Our visitors are sad…
Our cats are sad…
But it’s all for the best – or so we believe.
For some years, the Sanctuary has welcomed visitors on Sunday afternoons. And week after week, visitors have brought the cats treats – usually the commercial ones, marketed for just that purpose. And week after week, the same cats got pushy about getting their share, and we dealt with little piles of throw-up, and the Sunday evening feeding had to be limited because we ended up discarding so much wasted food on Monday mornings.
With the sudden influx of visitors, prompted by social media, we have had to establish much stricter rules around visits. We try to limit numbers so that the cats are not overwhelmed and stressed out by so many strangers. We try to establish no-go areas so that the more stressed cats have somewhere to hide. And we’re saying
That’s disappointing for a number of visitors who have come before and had the experience of cats like Jake approaching them with delighted anticipation – Jake never saw a treat he didn’t like. But he would push shyer cats out of the way to get his share – and then his not-too-happy gut would rebel, and we would have the cleaning-up!
Cagney is a front courtyard favourite – and it’s mostly because he hangs around the front gate hoping for handouts. And as you can see from his picture, he is not a small cat, and treats were not helping!
For cats, as for people, food works on a number of levels – basic nutrition, a reward for certain behaviour, an incentive to try something new. Offering treats is often a useful tool when working with shy cats; it can be comforting or a stimulus to accepting touch. But when too many people are present, those shy cats are the last to appear. And for the not-shy cats, handing out treats is like handing out candy at a kids’ party – they can’t ration themselves.
So the no-food rule during visitor hours is remaining, and we are encouraging visitors to find other ways than food of interacting with cats. Sitting, with quiet petting, is always welcomed by the social cats – and by some of the shyer ones too. There are a few who love to be cuddled.
Sometimes it’s enough for the cat just to sit next to a visitor. Some of them like to be groomed, while the offer, with others, is greeted with tail-swishing and airplane ears! Many of the younger cats like to play, and wand toys are available; younger visitors need to be taught that “play” is hunting behaviour, that toys need to mimic the movement of prey, and that a happy cat is one who feels that s/he has caught the prey!
Staff and Kitty Comforters will continue to use food occasionally out of visiting hours to coax shy cats into contact, though we are trying to use mostly high-value proteins – chicken and fish – in an effort to curb the increasing incidence of diabetes and overweight cats. The decision was made to request that even these “good” foods are not offered during visiting hours, since we have no way of confirming how the food is prepared. Barbecue chicken from the supermarket, for instance, needs to have the fatty seasoned skin carefully removed; one of our volunteers purpose-cooks plain fish, and with her we are able to ascertain that there are no added ingredients.
Even catnip can be an issue. Some cats are unaffected by catnip, or it blisses them out; for others it not only produces a temporary “high” but makes them more aggressive. Our already-overaggressive cats like Cole and Gizmo can get really nippy with this stimulus. Gizmo has been calmer in the last few months, and more willing to interact with visitors without aggression, and too much catnip can undo all that work. A catnip pillow for a caged cat or one in its own home is a different prospect from handfuls of catnip scattered around the sanctuary. And with catnip, more is not necessarily better – it’s just being wasted. So catnip has been added to the “not on Sundays” list.
We want the Sanctuary to be just that – a place where cats and people alike can find calm and peacefulness; where our cats can eat healthy food rather the feline equivalent of MSG-infused fast-food; where the natural hunting instinct in a cat can be turned on a feather rather than on a human hand or on another cat.
And if you really HAVE to feed the cats, come sign on as a volunteer (see the RAPS website), and help us keep them happy and healthy.