Shelter Cats Jump Through Hoops, Hop Obstacles To Find Loving Homes

The proof is in the purring.

You wouldn't ordinarily want to put obstacles in the way of shelter cats getting adopted, but the ones you're seeing in this video help homeless kitties to find loving homes.

This is Petunia. She can be a little cranky, which wasn't exactly endearing her to potential adopters during the early stage of her tenure at Cat Depot, a shelter in Sarasota, Florida.

"Petunia was a swatter and would swat people for no reason," Lynn Rasys, Cat Depot's spokesperson, said. 

Petunia isn't a mean cat: she's smart, and was just bored. And you know how being restless and not fully occupied, mentally and physically, brings out your worst? Same goes for cats.

So Cat Depot decided to keep Petunia's mind -- and paws --  busy with a great big obstacle course that a volunteer fabricated, and set up in one of the shelter's hallways.

"She immediately took to the course easily and would look forward every day to her time running through the tunnel and up and down the stairs," Rasys said. "Once she was finished, we would then encourage her to jump in someone’s lap and get petted. No swatting!" 

Cat Depot adopts out about 1,200 cats and kittens every year. The small percentage showing signs of being a little too tightly wound while they're at the shelter -- which is really a nice place; the large cat enclosures all have televisions playing cat-friendly videos, for example -- will get the obstacle course treatment.

(A greater number will participate in Cat Depot's leash training program. That's for cats who have a bit of wanderlust, and those who need to lose a few pounds.)

And it really works. The proof is in the purring.

Rasys points to example after example of cats who were turning off potential adopters with their plucky behavior -- and who, after becoming obstacle course athletes, grew calmer and happier, and therefore more adoptable.

Like Buddy, another former biter, who spent some time at the shelter.

"The agility course was the perfect challenge for him," Rasys said. "Once he had his daily time running and playing the agility course, he was encouraged to sit on someone’s lap and interact with people. He would no longer bite and was eventually adopted."

That goes for Petunia, too. 

Stacy McDaniels brought Petunia home around Christmas in 2013. She'd come into Cat Depot looking for a kitten, but staff members asked her to check out Ms. P. 

She wound up fostering Petunia for two months, before adopting her on Valentine's Day 2014.

"She is my princess," McDaniels said. 

Petunia's name is Sassy now. McDaniels says she lives up to it: "She's sassy!" 

They haven't kept up with the obstacle courses, but Sassy has a lot of toys and gets to play a lot, which keeps her active and engaged, and minimizes behavioral problems.

And, sure, Sassy still swats and bites a bit, but she's "come a long way. Now she curls up with you," McDaniels said. "She sleeps with me every single night."

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