ARL staff members from left: Adrienne Streiff, Brigitte DeGil, Caleb Pyne, Megan Yohn, Hailey Auriemma, Jamie Drumheller and Ashley Snyder.

The Animal Rescue League of Berks County was selected by The Jackson Galaxy Project (JGP), a signature program of Greater Good Charities, to participate in the 2021 class of Cat Pawsitive Pro, a life-saving initiative that introduces advanced, positive-reinforcement-based behavior training and enrichment to shelter cats.

Supported by the Petco Foundation, this innovative training program aims to deepen the cat-human bond by teaching staff and volunteers how to better communicate with cats to make them more adoptable and lessen shelter stress.

Techniques include teaching cats to “sit,” “head bump,” “high five,” and other skills to maintain and improve cat “mojo.”

Jackson Galaxy, star of the television show My Cat from Hell on Animal Planet, and founder of JGP, developed Cat Pawsitive Pro with a team of feline behavior experts. Highlights of the program include: Improving cat “adoptability” and feline social skills, particularly for shy or fearful cats and long-term residents, enriching day-to-day life for cats in shelters with physical and mental activity Promoting the human-cat bond, and teaching and empowering animal shelter staff and volunteers.

Michele Kolasa doing a head bunt with Bogart. Michele is a volunteer at the ARL and participated in the Cat Pawsitive program in 2020.

Cats who are exposed to the reward-based training methods of Cat Pawsitive Pro gain confidence, experience reduced stress levels, and build connections with staff, volunteers and potential adopters.

The program can help a shy cat learn to feel comfortable coming up to the front of her cage to meet an adopter, a feisty cat can learn to play nice, and an outgoing kitty learn to give an endearing “high-five” to his visitors to seal an adoption deal. Cat Pawsitive Pro is the advanced version of the JGP’s introductory training program, Cat Pawsitive.

“It’s hard to believe that it’s been five years since our inaugural class of just nine shelters went through our fledgling Cat Pawsitive Pro program. In my wildest dreams I never imagined that five years from then 168 organizations would have been part of Cat Pawsitive, Cat Pawsitive Pro, or both! That’s 168 animal shelters and rescues conducting over 4,700 hours of training for more than 2,650 cats, with over 1,600 staff members and volunteers reached!” said Galaxy.

“It’s a humbling and beautiful process to witness – with each incoming class, our mission becomes more crystallized, our program more refined, and the ripple effect grows throughout our country’s animal welfare system.”

Bogart giving Megan Yohn, our feline behavior and enrichment coordinator, a high five on command.

A JGP feline behavior expert will lead the program for the shelter beginning February 1 – April 30. Throughout the spring, staff and volunteers from the select animal welfare organizations will participate in weekly seminars with their expert and will have direct access to the entire training team for specialized consultations about the cats in their care.

“We were thrilled to have been selected into the pro version of this program,” said Alexis Pagoulatos, executive director of the ARL. “It’s an immense honor to be accepted into this competitive national program and is a real testament to our staff’s dedication to ensure that animals in our care are not only given daily love, but also daily enrichment to increase their happiness through physical and mental activity while decreasing their kennel boredom and stress.”

She added, “Our staff has seen first-hand how this enriching program leads to so many wonderful outcomes, which has been vital for our evolution into an innovative animal shelter. They’re thrilled to learn and embrace advanced skills that teach us and the cats more than just tricks–it teaches us about the human-cat bond through deeper communication and connection in transformational and life-saving ways. We have often found that some of our most difficult cats became some of our easiest to find homes for once they were taught a way to communicate and connect. Our staff is more engaged and passionate than ever before after seeing the power of this program.”

Since 2016, more than 1,800 cats have been adopted during Cat Pawsitive program semesters, with hundreds more cats benefitting from being in the program and continuing their training on the road to adoption. To date, a total of 168 unique animal welfare organizations have participated in Cat Pawsitive programs and conducted over 31,000 training sessions, with over 1,600 staff members and volunteers taking part in the training of thousands of cats.

The Jackson Galaxy Project is a signature program of Greater Good Charities that seeks to improve the lives of cats at risk and help the people who care for them through innovative programs that educate, inspire and empower staff, rescuers and adopters.

This article is also available in: Español (Spanish)