Monday, September 28, 2015

Cassie the Cat Trainer

Hi folks!

Thanks for stopping by! I have a real treat for you today: Cassandra Morgan, author and cat trainer, has written a guest blog that I think you'll find very interesting. Cat owners will be particularly fascinated to learn that Cassie has clicker trained her cat, Ra. Cassie brings a lot of critter-related experience to her blog entry, and I'm pleased to be able to share her wisdom with you here. So without further ado, here's Cassandra Morgan:

Hello everyone! My name is Cassandra Morgan, and Kelly has graciously let me take over her blog today. I am the author of the YA fantasy Chartile book series, the first being Prophecy that was published earlier this year. The second is slated to be out sometime next summer. However, I am also an avid animal lover, rescuer and trainer. I have worked in the animal industry in some way shape or form for over 10 years. My first job was as a kennel hand at a local dog boarding and training facility when I was 15. I went on to attend a vocational school my last two years of high school for Small Animal Care, and even completed one year of vet tech school. However, it was during vet tech school that I realized I had more of a passion for animal behavior than animal medicine. I began to look for degrees and certifications in feline behavior, but wasn't very successful. But after being in the industry for 10+ years, I have lots of hands-on experience, and I think this is the best kind.

When I first met Kelly, it was at a recent local author event. She asked me, "Do you have any pets?" I nearly laughted at this. Do I have any pets? LOL! I replied with my typical, "Oh yes. I have 5 cats, one of which is a registered therapy cat, who also shows at cat shows where we advocate clicker training to help with behavior problems and building confidence." Apparently, this is the right thing to say to Kelly Meister-Yetter, because we really did have to pull ourselves away from each other to attend to our potential customers at the author fair. She reached out to me later and asked if I would guest blog for her and talk a little bit about my special boy, Little Ra.

Before I tell you about Ra, I need to take a step back. My childhood cat, Snowflake, had only just passed away less than a week before. It had been a struggle taking care of her. She was 17 years old, and had battled with incontinence and dementia issues off and on for 3 years. My beautiful girl died in my arms as the vet tech administered the medicine that would ease her passing, but I knew she was already mostly gone to Summerland at that point. Needless to say, I was both upset and relieved. The few weeks leading up to her passing, Snow had spent a decent amount of time with me, and since I had already made the decision to put her down, we were both cherishing those moments. I think she knew in some way that the end was near for her, whether by her own accord or mine via our vet. I was at peace knowing the cat who had literally saved me from killing myself as a teenager by knocking pills from my hand all over the floor and refusing to leave my lap, was no longer in pain, and was watching over me always. But, of course, I also felt lost. No longer did I have to make special meals each day to ensure that she got enough to eat. It felt odd to not have to get up and search for her every couple of hours to make sure she had not died curled up in a corner. I didn't know what to do with myself. But, I still had 4 other cats, and my husband and I were really okay with not getting another one. We traveled a lot, and 4 cats are a lot of work.

At the time, I worked part time at a pet store that partnered with local rescue groups. They had special space available where rescue cats would stay for a week or so in the hopes that a passerby would fall in love with and adopt them. About 5 days after Snow's passing, a little black and white kitten named Moo caught my eye and my heart. My husband and I went to visit her after work, but the second time just didn't "feel" right.  If you are an animal lover, and I'm sure you are if you're reading this, you will know what I mean. The "connection" I thought was there before, wasn't. We decided to visit every shelter and pet store the next day. And if we didn't find "the one," we were both really okay with that. Again, 4 cats are a lot of work. We entered the last room of the last shelter in the whole city and were about to leave when a volunteer came in. She opened a cage to get a little kitten out when his brother leaped out of the cage and into my arms. We put him back and began discussing the little guy as he shoved his front legs as far through the bars as he could to get to me. The volunteer came back with the other sibling, and the little kitten jumped out of the cage, off the volunteer's shoulder, and into my arms once again. I couldn't say no.

Years ago, I had a cat who had been leash and harness trained, so, the day after we brought Little Ra home, I decided to put the harness on him and see what he would do. Surprisingly, it didn't faze him. I took him to the pet store after I was off work, and the little guy began following me like he was a dog in a past life! At 10 weeks old and no training, this kitten could've bested the famed Australian cat, Didja. At one point during that trip, Ra took off, leading me straight down the center aisle of the store. I had no idea what he had seen. He rounded a corner, and much to the surprise of both me and his mother, and the delight of the little boy, Ra proceeded to leap into the lap of a special needs boy, rubbing and purring, and happy as could be. At that point, I began looking into training him as a therapy cat.

Following in the footsteps and teachings of Australian animal trainer Robert Dollwet (and with the guidance of a good friend who was a dog trainer at a local facility), I started Ra with some basic clicker training. He took to it like a fish to water. Within 2 days, he could sit on command and give a high five. I began using it for some of my other cats, too, since one had been abused before we rescued him, and suffered from anxiety and fear. Miraculously, clicker training didn't just work for Ra, but it worked for the other cats, too!

In February, I decided to attend a local cat show as part of Ra's training. Up until that point, I would take him to as many places as I could. We would  hang out in the waiting room of vet's clinics, visit all the local pet stores, and even once hung out in the waiting area of Tire Man. It was all about exposing him to as many things as I could so he could learn that just because his environment was changing, didn't mean he needed to be scared; and for him to always  pay attention to me, no matter what. At the cat show, people were amazed at how outgoing he was. I brought the stool we used for training sessions, and would get him out to run through his tricks to keep his mind stimulated while waiting for his turn in the show ring. There was a woman from Pennsylvania who owned a pet therapy organization who had heard about Ra. The second day of the show, we went in early so she could meet him. She put him through a series of tests, handed him back to me, and proceeded to tell me where I could find the paperwork to send to her to fill out for his registration. We were, of course, shocked but delighted!

Since that time, Ra has gone to many nursing homes, and had one-on-one visits with special needs children. His favorite is a little boy who brushes him and plays fetch with him to help the boy with his movement development and his hand-eye coordination. Ra still attends cat shows all across the mid-west, where we both work to promote using clicker training and positive reinforcement to help cats with behavior issues. It is my personal belief that if you are told you are something long enough, you will become that. If you believe that your cat is nothing more than a narcissistic couch potato, then that's what they will become. But if you work with your cat like you would your dog, you can build a relationship that leads to a feline who is very confident in themselves and their environment. Good-bye urinating outside the litter box! No more hiding under the bed for an hour if you drop something in the kitchen. And those fly-by attacks to your calves (and, no, I'm not talking about playing)...say sayonara! The bond between human and cat can be just as strong as any between a dog and his human. You just have to work at it. You wouldn't get a dog without the expectation of training it. So why would you get a cat and then simply release it into your home to live out the rest of its' days batting around a catnip mouse, and getting to play with you with a feather wand once in a while? That sounds awfully boring if you ask me. Cats are highly intelligent animals. But much like very smart children who end up doing poorly in school because it's too boring, cats are the same way. If you take the initiative to stimulate their minds (especially when they are very young, as this is a critical learning time for their brains), you will find your next furry feline a far more engaging companion.

To learn the basics of clicker training your cat, I highly recommend checking out Robert Dollwet's YouTube channel, Catmantoo, at www.youtube.com/CatTrainerToo

You can follow the adventures of Little Ra by following his Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/Ankhanra-Pedersen-Little-Ra

And, if you love a good fantasy adventure novel, please check out my book! You can read all of Chapter One and part of Chapter Two for free on my website by visiting: www.authorcassandramorgan.com. My weekly blog is dedicated to giving writers tips and tricks to take their good writing to great.

Thanks again, Kelly, for letting me take over your blog! And I hope this has encouraged a number of you to consider clicker training for your cats.

P.S.: High-five is one of the easiest tricks to start with, and it makes a great summer or holiday break project for parents and young kids to bond.).

* Cassandra Morgan is the author of the young adult fantasy series, Chartile, the first book in the series being Prophecy. Before writing, Cassandra worked in the animal industry for nearly 10 years, where she specialized in feline behavior and feline nutrition. She has worked for a veterinary hospital, groomer, pet store, and canine boarding and training facility. Cassie has 5 cats, one of which is a registered therapy cat and shows in TICA in the Household Pet category.

Cassandra enjoys acting in small indie film productions, and working as an assistant producer. Her team won the 48 Hour Detroit Film Project's Best Comedy award in 2014. She also enjoys historical reenactment with The Society for Creative Anachronism, which has been a tremendous help when researching topics for her books. Cassie enjoys volunteering with a number of rescue groups in her area, caring for orphaned kittens and, volunteering with the local wildlife rehabilitation center.

That's all for now, folks! Thanks again for stopping by! Please feel free to leave a comment below so that Cassie and I know you were here, and as always, please be kind to critters!




5 comments:

Bob Nailor said...

Clicker training a cat sounds great. If we get another cat, my wife was allergic to the last cat - Tux - and we had to find him a better home, maybe I can attempt this type of training. Thanks for sharing.

Crazy Critter Lady said...

Bob, is that you from the Way Library Author Fair? We missed you at The Healing Barn Open House!

Cassandra Morgan said...

There are a few cat breeds that are considered hypoallergenic. I am actually extremely allergic to cats - I'm working with my allergist to get the special allergy shots, and the process will take about 3 years because it's that bad.
There are all kinds of tips and tricks I could give as well. Hit me up if it ever comes to you guys wanting to consider adding a feline to your home - especially if allergies is the only thing stopping you.

Crazy Critter Lady said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Crazy Critter Lady said...

Folks, be sure to head to Cassandra's website for more information, and to contact her if you'd like to learn more about clicker training your cat, or if allergies are holding you back from being owned by a cat!

contact@authorcassandramorgan.com