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Three kittens are hiding, and one is zoom zoom zooming around the room. When Meagan Montmeny dabs a little baby food onto her finger, they quit hiding and zooming, respectively, and come over to investigate -- then to nibble away at the pureed chicken.
Using the food as a lure, Montemny guides the kittens to a veterinary scale on the floor. A couple at a time, the wee kittens hop up, and stay put.
A "little bit of something yummy to teach them it's fun to sit on the scale," Montemny says. "This is how we get confident kittens, too."
Kitten Kindergarten is a new program, developed by Montemny, who is the nonprofit shelter's behavior and training department manager.
It's taught through the shelter's "Sniff University," which offers classes on topics like dog massage, preparing dogs for the arrival of a new baby, and loose leash walking skills.
The cat curriculum is newer, and a little less comprehensive -- but Montemny is hoping to change that, and "teach people that cats can actually be trained."
Kitten Kindergarten is a two-hour class, during which folks learn some very important kitten-handling skills -- like getting the youngsters comfortable having their ears checked, and their nails clipped, and helping them get used to their carriers. All the sorts of things they are likely to encounter during their lives -- but which could cause lots of stress, if they don't learn to associate these activities with delicious treats.
And just because it's fun: the class also includes teaching kittens how to sit, and how to "boop." (That's, of course, the technical term for when they touch their nose to your finger.)
The kittens themselves are shelter pets that are available for adoption -- though future classes may be BYOK (bring your own kitten). For now, students can go home and practice their learning’s with their own feline, while the shelter's little ones get some much-needed socialization time.
Part of the goal with Kitten Kindergarten is to "to help kittens have great life experiences that will prevent future behavior problems," says Montemny.
By acclimating the cats at a young age, they’ll be more accepting when their usual day of napping in the sun and snacking on dry food is disrupted by a trip to the vet.
"The more people, places and things we introduce them to in a fun, safe way, the greater their confidence will be," Montemny says. "It’s so much fun to see the skills cats can learn, while strengthening the bond between people and their cats."
As Montemny finishes up the day's session, all four of the kittens have passed out in various cozy spots around the room. It turns out that all this training is useful and fun, and, it turns out, also completely exhausting.