Enrichment: Good for Cats, Good for Adoptions

The following is from the Summer 2010 issue of Protecting Animals, American Humane’s quarterly journal for animal welfare professionals. Used by permission. To learn more, visit www.AmericanHumane.org.

Do a few toys, some soft music and a little bit of cuddling really make that big of a difference in the lives of shelter animals? Yes, in fact, they do, says Katenna Jones, animal behaviorist at American Humane. “When I was the animal behaviorist at my previous shelter, I strongly encouraged my staff and volunteers to enrich the animals constantly. Initially, many felt it was too much work and money. Once we implemented it, we never had an outbreak of kennel cough or parvo, URI in the cat room was drastically reduced and we had no distemper at all. And in most cases, enrichment improves the animal’s overall disposition and behavior, thereby making the animal much more appealing to adopters. It absolutely works, and the staff enthusiastically jumped on board!”

Jones believes enrichment not only improves the health and increases the happiness of animals in shelters and foster care, but also holds incredible educational impact for the community. “Enrichment is an ideal opportunity to foster service learning in an organization while addressing the needs of the shelter animals,” she states. “Such programs offer the possibility to increase volunteer retention, adoptions and public support while decreasing staff turnover and euthanasia.”

Here are some basic guidelines that will help you reduce stress and enrich the lives of the animals in your care:

• Provide a variety of toys each day to reduce boredom, including interactive toys with treats inside to decrease stress and encourage physical exercise and mental stimulation through problem solving. Cat scratchers (www.StretchandScratch.com) for cages are also an affordable enrichment product that provides exercise and reduces stress for cats in confinement.

• Provide access to resting and hiding spots (paper bags, pillowcases, boxes, teepees, etc.) where animals feel safe and secure.

• Ensure scent familiarity. Every time cats rub or scratch things, they are leaving behind important scent messages. If cages and bedding are thoroughly cleaned every day or animals are routinely moved to new cages, they become stressed when entering unfamiliar-smelling living space. Instead, “spot clean” daily, and limit thorough cleaning to weekly or when an animal leaves or arrives.

• Facilitate social interactions among animals (without forcing them) and between animals and people.

• Reduce environmental stressors, including loud sounds, potentially frightening movements (near doorways and high-traffic areas) and visual contact between cats, dogs and small animals.

Want to learn more secrets to enriching the lives of animals in shelters and foster care? Host or attend American Humane’s “Rich With Enrichment” workshop! This workshop is appropriate for humane educators, shelter volunteers and shelter staff, including managers and directors. For more information, visit www.americanhumane.org/humaneeducation or email HumaneEd@americanhumane.org.

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