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Cat Enrichment: Michigan Humane Society

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

By Michael Robbins, director of marketing and communications:

At the Michigan Humane Society adoption centers, you’ll find friendly felines of all ages and backgrounds — and some of them might even throw you a high-five as you walk by! In the summer of 2008, MHS introduced Pawsitive Start, an in-shelter training program designed to enrich the mental, physical and emotional wellbeing of its shelter animals. Every night, cats work with volunteer “personal trainers” who teach them skills, such as coming to the front of their cage to greet visitors, going into a carrier by themselves, lying on a blanket and giving a “high-five.” All of the skills taught are designed to reduce stress by involving animals in a problem-solving thought process that ultimately builds their “brain muscle” while allowing them to engage with people in a fun and meaningful way.

“If you were in a lonely and isolated environment, and someone offered you either a treadmill or a crossword puzzle, chances are you’d want both,” says CJ Bentley, MHS director of operations and behavior specialist. “We’ve found that by actively addressing an animal’s physical health and emotional well-being, we’re giving them control over their environment, which reduces their stress and ultimately their chances of contracting an illness.”

In addition to keeping cats healthy while they’re in the shelter environment, the program sends animals to their new homes with problem-solving skills and a readiness to engage with their new families. And who wouldn’t want a cat who waltzes into a carrier by himself or high-fives his new friends?

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