Tabitha Kucera, Chirrups & Chatter Cat Behavior Consulting and Education
You tuned into the community cats podcast ready. Let's go Welcome to the community cats podcast. I'm your host Stacey Lebaron. I've been involved helping homeless cats for over twenty years with the Merrimack River Feline Rescue Society. The goal of this podcast is to expose you to amazing people or improving the lives of cats. I hope these interviews will help you learn how you can turn your passion for cats into action today. We're speaking with Tabitha who Sarah Tabitha is a level three fear free and low stress Handling Certified Rv T. you see CBC and KP a Dash CTP. She's the owner of chirps and chatter behavior consulting and training and positively positive dog dog behavior consulting and training. She loves educating others through Writing Behavior Consulting and lecturing on all things cats including can socialization feline friendly the handling and more she enjoys the opportunity to help people better understand and relate to cats Tabitha. I'd like to welcome to the show. Thank you so much for having me so excited yeah yeah. No this is great. We're talking earlier and as I'm sure you've been on the show before and it turns out you haven't but you are part of our online cat conference and did a fantastic presentation there and it was great to meet you through the online Katkov France and it's great to have you on the show so I really appreciate you joining me today before we take take this deep dive into your specialties. Do you want to share with our listeners a little bit about how you developed a passion for cats. I'll try to be short and sweet is really hard. When I'm talking about cats anyone that knows me knows this but I grew up with animals. It was normal to have a turtle two cats a dog all this lovely saw and then as I got older. I wanted to be a veterinary technician. Thankfully I'm one of those people who knew what I wanted to do. When I was pretty young which also I became a registered veterinary technician so I could take care of animals literally on for a living as I was checking 'cause. I helped doubt at shelters but I also worked at hospitals. I saw a lot of disturbing patterns for example cats giving euthanized due to behavioral issues that could easily be prevented or could have been helped or a lot of clients coming in to the clinic with their cats and we would euthanize them on the same day we met them and it wasn't because these clients Heinsohn love their cats more than anything it was because a lot of people are unaware of cats subtle signs of pain so by the time they're noticing them. Lethargic anorexic sick visits aren't the normal cats by the time they bring them in the cats. Were so ill that humane euthanasia was the best and I saw this happened over and over again and then then I saw a lot of stereotypes and scapegoating of cats whether I was seeing it towards feral cats or a cat house wailing in someone telling me it was out of spite which cats that's not the case. That's got me more into behavior and then I realized there's very limited resources on cat behavior as veterinary technician. I could barely find any so it was like how in the heck is the general public and rescues binding accurate information on feline behavior so that's kind of got me into my my path to becoming coming as certified. Cabbie Abra consultant in starting to clicker training with cads and cooperative care with cats because I love my dogs and my other animals but unfortunately I feel cats are very stereotypes even by the people that love them so cat lovers are part of the people that say these things like my cat is a whole or my Mike. CATT doesn't learn like it's funny because I asked him to sit and he doesn't sit. Haha people don't realize that those stereotypes result in pretty serious things like if you feel lake your cat can't learn and you're being told that by Bennie professionals shelter professionals even if it's a joke when your cat starts being out of the box. You're going to say my cat spiteful. He can't learn and I'm just opening the door so that's what really got me into everything ads and I love humans cats and animals and one of those Unicorns so I then Dan started doing everything in my power to educate people about cats and it's been awesome people have been super receptive and I know so many people that now clicker train their cats ender enriching their cats dirk koetter living their lives. It's awesome so you just packed a ton of information in there. I have so many questions kind of rattling around. I'm ahead but first and foremost looking at your discovery period I look back at the Times that I've been involved in animal rescue and there are many moments that I can pinpoint very specifically thickly like I saw something and I said I don't want to ever see that again. One example being a dumpster full of twenty five kittens most of them with their eyes closed rosed with beer bottles splattered all over the place and I'm like you know we're just not having this again. No no this is just not right and it seems based on what you were talking about that. There are a lot of the things you're seeing. There was like a no no this is. There's there's another way and I wanna do what I can in order to make sure that we're not going to see this again. Am I putting words into your mouth or is that an accurate representation. That's pretty spot on. Unfortunately we all know in the rescue world in January worlds. I feel one of the biggest reasons why cats are euthanized or behavior and another this is another thing have recognized Anna recognize. There's limited resources and the things that are available aren't very friendly. He like for example a litterbox sold in pet store. Generally I would never recommend their entirely too small among other things so I noticed that humans aren't really set up for success as for cats so they love their cats. It's just don't have the education to do their best. which is why kind of like you said? I WANNA do everything in my power to prevent that from from happening and that goes along with what we're gonNA talk about with feline friendly handling because as a VAT tax I have to do things that cats may not like that may cause trusted Tim and none of us start in this field for money a ha ha we do it because we love animals and feeling friendly handling for your free handling whatever you WANNA call it it allows me to do everything everything in my power to limit fear anxiety and stress and cads which also helps them not have as many behavioral problems or not have as much stress than I feel better at the end of the day so I definitely league relate to what you're saying so we're GONNA take a deep dive into this. I'm going to ask you specifically what is feline friendly handling. What does that mean so so if I had to define it in a way it would basically be using a less is more approach so you would assess the cats language and use restraint methods that the cap prefers versus what I was taught. Veterinary technician school was literally. Just walk up to the cat. Grab it and do your thing now how by assessing cats body language. I can see what works revamped because we all have cats are individuals yet. I was taught to hold them all in the exact same way which unfortunately I don't think we're setting that technicians for success because one technique does not work for all cats and if you don't understand feel like communication which I did not learn in vetinary every technician school body language. I don't understand how we can accurately restrain them because we're going to not be able to read when they're saying please stop or a hate this and then we're going to say something something like. The bike came out of nowhere which is never the case. Can you give me some examples of where feline friendly handling would be like examples of what would would not be feeling friendly handling versus what would be if I say may give you a a serve up 10-week-old semi feral kitten okay so attend gold semi Carrollton. I commonly see people especially with smaller animals but I think not just cats but dogs too but especially hidden because they're so small even though they're exhibiting terrified behavior there cowering their eyes are completely dilated yours back there screaming we still approach them full frontally so for example if the cat within a trap or a carrier we would reach in grab their scruff and pull them out onto generally a cold medal table. That's honestly honestly what I was taught to do. In Tech School on don't ask just reach in grab reach into the scary box which is also very unsafe for us and what I would do now. How with feeling friendly handling techniques is for example that carrier track would be covered with issues towel which is a campfire mon.? I would have it on elevated service. Viscous most cats preferred to be elevated. It would either be on the exam table or elevated onto a chair. I would have a warm towel or yoga mat on the exam table because cool metal tables are no fun and they're slippery. I would have some high value food like tuna on Kiro Pace in toby pays a variety because I like different things and kittens all have different tastes as well and then I would actually take the carrier part because just reaching in. I don't know now now that I know more. It's just so unsafe first off. It's terrifying for the cat and it's literally we're not assessing anything just reaching in and I would understand if a cat if I was in possessing their body language and region. They're hiding cowering more. It's understandable inappropriate behavior for them to bite me so instead I would take the carrier apart and that I would most likely cover the kitten because the semi kin will most likely be fearful so I would use the towel in a Burrito robbing technique and I would most likely cover the is because most cats pervert a high hiding in natural coping mechanism and then I would pull the cat up and towards my chest and then you would be able to do whatever whatever you needed to do hold it cat kitten to help with socializing and I would assume you would be saying you're a semi feral feral behavior savior versus aggressive behaviors from cats. Take different approaches actually very similar approaches so I hear words like fractious allot which which I'm not a fan of that word because I think labeling is a big problem in the veterinarian and shelter worlds and I'll be honest ideal at the most fearful of fearful cats and I very reg- re-releasing a truly fractious cat by definition fractious just means on Hannibal but I'm also very comfortable with handling techniques so that's a whole nother thing because I feel like in our field we don't take handling serious as a skill which is really concerning because I'll be honest with you. I much rather have a skilled handler than a skillful the bottom as any day so to be fair again. I don't think we're sending each other success because a lot of people see videos where I'm like. I know it doesn't look like I'm I'm restraining this animal but I am and I can restrain very fearful animals which some people can see aggression due to fear but I still use the label fearful. They may be exhibiting aggressive behaviors but it's because they're fearful. Now that is not for everyone. That's why I always asked how long was your first spay and usually they say if he lowers hours which is appropriate and then I asked him. How long is your space now. Most of them say like fifteen to twenty minutes but when it comes to handling which is the biggest part of our job honestly honestly we don't practice and we use the same technique over and over and over again so I think we really need to practice it like anything else and in shelter older Annan bednarik clinics. I love it because there's so many different people with amazing skill sets like for example. I'm probably go to handler by. I may reach out to you you. Hey tag recall you the vampire. You're amazing We're going to set this up instead of trying to do everything ourselves which is a whole nother issue but I think in in summary basically feeling friendly handlings really important but it's not something that I can say hey stacy. I'm GonNa tell you how to do this in five minutes and you're going going to be able to do it so it's definitely something that we want to practice. When I first started with my handling techniques I practiced on studying animals because you don't want I start. I'M GONNA start with a really beautiful. Even though I am unsure what I'm hoping so you set yourself up for success now I have probably thirty to forty restraints just off the top of my head that I could just quickly change based on how that cat is doing versus what I had before which was one restraint which escalates fear anxiety and stress the you have all these different tricks of the trade that you've developed over time. You mentioned something about videos. So are there videos online that people can look at. I'm actually working on finally starting a YouTube channel. I have a lot of lovely jobs and I'm very thankful for them. So I'm working on starting a youtube channel which should be up in the next month or so but on chirps chatters facebook. I share a lot of feline friendly handling techniques in the real world. 'cause I do Cossack Zine clinics duty in our I work work with veterinary clinics so I share a lot of my examples in real life also on my personal facebook page as well as in my lectures because I think videos are really really important because I think some people like the idea of what I'm saying but what you have to realize when we've only been taught to scrap in stretch and that's all we know it's really important into always challenger selves and learn more but I know it can be difficult sometimes so when I have realized videos of hey I just drew blood on this cat and she just was standing the eating the whole time and her body language was relaxed. People start to get it which is awesome so I tried to get as many as I can. That's really great and really important. I mean even having this conversation. I'm like wish we had some visuals. You know. It's just because you know the things that you're describing. I'm sitting here going like I want to believe but since I haven't Zeenat seeing is believing right. Hey everyone who are here today to talk about Dr L. C.'s Cat Litter Dr L. C.'s cat litter here is known to be the best litter on the market and who agrees many of you know that hooch was a foster cat of mine that I adopted while at the Merrimack River Feline Rescue Society we did use is the touch of outdoors litter as we transitioned him from being an indoor outdoor kitty to an indoor only kidding. I'm thrilled that who found his home with me but there were many times when folks would call me saying being there. Kitty didn't use the litterbox. I was also thrilled that Dr Elsies cat attract litter came out as it gave me a resource to share with others that was affordable and in most cases successful in keeping this kitty in their home as a special benefit to community cats podcast listeners. Dr. Llc's is offering rebate up to twenty dollars off your first bag back any Dr L. C.'s litter just visit Dr L. Sees Dot com forward slash community cats podcast to rebate or fill out the online form. Try Dr Dr L. C.'s Today and you won't regret it. I'd like to ask you couple of questions about clicker training. I'm not necessarily sure a lot of our listeners or are really aware aware of what clicker training is and how can clicker training be used in shelter environment or in any other sort of environment. Can you utilize it even an out you know in a feral cat colony environment or anything like that share with us. What clicker training is as it applies to cats and how you've seen it used clicker. Training is just a way to you. Teach animals new behaviors the click or clicker. We just call a marker. Some people use a verbal marker like they'll say yes. Some people use a clicker which makes a small all click sound. I'm a big fan of click because click sounds the same way from me that it does from a five-year-old from one hundred year old. I yes can sound a little different but again whatever your preferences for for example is. GonNa teach a cat a target behavior which I'm a huge fan of it's when you have them touch a target which I actually use clicker training with fearful cats a law and it makes a humongous August difference for example. I would use a pencil versus my hand because the animals fearful started want to put my hand in their face and win their nose touches. The eraser I click at that moment reinforce with food treat usually but reinforces can be putting play just like with us. There's lots of different reinforces. Food is just the easiest one to focus focus on and basically the click just serves as a way to communicate with the cat. That was the behavior I want. Versus just yelling sit or come a not really giving name criteria or helping them understand the click is a really cool thing because it helps us communicate with the animal like something. I do wear fearful cats with Kim socialization. I'm actually not a big fan of the whole holding them thing which is commonly used because I that actually a form of flooding which means if you were afraid of spiders I just dream in a room full of spiders so if you have a fearful or feral kitten and I go to grab them they're actually usually frozen in fear so instead head of that technique I usually start with target training and clicking entreating when they start to walk towards the cage or any behavior towards the cage page we call that cashiering which just means media capturing what you're doing it might be you just looking at me and then an era going towards me and then you walking out of the box I go at a pace your comfortable with the cat and I work with the cat positive program which is a wonderful program. It's actually supported and sponsored by the Jackson Galaxy Project and we literally teach shelters feeling body language and how to click or train and these cats who've been shut down for years come out of their shell in light weeks. This is life changing. I mean I'm pretty passionate but clicker training cats is amazing and I would love for more people to utilize it. It's just a way to teach them to communicate clearly a and you can teach fun tricks to spin and like my cats do agility and they jumped through hoops and stuff but I use it a lot more for behavior modification getting these fearful cads what's more comfortable and then I also do cooperative care which is where the animal plays a part in their medical cares for example. Mike Hat is trained to you. Go to a man I say meds. He goes to a specific place and he opens his mouth goodness while you have to realize like it's not that difficult to teach which is why I'm so passionate about it because as a vet tech animal losing lives because people can't medicate them and I'm not judging. It's a hard thing but it doesn't have to be and that's where clicker training meaning behavioral modification really come in clicker. Training cats is so fun and you can definitely find more information about that on my facebook page. I'm always sharing videos of clicker training raining hats and I actually have workshops on how to teach humans to click or train cats as well so let me ask you and ask you a question sort of a looking forward question knowing what you we know about rescue and it sounds like being involved with the cat positive program you've probably gotten some knowledge of other shelters and other programs around the country. Dan You've seen a lot. How would you look at a future shelter or adoption program is is there anything that organizations need to do structurally in order or to be able to have these cat behavior programs or is it something that can be just implemented like tomorrow after training a wonderful question. I'll be honest. I'm lucky because I do a lot of education and teaching so I get to travel to shelters all over the US and I'll be honest I've gone to ones with over sixty employees with a lot of binding and then I've gone to ones that are five people and volunteer base and the things they are doing are just amazing so honestly. I think that this is something that any shelter can do because I've worked with foster base. I've worked with like I said those really small rural shelters and then I've worked with a really large scale shelters. The biggest part is as as you can imagine consistency and setting up your team for success so for example. I'm not GonNa just say hey read this handout on clicker training and then you should do this and then get frustrated with the cat or the staff member so I'm going to empower my staff and have education for them and allow them to ask questions and practice and get better and look more into resources because there's so many great books and resources out there for them to learn more and it's a process every shelter is different as we all know even when it comes to feline friendly handling usually I'm working with a shelter or Vet Clinic. I teach them what it is. Why it's important and then we pick doc three things to start out with. 'CAUSE I need to set up my people for success too so we choose end. Those three. Things may literally be every cat has a box in their cage. Yes yes yes if I could scream that from the rooftops apricot. He's a hiding place on so every cat gets a box in their cage. We start to US feel away and we start star to give them one puzzle. Toy like that can be an example but then people since you're setting them up for success they kind of really go with it and I've seen I've seen shelters shelters who only actually been to a lecture of mine. I have gone to visit them in all of this enrichment your target training this is amazing. They're like I went to your lecture. I'm like how did you apply L. That you are genius so people are doing amazing things out there with very limited resources not that I'm not saying that money is important for shelters but I do feel like I've I seen the same results at the shelter with no money that are bouncier bees and shelters that have lots of money and staff so anyone can do it which is awesome and it means you can start sooner rather than later. You know you're not going to say well. We need to wait till we get our kitty. Cat Agility course setup. That's something that's not the priority. The process is more more of the institutional human behavior in how they interact with cats and understanding that word feline communication you share that in the beginning of the show and I think that's incredibly important is feeling communication and understanding how we interact with our cats and it may be in a different manner than what we have seen in the past. I totally agree with you because I always joke when I lecture. I'm not throwing shave guys but as attack I learned nothing about Feline Body language so you most likely didn't either right because with a lot of us feel like I'm always challenging myself. I never stop learning. I never think I know everything and I think that's part of the reason why have gone to the place in my career. I think it's really important to challenging ourselves and asking questions and I've done so many lectures where people were so wonderful and they're like I've had cats for twenty years. They come up to me after I didn't know anything about cats and I always joke. I've had a Harvard fifteen years guys. I still can't change my oil and I never will rose. I'm not saying the experience is important but if you're just doing the same thing at not progressing then important experience is so that a really good wait and to say staff members of success because sometimes I feel like sometimes we aren't very nice to each other from what I see and treat humans like I treat animals. I work with with positive reinforcement. I focus on the positive I try to set them up for success and the changes in even the way I've taught since I've gotten into behavior. I've seen so many so many improvements 'cause I'm always bettering myself and like you said someone will go to one lecture and Gordon. They're shelter in their stuff. They're doing. I'm like Oh my you've applied all of this yourself. All I did was give you a few books to read and give you a lecture so people are capable of doing amazing. Things for one person can totally make a difference. Tabitha if folks are interested in finding out more about the work that you're doing. How would they do that. They can go to my website which is true ups and chattered dot Com. I also have a terms in chatter facebook and an instagram at man positively positive facebook as well as my personal baseball. GotTa Love Social Media and I am always happy to Tair my resources with people. I have a lot of handouts and I have some webinars coming up. I actually have a fearful barrel. kitten socialization women are coming up in. September summer that I'm really excited about because as mentioned before unfortunately a lot of the techniques that we were traditionally taught was a lot of force in flooding holding grabbing with with socialization and there's a lot of really cool ways that we can use cleaner training and behavior modification to make things go a lot quicker so people can find me there and it's meals. He'd like to share with our listeners. There's Today. I would just say if you want to learn more about feeling friendly. Handling of course I'm GonNa say follow me but also international can't care fear for free low stress handling and cat bats dot com just hat friendly handling are all wonderful resources where you can literally go there and read articles falls on for example why we aren't scrapping anymore as well as videos and get more information and a lot of his three which is awesome excellent well. Thank you so much much for sharing that information. We'll make sure we get that in the show notes and I wanNA thank you Tabitha so much for agreeing to be a guest on my show and I hope we'll have again in the future. Thank you so much for having me and for everything everything you do. Education is so important as well as supporting each other so. Please keep doing what you're doing stacey. You're wonderful. Thanks thank you for listening to community cats podcast. I really appreciate it if you would go to. I Tunes Lever View of the show it will help spread the word to help more community cats yeah.