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When Cat Guardians (and Their Cats) Are at the End of Their Rope, Bonnie Comes to the Rescue

Bonnie Still with kittens at Wayside Waifs

Q: Tell us a little bit about yourself, how you first got into animal behavior and training and what you are doing now.

A: I live in Missouri with my husband of 20 years along with two cats, one gerbil and some fish. I volunteer at Wayside Waifs, where I previously worked for nearly 11 years as their feline care manager. I helped develop behavior and socialization programs to help increase each cat’s chances of adoption. I also love dogs! I love to travel, and most recently we went to Hawaii and visited the Lanai Cat Sanctuary—it was a highlight! We decided to “adopt in place” one of the sanctuary’s long-term cat residents, Blaze. We sponsor her and receive monthly updates on her, and consider her part of our family. I love to garden and also to make quilts. I started my own cat consulting business to help those needing advice and help.

Q: Tell us a little bit about your own pets.

A: We currently have two cats. Mufasa is 16.5 years old. He came from a hoarding situation. He is the sweetest and most affectionate cat! He gives and asks for hugs, is my shadow and loves to play with his “sister cat,” Twyla. We adopted Twyla a year and a half ago, and is she is 3 years old. She is a tiny orange tabby who loves belly rubs and being on someone’s lap. We also have a gerbil named Chocolate Thunder. He loves peanuts and bananas, and will stare at my husband in hopes of getting more. He is quite active, and the cats love to watch him. We also have some fish.

Q: What do you consider your area of expertise?

A: Socializing shy and fearful cats.

Q: Why did you become a cat trainer?

A: I enjoy working with people to help them keep their cats, even if they are at the end of their rope. Educating people so that they understand their cat’s behavior is so important. There is a lot that people don’t know about cat behavior.

Q: Are you a crossover trainer or have you always been a force-free trainer?

A: I’ve always been a force-free trainer.

This is Sir Henry SnuggleButt. He was having litter box issues where he would sometimes poop outside of the litter box. This is my friend’s cat, and we worked on scooping the litter box more often and removing the lid, and since she was unable to add a second litter box, she managed to clear out more space around the litter box. It helped!

Q: What drives you to be a force-free professional, and why is it important to you?

A: The only thing that fear-based training accomplishes is causing fear and avoidance. Cats CAN be taught. It is fun figuring out the best way to teach each cat to want to change its behavior.

Q: Who has most influenced your career and how?

A: Pam Johnson-Bennett. I love her books.

Q: How has the PPG helped you to become a more complete trainer?

A: Just joined, so I look forward to a lot of learning.

Q: What are some of your favorite positive reinforcement techniques for most commonly encountered client-cat problems?

A: Clicker training. Most cats seem to respond well to it.

Q: What is the reward you get out of a day’s training with people and their cats?

A: The best reward is when a client learns something about a cat’s behavior and accepts that knowledge, i.e., cats don’t do things for revenge.

Q: What is your favorite part of your job?

A: When people are willing to be patient because they will do whatever it takes to help their cat.

Q: What is the funniest or craziest situation you have been in with a cat and its owner?

A: The craziest situation would have to be a family whose cat would literally pee on the baby while the baby was asleep. The cat would also sometimes scratch or bite other members in the household. The husband was going to throw the cat outside. I talked with the wife for two days, offering advice, but then she called and said the husband was DONE. Fortunately, the shelter quickly offered to take the cat. I knew this cat needed a different home the moment the wife told me the only one in the home that the cat was not aggressive with was the 8-year-old son. I asked the wife why she thought that was, and she said her son just seemed to understand the cat and played with him a lot. This cat was at the shelter less than a week before being adopted, and the new owners said there were never any litter box issues or aggression. Sometimes a cat does need a different environment.

Q: What advice would you give to a new trainer starting out?

A: Work in an animal shelter or volunteer at one. Cats in shelters will teach you so much, especially if you can spend time with shy or fearful cats.

Real World Cat Consulting, LLC is located in Harrisonville, Missouri.

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