How One Shelter Is Increasing Cat Adoptions Through Socialization

While attending BlogPaws last week, I had the good fortune to meet two ladies from Friends of Animals Utah (FOAU).  One of the ladies, Sharon Cantwell, told me about the Ranch Kitty Socialization program she established at FOAU in January to raise the adoption rates for cats at their shelter.

Sharon was inspired to start the program after meeting a 3 month old kitty named Hemmingway in the summer of 2011. He and his siblings were put into quarantine for ringworm a few days later and were still there months later.

When she realized he was still not adopted, Sharon rushed to see him. Hemmingway was no longer the charming, happy, inquisitive, playful, confident kitty she’d known. He was skittish, uncoordinated, and lacking confidence. Sharon vowed never to let this happen again, and the Kitty Social Program began.

Hemmingway didn’t even know how to play!  For the next two months, after working with him for approximately 6 hours a week, Sharon began to see Hemmingway re-emerge. He transformed into a proud, curious, and confident cat.

Sharon didn’t get to say goodbye to Hemmingway, though, he was adopted an hour after arriving at the adoption center.

For shy, scared and mistrustful kitties, volunteers gradually build trust by allowing them to observe volunteers with the other cats and providing incentives like treats and wet food. Next, volunteers pull the litter box forward in the condo and put a comfortable pad behind it.  Volunteers don’t approach the cat, but rather wait for the cat to approach them.

Long term shelter residents may experience “Adoption Center Fatigue” (not really wanting to engage, when potential adopters are interested in them, displaying signs of stress or depression). They are brought in to stretch their legs and get a “re-set” in terms of their stress levels. At the Ranch, which is closed to the public, there is considerably less traffic (noise, people, dogs, etc.) creating a calmer environment.

Cats have that battled an illness that kept them in quarantine for a long time may need to be re-socialized.  These cats may have lost confidence, and need to be “brought back” into a more socialized, happy state. Sometimes extra effort is required, working slowly with the cat to rebuild confidence, and to re-introduce the human bond of touch.

So far, over 200 cats and kittens have gone through the Kitty Socialization program.  This includes recent rescues and those cats that have been at the shelter for a longer time and are tired of the shelter experience.  Adoption rates have risen approximately 10% since the program began in January.  Statistics for May 2012 show 40 cat adoptions, as compared to 24 for May 2011.

Many thanks to Sharon Cantwell, Leader Volunteer for Ranch Kitty Socialization Program and Lisa Allison, President-Friends of Animals Utah for their help on this story.  For more info on FOAU, go to their site,


Written by Karen


Karen is Publisher of Fully Feline. She also owns a pet care business in Overland Park, KS called Joy of Living.