Hello and welcome to Service Cats and Everything Feline Friday. Our Service Cat posts aren’t intended to be an all inclusive Training Manual but rather Tips, Tricks and Techniques used/developed by myself, mommy A, throughout my many years of animal training, cats in particular. And to offer insight into your questions about Everything Feline. Always remember, successful Training is all about Repetition and Rewards. We’re asking you to submit any and all questions you may have; whether they be about training, health, diet or whatever. You can leave them in the comments below or send us an email using our contact form here. If you’ve missed any posts in this series, you can check them out by clicking the Training Tips and Everything Feline link from our menu above. There you’ll find links and descriptions of each article.
As most of you know, our search for a new kitty after losing Dezi took quite a little while. During my search, I would get asked often, what traits are you looking for? I’m personally looking for the kitten who needs me…nothing more, nothing less. I know without a doubt, that cat will make the best service cat for me. However, there are things one can look for and things I start looking at once I’ve found the kitty I will train. I’ll talk a bit about those things here, but you can check out our previous article listing those traits here.
And yes, I specifically look for a kitten and not an older or even young adult cat. The reason for that, is that I hope to have that cat for a very long time. Losing a service cat not only takes it’s toll on my emotions but also on my other service cat. And, the loss of that helper means that one cat must do the job of two until we find and train another. But, I have always said and will always say, the age of the cat isn’t a factor in whether or not it can be trained. So, if you already have a cat, that cat can be trained.
Anyways…Zebby joined our family April 28th and his training began. You can read how that came about here. Since he was sick and we couldn’t get into any of the vets before coming home from the shelter, and he clearly wasn’t 6 weeks old, I set up our playpen in the bedroom and borrowed one from Mrs. N to set up in the front of the apartment. We don’t have a spacious home with extra rooms and doors to set up for those slow kitty introductions. And, I personally don’t use that method. However, if you have the space and time, I’m sure it works great and you can read our Tips here and here. I find the playpen allows the cats to interact without actually having physical contact. They can see and smell each other, even hiss or growl if need be, all in safety. It’s much like the separate rooms without an actual door or separate room. Because Raena has been vaccinated and is treated with a multi flea preventative, once I got Zebby in to see the vet the next day I was comfortable letting them have supervised contact.
Of course at this point, Zebby had no interest in anything or anyone but me. His first week here, he spent every minute out of the playpen in my lap. His second week was spent playing with his mouse in my lap. And of course, he spent a lot of time napping in my lap after crawling all over me. This was the time we spent bonding and building the relationship that will make him a devoted service cat. RaenaBelle so wanted him to pay attention to and play with her. She would chirp and chortle and bring the small made with love from awnty Ellen toys and lay them outside the playpen door. When Zebby was out of the playpen, she would take them inside and leave them for him when he went back in. It was really quite sweet to watch. She had so wanted a playmate, and Dezi just wasn’t that interested, especially the last year or so.
Anyways, during this time, I watched Zebby, looking for the traits that make a good service cat. His eyes are clear and inquisitive. When I speak to him, he looks directly at me, indicating he’s smart and attentive. He’s curious without fear. Loud noises alert him, but don’t scare him or cause him to run off or hide. The doorbell is an invitation to an adventure. He wants to be near me at all times. I’ll be sharing some cute and funny stories in future articles. Anyways, by the third week, Zebby had discovered his adoring stalker, RaenaBelle. He was fascinated by her every move. He wanted to be with her and do everything she did. This meant he was going to be an excellent helper for her and that he would be able to learn from her as well as me. He observed her giving me alerts and sniffed the air right along with her. I now catch him sniffing pretty regularly. He hasn’t yet learned the actual smell or the alert, but he understands there’s something he’s supposed to be smelling for. Obviously, I can’t predict his size, but that’s something we’ll deal with and make adjustments as necessary.
Zebby and Raena get along beautifully. There’s been no hissing, growling, or real fighting. They play and romp together like they’ve been doing it for years. Raena seemed to understand he was “fragile” early on and was really gentle with him. He didn’t pull his punches or claws, so when he got too rough, instead of lashing out, she would remove herself to somewhere he couldn’t get to yet. He sleeps all night and minds pretty well. His attention span is growing every day, so his capacity to learn new things is growing as well. Of course, he’s still a kitten, so he’s into everything and tests every boundary. This is where the Repetition part of Training comes in.
Once Zebby was big enough to fit into a harness, I began taking him to visit the neighbors and on small errands. Mrs. N seems to have forgotten all about my cats’ smells upsetting her cats now that Zebby’s here. Whatever it takes, I say. Anyways, Zebby does great traveling, and being around others, and in public. He’s well behaved and alert. However, Mrs. N said something to me that really threw me. We were talking about Zebby being a little spitfire and she said, “It’s a shame you have to train him. I understand you need him to be a service cat, but I’m gonna miss him being him.” It took me off guard and confused me.
When looking for a kitty, I had come across several people that didn’t want me to adopt kittens from them once I told them I would be training them to be service cats. It’s happened in the past as well. I’ve never questioned the why but perhaps I should have. It never occurred to me that people might think that Training changes who the cat is. Mrs. N said she thought that Training Zebby would cause him to lose his personality and spunk, the things that make him, him. We have laughed many times about him being a pistol, and she thought he was going to become something else. She couldn’t say what she thought he would be, she just thought he wouldn’t be fun and spunky, and him anymore.
In all the years I’ve had service cats, no one has ever expressed this to me. It made me wonder if perhaps some of you may have wondered or thought the same thing? If so, please let me assure you that Training in no way changes a cat’s personality or who they are. I do not believe in breaking the spirit of any animal when Training. Training only enhances the kitty and teaches them to focus certain actions to help me or their disabled handler. But, the cat is still the same cat with all the same quirks and idiosyncrasies that make them an individual. Zebby and Raena will still play and romp around like they do now. Zebby will still love his sparkle balls and made with love awnty Ellen toys. Yes, Zebby, like Raena and all those who came before him will be a working cat. But, he will still be a cat. He will still love to play, and nap, and scratch, and climb, and all the other kitty things he’s learning about. And, there is plenty of time for that.
As Zebby’s Training continues, so will our posts. And, please let us know if you have any questions. If we don’t know the answer, we’ll get you one. If there’s a topic you’d like to see us cover, let us know as well. We look forward to many years together. Thank you all for taking this journey with us.
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