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Workshop Notes.

This past weekend, I attended two workshops in Toronto sponsored by Petco Foundation. The hosts were Toronto Feral Cat ProjectUrban Cat Relief – www.ucrcats.comNew York City Feral Cat Initiative of the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals.  Not only was it great to be at the workshop, but I also got to see and meet some fellow Toronto Cat Rescue volunteers and other cat advocates from all over Ontario. 

The first workshop was “Taming Feral Kittens for Adoption”. The workshop description was “Using film footage of successful techniques, combined with insights into the biological development of kittens, we will provide attendees with information on how to tame and socialize feral kittens quickly and efficiently so they can be adopted into indoor homes.” The speaker was Mike Phillips, LVT – Director of Community Outreach, Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals; Co-Founder, Urban Cat League

Workshop #2 was titled “Neighbourhood Relations for Feral Cat Caretakers” with the description “Attendees will be provided with tips on how to improve communication with neighbours, including ways to help them understand the needs of community cats and benefits of Trap-Neuter-Return (TNR). Advice for turning around hostile situations will also be included.”

I learned A LOT. More than I can get down in one blog post, anyway! I’m pretty familiar with most tricks about taming ferals, but it was nice to see Mike explain it in ‘steps’ – for example, not expecting them to crawl into your lap right away, but by gaining trust slowly – first by licking food off your finger, then letting them touch/pet them while eating, then short ‘lifts’ and belly-holding while eating, progressing to holding while NOT eating. There were tips about interactive play, which can distract them so much you can pet them while playing or actually direct them to climb/play ON you, tips about the proper ‘cooling off period’ environment and many other taming/socializing tips and ideas.

(One VERY helpful tip was the food Mike used to ‘bribe’ the cats – he said it was ‘Gerber chicken baby food’, but I don’t have a link for it yet. (In Canada, Gerber is owned by Nestle, and I can’t find a link to that specific food on the Canadian site, and the American site is blocked for Canada. )

Instead of re-inventing the wheel, I’m just going to send you to Mike’s website: Urban Cat League – there are LOTS of tips and videos, and a Feral Cat FAQ.  Also recommended were the books Cat Sense and Domestic Cat (which I will try to find a link for, I will update when I have the correct book).

There were some definite ‘light bulb’ moments for me. I’d love to hear what YOUR light bulb moment was in the comments below!

The second workshop was started off with a wonderful talk by Sheila Massey. (If you google her, there are lots of news articles about her TNR efforts in New York). Her talk contained lots of ideas and strategies for dealing with the public, especially the ones who are maybe not so ‘cat-friendly’.

If you are helping feed a colony, sometimes there is no place to ‘hide’ a feeding station, but that’s ok! A benefit to visible feeding stations in feral colonies shows TNR in action, and this is an opportunity to speak to anyone who may question your actions or be curious about what you are doing. Do NOT be defensive or rude, you never know WHO this person may be, and once you give a quick overview of what you are doing, you may find you have another ally.

 I jotted some quick notes down, some of the things that really stuck with me are:

  • Be a PEOPLE advocate, not a CAT advocate.
  • If people see you caretaking a colony and they ask you what you are doing, keep your answer short. “I am with (name of program or rescue group). We are trapping cats to spay/neuter them and vaccinate them, and then we return them here and provide food for them.” 
  • Speak calmly to inform and educate, not judge or argue. 
  • Take cat complaints (from the public) seriously. Don’t defend the cats, OFFER SOLUTIONS.
  • Keep your points to ones that benefit the community (not the cats). Manage the conversation in a positive ways. Find common ground.
Sheila recommends this book to help learn negotiation techniques  – Getting to Yes.
One of the many benefits of TNR is that fixing them means no more yowling when mating, no foul smell from marking, less fighting over food, and NO MORE KITTENS.  Keeping cats at the same location lets the ‘unadoptable’ ones live out their lives in peace, keep the rodent control down, and no more new cats will come in (cats will keep their own numbers in check – only allowing for newcomers if the food source allows).
There was LOTS more, and I’ll add to this with more links and copies of some handouts when I can.  I just wanted to get some ideas down while they were fresh.
For those of you that also attended, PLEASE leave some notes in the comments detailing what you learned, as I’m sure we all absorbed different information, depending on what we needed to learn.   If by chance you don’t want to share in the comments, or if I’ve messed something up and corrections need to be made, please email me at impromptuzoo @ (remove the spaces).
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Posted in Feral, Information.

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  1. Susan says

    Thanks for posting this. I had to leave before the second presentation, so it’s good to be able to see a recap and what I missed.
    One of the lightbulb moments for me is the difference in taming male versus female kittens after 8 weeks. This confirms and make sense of my thoughts about the personalities of the two genders.

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