Meet Ozzie and Lantern. They were attendees at Lincoln’s first Kitten Kindergarten, which I offered last January through early February.
Four-month-old Ozzie is a foster fail that the Babkas have cared for since she was one day old. According to Heather Babka, she was found in a warehouse alone with no other known cats on the premises. Like most kittens, she’s full of energy and curiosity, traits that the Babkas hope she’ll continue to possess as she matures. Ozzie attended all three Kitten Kindergarten classes. His family practiced lessons at home with him too.
According to Elizabeth Jones, Lantern’s mom charmed her way into living in a heated workshop of a family they knew. The mom would hang out on the family’s laps while they worked. When they realized she was pregnant, they brought her into the house so that the kittens would be tame. Elizabeth got the last one, which they named Lantern. He was ten weeks old when joined Kitten Kindergarten in its third week. Elizabeth describes him as curious and outgoing, saying that “if he’s awake, he’s on the move investigating the world.”
As soon I first heard of the concept of Kitten Kindergarten, I knew that I wanted to bring it to Lincoln. Behavior issues are the top reason that cats are relinquished or euthanized, but proper socialization can change how people view cats. Kitten personality is shaped by early handling by as many people as possible, for at least five minutes each day. Small Animal Pediatrics recommends also exposing kittens to as many stimuli as possible. Kitten Kindergarten can help facilitate this socialization. In addition, education can provide owners with the skills needed to raise well-adjusted cats. It’s easy to fall in love with kittens; staying in love with them as they develop behavior issues is harder. Kitten Kindergarten can not only help prevent many behavior issues, but it can also give owners the skills to know how to handle them.
The Babkas signed up for Kitten Kindergarten because puppy classes had been effective for their dogs and they thought cats should have the same opportunities. They also hope to raise a more outgoing and social cat than is the stereotype, as that would make using pet sitters or even taking Ozzie on vacations simpler to do. Similarly, Elizabeth signed up for Kitten Kindergarten to give Lantern the opportunities a puppy would have, such as learning how to be social with people, other animals, and how to be comfortable doing on outings. She would love for Lantern to become an adventure cat!
While discussing cat behavior this past year with Dr. Jody Jones of Cotner Pet Care, our conversation turned to Kitten Kindergarten. She expressed eagerness to offer this resource to clients, and so I set about making this possible. I sought out and interviewed other Kitten Kindergarten teachers, with my two goals being to learn the logistics of holding one and how to promote it. In January, I offered Lincoln’s first Kitten Kindergarten class.
It was a three-week class, held on Saturdays, each one hour in length. I alternated between ten minutes of instruction and ten minutes of activities. Topics covered included: introductions, cat body language, how to use a harness and leash, the ideal feline environment, husbandry, effective play, obedience, and agility. Dr. Jones came each week to speak about kitten health.
For Heather, the most valuable topic was that of husbandry (basic care) such as cleaning teeth and clipping nails. “These are things I never would have thought to try with my cats,” said Heather. “Having had cats with teeth issues and struggling to give pills to, I look forward to using some of these skills to get Ozzie comfortable with being handled now so it’s easier when it’s needed for health reasons.”
Halfway through Kitten Kindergarten, I received an inquiry from Elizabeth. She expressed an interest in attending the class with Lantern, and so I invited her to our last class. During it, Lantern got to meet our toy poodle, and that at first Lantern hissed at him but then became more and more curious and followed him and sniffed at him and even tried to play with him.
Based on her visit, in addition to wanting to acclimate Lantern to visiting new places, she desires to “work on my timing for training and rewarding Lantern for behaviors. Also, I want him to interact with a small friendly dog.” Elizabeth, her mom, and Lantern plan to attend my next offering of Kitten Kindergarten.
At the end of the first two classes, I assigned homework and challenges. “We’ve tried multiple things,” Heather told me. “Most obvious is the assigned training every week. We’ve also tried giving her new experiences every week from going places and doing different activities around the house. Ozzie appears to enjoy the attention and lets us know she’s done by her body language. I feel like we’re bonding and building trust.”
My first Kitten Kindergarten went so well that I will offer it again beginning at the end of this month (February). Following are reasons why two of the attendees believe you should be there. According to Heather, “All kittens should take this class to learn how to communicate with your cat, maintain a healthy cat, and to give them a big world so they aren’t as afraid. It can only help keep your family happy. I can’t think of a reason this class wouldn’t be beneficial.”
Elizabeth recommends the whole experience too. “Riding in the car, watching other cats from a distance, meeting new people, discussing developmental milestones, working on cooperative care/husbandry behaviors, meeting a small friendly dog, and so many other reasons.”
Tickets are available through Eventbrite.