Retired professor on a mission to help shy cats

Retired professor Alma Davenport volunteers at both the Potter League for Animals in Rhode Island and Best Friends Animal Sanctuary to help shy cats.
By Christelle L. Del Prete

Alma Davenport’s recent visit to Best Friends Animal Sanctuary was her seventh, and this time she was on a mission. The goal of her latest visit was to gather tips about socializing cats who are shy and scared, and then bring that knowledge home to her community.

Alma is a retired art professor who volunteers at the Potter League for Animals in Rhode Island. The shelter has a program (the Kneady Cat) that teaches skills and techniques to volunteers who want to work with shy cats. The goal is to help nervous cats gain confidence with people to help them get adopted.

Volunteer Alma Davenport smiling and sticking her finger out for an orange tabby cat to sniff

Shy cat tips

When Alma visits the cats at the shelter, she starts by encouraging eye contact. But sometimes the cats aren’t ready for that, so she will bring out some canned tuna and a retractable back scratcher. She pulls the back scratcher all the way out, giving them distance they need and to show them that they don’t have to do anything in order to get a special treat. Once they make eye contact and understand that she’s offering them something good, she’ll gradually retract the back scratcher.

“At some point,” Alma says, “they will nibble at the tuna close to my hand. From there it is slow blinks, then allowing petting and then purring. Every cat is an individual and it’s a process, but each step is gratifying. And when one of our Kneady Cats graduates from the program or finds a forever home, there are high-fives all around the shelter.”

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Networking to help shy senior cats

When she visits the Sanctuary, Alma spends as much time as she can with shy cats at Cat World. But this time, she also wanted to do some networking. Aside from her love of shy cats, senior cats have a special place in her heart. And finding homes for seniors in shelters can be a challenge. So Alma met with Best Friends adoption specialist Sherri Wilhoite to get some tips, tricks and web references that could help the Potter League place more seniors in loving homes.

Volunteer Alma Davenport scratching the head of a black and white cat while helping at Cat World

“Sherri, too, has a special place in her heart for senior cats,” Alma says. “She knew exactly what I meant when I declared that senior cats are the royalty of the world. I learned about ‘seniors for seniors,’ a Best Friends adoption promotion that waived adoption fees for people 60 and older adopting cats eight and older, and it’s brilliant.”

Alma says that meeting with Cat World manager Jenn Corsun was equally exciting. “She was amazingly open and giving about every aspect of Best Friends, including successful adoption promotions,” says Alma. “After our meeting she sent me relevant information about working with the public. She also helped me choose an area in Cat World where I’d enjoy volunteering during my 10-day visit.

“The Potter League, where I volunteer, is the very best. But I consider Best Friends to be the mother ship. I hope we at the Potter League — humans and kitties alike — will benefit greatly from my journey. For both Best Friends and the Potter League, it’s all about the animals.”

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Volunteer Alma Davenport brushing an orange tabby cat

Photos by Kurt Budde