By Ashley Okola
The cat population at Monadnock Humane Society has changed. We are seeing a shift in the types of animals taken in as strays or being surrendered. Rather than numerous “oops” litters of kittens, the cats coming to us are frequently older animals who have lived in multi-cat households of overwhelming populations. These cats are frequently difficult to place for a variety of reasons.
Take for example the elusive “scaredy-cat” that may prefer to be more of a roommate than a companion. These cats may have been under-socialized kittens that missed the vital socialization period with people the first few weeks of life. Or adult cats that have never before their home until the passing of an elderly owner and now cannot cope with the new changes of environment the shelter setting brings.
Whatever the reason, when these animals come to us, they are a challenge to re-home. Their target audience of adopters is very slim. When visitors walk through the shelter, these cats hide under blankets to stay inconspicuous. Although they don’t want to stay in the shelter, they avoid meeting their potential adopters.
Reframing the Challenge—House Spirits
In 2016, I attended the New England Federation of Humane Societies Annual Conference-an event where professionals around the area come to speak to the many issues surrounding animal welfare in our communities. Over the course of 3 days, I was lucky enough to talk with people from other animal shelter organizations and discuss some of the changes they are seeing throughout the New England area.
One of the organizations, Dakin Pioneer Valley Humane Society of Springfield, MA, was asking a really interesting question: instead of seeing these cats aloofness as a problem, what if we focus on highlighting the ways in which they enliven the homes in which they live. They named these cats are called “House Spirits.” Described as “very shy with people. They live in your home, but are rarely seen.” We are calling them Spirit Cats.
Once presented with this information and the success Dakin had had with adopting out “spirit cats”, I knew this was a great program for MHS.
How To See A Spirit Cat
At MHS’ Adoption and Learning Center in Swanzey, NH, Spirit Cats are housed in their own multi-cat room. This is in an area of the shelter that is set back from the hustle and bustle of the adoption floor. There are signs on the door that talk about the Spirit Cat program and highlight the individual personalities of the cats currently in residence. One of the great qualities of a Spirit Cat is that they usually thrive on the company of other felines. So, if you are looking for a companion for your current house cat, consider adding a Spirit Cat to your family.
Adopters interested in visiting the Spirit Cats should talk with the adoption staff to learn about individual personalities. Adults and accompanied children should enter the Spirit Cat room quietly. Visitors should go slow; taking a seat on the floor is a great way to see and be seen. The best way to interact with Spirit Cats is to play with a wand toy at a distance. This entices the cats to interact with people. Quiet, gentle visitors are a boon to these cats. You help the cats become more comfortable around visitors.
If you choose to bring home a Spirit Cat it may, over time, become so comfortable in your home that it chooses to hang out with you. Allowing the relationship to grow in the cat’s own time will surely help you reimagine the house cat. The beauty, grace, and charm of a Spirit Cat fills a house with love.
Ashley Okala is Assistant Manager & Feline Coordinator at Monadnock Humane Society.