When I first came to Cat Depot to volunteer, I was very impressed with the sturdy and spacious building, immaculate cleanliness, roomy pods for cats, and overall newness of it. I've volunteered at other animal shelters, and was excited to be a part of an animal welfare organization that had so many quality resources at its disposal.
I love all cats, but have a soft spot for recovering feral cats. I've learned with experience that patience and noninvasive interaction are essential for them to trust people. So I was surprised when I saw feral kittens caged in brightly lit, busy area. Shelley Thayer, the director, told me that the objective was to get them to sit in a lap as soon as possible; they would have to be sent to a feral colony if they couldn't 'turn' them in ten days. Tough love, the she called it. After being accosted with constant noise and interaction, the kittens would tolerate being held, but appeared untrusting of people. Some would take longer to be acclimate, and respond with fearful aggression to the volunteers trying to help.
I thought of my old shelter, when we volunteers helped a highly aggressive, frightened kitten become a loving, adoptable pet. We kept his space dark, read to him, offered small treats at the front of his kennel and played with toys where he could observe us. We didn't even try to pick him up or touch him- besides, he would have taken our faces off! When he learned that we would not invade his space, and did interesting things, he approached when he was ready- he actually climbed out of his kennel and into my lap, purring and kneading. :) We worked with him maybe a couple hours, for four or five days. Nothing special or time consuming.
What concerned me even more than the sensory overload technique used on kittens, was the treatment of the recovering adult feral cats. They were basically warehoused, since they were not going to be transformed into lap cats. This floored me - any true cat person knows not all cats are lap cats! I was told they were probably going to be shipped off to feral colonies elsewhere. The employees who were familiar with these cats (who had been in their care for YEARS) were understandably too busy to help socialize them, and appreciated the few volunteers who cared enough to reach out to these shy cats. Many of them were sweet, with quirky personalities that a hard boiled cat person would appreciate, but the public was not allowed to go in and socialize with them.
Many of the habits that cat people instinctively understand were actively shunned and discouraged. The director threw a fit when I gave the cats a cardboard box to play in - she said it would make them regress into feral behavior again. Then she was furious when she saw me petting a cat in a sheltered fleece basket. This cat had been hissing and swatting because she was new to the pod, and nervous about the new cats around her; I found a place for her where she didn't have to look at other cats, and focused my attention on getting her calm. Shelley pulled the cat out of its safe place, dumped it on the floor, and said "See? That's better. I know you think these cats are special snowflakes, but they need to learn to be social."
The final straw for me was the grand opening; loud music was blasting throughout the shelter, making many cats nervous and scared. A lot of them hid in the only hiding place they had available: their litter boxes. What kind of an impression would this make on a person wanting to adopt a cat?
It's truly a shame that a place with such wonderful resources and potential is more concerned with PR than actual animal care. I understand that Ms. Thayer was in marketing before she was director. What she needs to realize is that cats are NOT a homogenized product to be packaged and sold. All cats are different, and anyone who appreciates cats knows this to be true.