Cat Enrichment: Animal Welfare Association, Voorhees, N.J.

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 Maya Richmond, executive director:

I’ve been helping my staff really understand the benefits of enrichment and the need to do it for every animal, every day. When you have a process set up, enrichment is easy to fold into the regular daily activities of the staff. The goal is to improve the lives of the cats while they are in our care without adding work for the staff. Enrichment ideas won’t fly if they are burdensome for the staff and take away from duties like customer service, cleaning, behavior or medical rehabilitation work.

Enrichment can cost almost nothing to provide if you’re creative about it. Examples of free or inexpensive feline enrichment items include:

• Toilet paper rolls

• Pill bottles

• New sponges that are cut into cubes with a tiny bit of scent applied. We hide these in the community cat room and the cats like to seek the scents and “mark” by rubbing on the area.

• New paint rollers (donated) that we cut down and attach to the cage doors. Cats like the texture and rub, nuzzle and knead the rollers. After a few days of use, they are cut off and tossed.

These items cost more, but never break:

• 4-foot to 6-foot PVC T or Y joints: The kittens love to play in these and they can be washed. (They’re also great for dogs!)

• Lemon or orange squeezers with two parts (a top that fits into a base). We put a bit of tuna juice in the base, freeze it and let the cats work it out.

I’m a thrift store nut who visits stores on “50%-off Saturdays” to load up on seasonal durable items that help enrich the cats’ lives while providing colorful, fun decor for the shelter. My recent finds have included colorful colanders for cats to sleep in, plastic eggs to place in cages around Easter and plastic spinners to hang from the ceiling that cats can watch from their cages.

School kids are great at collecting things, so I ask them to make pipe-cleaner toys or buy large puff balls at craft stores. My goal is to give each cat a newish toy every one to two days and then toss it! For every washable item, there should be three tossable items that are donated/collected each week.

We have tubs at the shelter labeled “Monday-Sunday” with the item we are hoping to collect in each one: Monday — toilet paper rolls; Tuesday — milk or bottle caps; Wednesday — pipe cleaners; Thursday — paper bags or boxes; Friday — empty pens or straws (to fill with a little food); Saturday — store-bought toys and paper balls (crumpled index cards); Sunday — ribbon/nylon tutu material for tying to the front of cages. We collect each item by asking the staff, volunteers and public to bring it in. You only need a few people to commit to one or two items, and you can develop a network that meets all your needs without much work.

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