Cat goes from shy to showman

Acadia the cat standing on his hind legs doing a high-five with a person
Acadia didn’t want anything to do with people when he first came to Best Friends, but special attention from a caregiver changed that.
By Best Friends staff

Acadia arrived at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary shy, aloof, and reserved. He had moments where he seemed like he wanted some human interaction, but these were fleeting. The fact that he was sick and needed daily medication didn’t help one bit. Although soon on the mend, Acadia hated taking his medication. He became even more withdrawn and began to flee at the sight of people.

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Acadia also has feline leukemia (FeLV), a virus that affects a cat’s immune system and has no cure. It’s more challenging to place cats who have FeLV into homes, especially if they land in a shelter already filled with many other cats who don’t have it. That, coupled with shyness, makes it difficult for cats like Acadia to stand out to potential adopters. Pets who need a bit of a boost to get healthy and into homes are the reason Best Friends made a goal for all shelters to reach no-kill by 2025. Acadia was safe at the Sanctuary, but that was only the first step.

When his treatment ended, caregiver Kyle Slaton saw his chance to turn things around. “Cat World caregivers pick a project cat each year,” he explains. “I decided to make Acadia my project cat for 2023.”

Baby food for the win

At first, whenever Kyle entered the room, Acadia would just run and hide.

“It wasn’t until I brought in the baby food that I caught his attention,” Kyle says. “I would put some in a bowl, sit in a chair, and offer him a sample from afar. Over the span of a few days, he slowly worked his way to me. And once he realized how good baby food was, the jig was up.”

[Cat Enrichment: Toys, Puzzles and More]

After only a couple weeks, Acadia would get so excited to see Kyle that he’d jump in his lap. “What I didn’t realize,” Kyle says, “was that I was creating the most handsome monster you’ve ever seen. His eagerness for treat time was insatiable.”

Clicker training for one smart cat

From here, Kyle decided to take the bold step and attempt clicker training with Acadia, something he’d never done with any cat. “On the very first day, we were able to learn ‘paw’ together. He would reach out asking for the baby food, and I would say ‘paw,’ wait for his paw to land on my hand, click the clicker, and then offer him his reward.”

Acadia quickly picked up on this pattern. And over the course of about a month, the two were also able to master “touch,” “sit,” “spin,” “jump,” and “high five.”

[You (yes, you) are a cat trainer]

It also turns out that Acadia loves an audience. “At Cat World, we see multiple tours a day of visitors from all over the globe. So we decided to show off his skills to our new friends,” says Kyle. When the tours stop by, it gives them the chance not only to show off how smart he is but also an opportunity to have a conversation about feline leukemia.

As for using those new tricks? When one of his fans decides to adopt this feline superstar, there will be high fives all around.

This article was originally published in the November/December 2023 issue of Best Friends magazine. Want more good news? Become a member and get stories like this six times a year.

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