a nearby park. As usual, I took Rainy to the park in our pet stroller and then let her out on leash when we arrived. As she sought refuge underneath a bench, I sat and sweated and tried not to have doubts about our goals. A father and his son stopped to chat with me. The boy was wearing a hat with cat decals. He wanted me to see it and to know that he liked cats. His father told me that his son liked the speed of cats. After the two left, I picked Rainy up and placed her on the bench beside me. She didn’t try to get down but instead ate goat cheese from my hand. I decided to push her to the next level by walking around with her in a grassy part of the park. Rainy sat and politely refused to budge. Her ears remained perked and her eyes stayed wide, vigilant to the activities and noises around us. Not being able to get her to relax, even with treats, I placed her back on the bench. When we had enough of the heat, I encouraged her to walk with me to the park entrance. Rainy showed no resistance to this idea and seemed to enjoy the short stroll, perhaps because the nearby bushes gave her a stronger sense of security than the more spacious grassy area had.

One might say our outing was a partial success. But I had doubts due to her slow progress, enough that I decided to ask questions at some Facebook groups. First, I posted in a cat agility group. Unfortunately, no one in the group could offer any advice. Cat agility is still in its infancy. While there are at least two professional organizations that host cat agility shows, no one in my group has ever tried training their cat to do agility outside of the privacy of their home.

Having struck out with the cat agility people, I next posted to International Cat-Assisted Therapy (I-CAT). Why does cat therapy have to do with agility? Well, if Rainy is to do agility outside of our home, she needs to feel comfortable with new people and places. And if she can be comfortable in strange situations, she might as well become a therapy cat, right?! To be honest, I’m still figuring out the best ways to meet Rainy’s needs, hence, the questions I posed to the therapy group. This time I got better results. The therapy group’s members graciously told me about how they had started with small INDOOR spaces, then moved to bigger INDOOR spaces, and only then ventured OUTSIDE. A few mentioned that their cats didn’t particularly care for the outdoors. Nonetheless, many did fine with the hustle and bustle of hospitals and schools. Their responses renewed my hope!

For our second adventure, I decided to introduce Rainy to a new dog. The cat therapy group members advised me that therapy cats may very well encounter dogs. I admit that this makes me nervous. After all, some dogs and cats are mortal enemies—especially those dogs with a strong prey instinct. For that reason, I will always want to closely monitor Rainy’s encounters with dogs. In this instance, however, I feel relatively safe. The dog we’ll meet is a three-month-old toy poodle named Toby. He belongs to my in-laws. We have a toy poodle of our own, and so Rainy is already comfortable with the breed. Puppies make me less nervous because their lives are centered around play. And if we’re going to continue to take our pets with us when we visit my in-laws, Rainy and Toby need to get acquainted. All the same, Andy and I took precautions. I sat with Rainy in our in-laws’ dining room and let her simply observe their dog from the safety of my lap. Rainy and Toby were curious about each other, but neither pulled out their claws or bared their teeth. Next, we put Rainy and Toby on opposite sides of a baby gate. Then we dropped morsels of food and let the two of them sniff each other through the gate. Again, they remained friendly. Success!

For our final adventure, I took Rainy with me when I went for a walk with a friend. My friend walked Barnaby and I pushed Rainy in the pet stroller. We visited the Hamann Rose Garden. When we reached the first gazebo, I unzipped the pet stroller to give Rainy some food and water. She immediately wanted out to explore. On the ground, she sniffed the bushes and listened to the rush of traffic. As with the park, I then deposited her next to me on a bench. To my surprise, she curled up next to me and seemed content. My friend took photos. We caught up on news while the pets relaxed. Eventually, I returned Rainy to her stroller, but only because it was getting late and not because she had requested it. I’m not sure what was different about the two locations, but Rainy seemed truly comfortable on this outing. What a great way to end the week!

Reprinted with permission from Lincoln Animal Ambassadors Pet Talk. This article is original in content and not to be reproduced without permission. Copyright 2017.

“Feed us!” the cat trio meowed.

“Privacy!” I scolded.

But the cat trio ignored me. Why should they care that I’m taking a bath to relax? All they knew was that their internal clocks were telling them it’s time to eat.

I sighed and turned another page in my book. Rainy jumped on to the edge of the tub. She butted my book with her head. I smiled and stroked her chin. She purred and tilted her head towards me. I put down my book and held out my hands. She let me pick her up and hold her.

Thump! Cinder jumped on to the toilet seat. And then back down. Her tail swished back and forth. I glanced at her. She scuffed the bathroom rug with her claws. Rainy squirmed out of my hands. Pounce! She landed on Cinder and the two began to wrestle. Yowl! Cinder unwrapped herself from the squabble and left.

All this time, Bootsie sat on the sidelines. My bath interrupted anyway, I reached my hand out to her. Bootsie turned and let me scratch her back. Then she faced me and leaned forward to sniff my fingers. I didn’t have any food. She stared at me and then turned to leave too.

Except at that moment, the bathroom door swung further open. Barnaby strutted in and wagged his tail. I cupped my hand in my chin. “You have a very cool bone,” I told him. He dropped his bone and tapped his feet on the floor. “I’m going to eat your bone!” I teased him. He barked, picked up his bone, and ran out the door.

Bootsie followed him, leaving me with just Rainy. She stared quietly at me. I gave up and let the water drain out of the tub. When the water was gone, I once again picked Rainy up. This time, I placed her in the tub. She explored, lifting her feet like a ballerina, as the paws hit the wet surface. I watched her and laughed. Then I picked up my book and headed to the door. In a single bound, Rainy jumped out of the tub and then barreled past me to the kitchen.

“Feed us!” the cat trio meowed.

“You win!” I answered.

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A small black ant fell on our living room carpet. From her resting spot on our recliner, Bootsie instantly perked up. Her ears twitched. Her eyes widened. This got the attention of our other two cats. They followed her gaze. Cinder’s shoulders hunched. Rainy crouched. Prey!

I stroked Bootsie’s ears and kept watch with the girls. The ant wandered along the edge of the television cabinet. Andy left the room and returned with toilet paper. He slid a thin sheet under the ant. It ran to the edge, but didn’t jump. Instead it scurried this way and that. Andy headed to the door and flicked the ant outside.

Bootsie straightened up. She jumped down and sniffed the carpet in front of the television. Our other two cats followed. Rainy pawed at the wooden cabinet and meowed. The other cats paced. Cinder even ran up to me and rubbed against me. Where’s the prey?

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Fall 2017: Focus on Cats!

All things cats ahead! I will post roundups of cat training books, cat Trap-Neuter-Release books, cat coloring books, and cat cozies. For all other animal lovers, I will also post roundups of dog cozies and zoo books.

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