After traveling to Chicago in January to teach “fast-track” techniques for taming feral kittens for adoption — the first in the ongoing series of New York City Feral Cat Initiative (NYCFCI) of the Mayor’s Alliance for NYC’s Animals workshops taught by the NYCFCI’s Mike Phillips and Valerie Sicignano and sponsored by the Petco Foundation — Mike and Valerie pushed further westward in late February and early March to present three workshops for shelters and rescue organizations in Oregon. In addition to a public workshop in Portland attended by 95 people representing all of the local rescue/adoption groups, a workshop in the smaller coastal town of Lincoln City attracted 35 individuals from the surrounding area, including groups and shelter employees from the Oregon towns of Eugene, Medford, Salem, Tillamook, and Willamette. Lincoln City Mayor Dick Anderson attended the workshop, demonstrating the serious approach to feral cat management common all across Oregon.
A high point of the trip was the workshop for the staff of Multnomah County Animals Services, attended by 26 shelter workers. Interest among the staff was so keen that we added a second workshop on bottle-feeding orphaned neo-natal kittens on the spot. The staff attended both workshops offered optionally after their full workday at the shelter.
After the Portland area workshops, Mike Oswald, Executive Director of the Multnomah County Animal Services commented, “Valerie and Mike are excellent presenters. The NYC Feral Cat Initiative materials were of high quality, and they both have an engaging style that was well received. We were also very pleased at the great community turn-out for the presentation open to the public. We feel fortunate to have discovered Mike’s YouTube videos on socializing feral kittens — which led us to the NYC Feral Cat Initiative and your program. For our organization it was the right information at the right time. Thanks again for coming out to Portland, and I hope we can work together more in the future.”
The education also went the other way! Mike and Valerie were impressed to witness firsthand the dramatic effectiveness of the Open Paw technique used with all the animals at the Multnomah shelter. All volunteers and employees at the shelter are trained in the technique, which results in all the dogs sitting quietly and attentively every time a human walks up to the front of their kennel. Even the cats were all coming up to the front of the cage to meet human visitors after only a short time being exposed to training in this progressive technique used at the shelter.
The results were thrilling to witness after seeing so many shelters where overexcited dogs lunge and jump out of control at the gate of their kennel as prospective adopters pass by. Not only have the Oregon kennel’s adoption rates skyrocketed after the shelter implemented the Open Paw program with the dogs and cats, but also there has been noted improvement in the mental health of the dogs and cats at the shelter. You can learn more about this positive reinforcement approach to maximize calm behavior among shelter animals through a presentation of the technique from Maddie’s Fund, which has been a champion for its use since 2006.
Inspired by their excellent trip to Oregon, Mike and Valerie will next head to Austin, Texas, to present the workshop at the Austin Humane Society on April 1.