EWING — Cats both old and young, either shy or feisty, are learning how to transition out of shelter life and into homes thanks to a national program in which one Mercer County nonprofit has been participating this spring.

The Cat Pawsitive Pro initiative, sponsored by the Jackson Galaxy Project and GreaterGood.org, has come to EASEL Animal Rescue League in Ewing. EASEL is one of only 10 organizations in the country, and the only one in New Jersey, to be chosen for the Pro level of the program.

Dr. Georgia Arvanitis, EASEL vice president, said her group signed up for the introductory Cat Pawsitive level in the summer of 2018, and all 13 cats who came through the training period were adopted. The eagerness and ability of the EASEL team led them to be invited to take the next step in training.

Cat Pawsitive Pro sets up its partner organizations with a feline behavior expert, who guides staff in a weekly seminar. Cats participate in two 10- to 20-minute training sessions per day, focusing on positive reinforcement with a reward system.

Dolly Parton - Before Cat Pawsitive Pro Program (Courtesy of EASEL)
Dolly Parton in the program (Courtesy of EASEL)
Dolly Parton with Easel volunteer Lois Martin (Courtesy of EASEL)

"Having some really good, reward-based training allows the animal to have less stress, and it really helps us to build connections between staff and volunteers, and these pets," Arvanitis said, adding that EASEL hopes to use peer mentoring to encourage more volunteers to take active roles in this endeavor.

EASEL can accommodate up to five cats in the program at a time, and close to 10 have been adopted already this year.

Arvanitis said typical of the improvements Cat Pawsitive Pro can provide is a cat named "Dolly Parton," who had been sheltered for almost a year. Despite that, after only six weeks training through the Pro program, Dolly wound up being adopted. The key, according to Arvanitis, was figuring out how the cat best wanted to communicate with people, and focusing on that.

"What the training methods are really doing is picking up on things that cats naturally do want to do. They naturally want to reach out to you," Arvanitis said.

Moo Moo in the program. (Courtesy of EASEL)

EASEL's participation in Cat Pawsitive Pro was initially only supposed to run through May 24, but the program will continue past that date in the hopes that every cat being trained can find a new home. That works toward Cat Positive Pro's main goal of improving feline adoption rates, and EASEL's mission to reduce the number of unwanted animals euthanized in Mercer County.

For more, visit easelnj.org.

Winding Oreo before Cat Pawsitive Pro program. (Courtesy of EASEL)
Winding Oreo in the Cat Pawsitive Pro program. (Courtesy of EASEL)

Patrick Lavery is Senior Producer of Morning News and Special Programming for New Jersey 101.5, and is lead reporter and substitute anchor for "New Jersey's First News." Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com.

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