If You Think Cats are Untrainable You Might Very Well be Wrong
Paula Garber, who has spent nearly two decades as a freelance editor and a resident of Ossining, announced that she wanted to start and own a cat training and behavioral business, got a lot of mixed reactions from her close friends and family. They reacted with, “Cats? Really?” But she did it anyway, and started her business, Lifeline Cat Behavior Solutions, from her home in 2014 and she talked about how once the word about her business got out there and it picked up to where she got ]busy and stayed busy, she thought to herself, ‘Wow, I guess you’re kind of good at this, and there really is a need.’
Garber and her desire to work with cats wasn’t too surprising to many since she grew up in the veterinarian business with her father being a vet for more than thirty years. She helped out at his office in Briarcliff Manor, and this wasn’t the only animal contact she had; her mother was a champion show dog breeder and rescuer. She says that she grew up with lots of animals, from dogs, to horses, pigeons, rats, and more. But her special love, was cats. She was always the kind of kid who was the one coming home with a kitten she found.
Garber is married and her love of cats stayed with her into adulthood. She and her husband Bruce have five cats, which some are strays and some just happened upon her doorstep. She said that she was always looking for someone to help her train her cats but was never able to find anyone. Her reasoning was that she wanted to domesticate the rescued animals, and when there was no one to help her, she realized that there was a need for this type of service.
Garber says that she spent a good number of years caring for rescued feral cats which she says is what got her interested in training the cats; a task that wasn’t easy but she said she seemed to have a gift for it. She is quoted as saying, “That whole behavior thing sort of got under my skin, and I thought, ‘This is really cool. I want to learn more,’” she said.
Garber received her professional certification in bot animal training and enrichment, as well as a specialized certification in feline behavior and training from an online institution, the Animal Behavior Institute, and it was shortly after that she started her own business. After her business launch, she went on to further her education and get her diploma in feline behavior science and technology from another institute, the Companion Animal Sciences Institute.
Garber says that a lot of folks think that the answer to feline behavior issues is to just put the cat outside or give it to an animal shelter. That is why so many cats end up in shelters, or abandoned on the side of the road. She says that in reality, these behavior issues are actually pretty easy to rectify if people just had a little information to know how to.
Garber’s approach is positive reinforcement techniques to help the owners and their cats fix a wide variety of issues, including fear, destructive behavior, as well as an aggressiveness towards other felines.
Garber said, “There’s this perception that cats are untrainable. They’re super independent, they’re aloof, they’re all these things,” she said. “Cats learn just like dogs do, just like people do. Everybody learns the same way, all the mechanisms are the same. With cats, the only thing that might be different is that you really need to understand a cat to know what motivates them.”
Garber talks about the difference between dogs and cats and says that dogs have a better motivation to understand. Dogs are treat lovers and will be motivated with them, however, cats typically don’t respond as easily to treats and are much more finicky. You have to identify which cats will do what, for what type of payoff, for instance, some may respond to food or treats, while for others, playing may be what gets them motivated to learn. Or, it could be a little affection, like grooming or scratching their head or chin. You just have to figure out what each cat responds to.
Garber also uses the clicker training method, which is the use of a clicking sound that notifies the cat when it does something correctly and then reward the cat. She learned how to train cats to do tricks, like the cat touching their paws to her hands, coming when she calls them, and walking on a lead.
Litterboxes are her biggest issues. She describes cats as being very picky about the litterbox and its set up. Since cats are all bound to their survival instincts, the litterbox poses the most problems for cats that are not used to domestic situations like the litterbox. They tend to feel the most vulnerable in it and it can create real issues for them using it correctly. For all the issues cat owners face, Garber does a home visit to her client’s home to evaluate the cat and the situation for which she charges $195. Her company also offers her clients different packages to choose from that include phone calls, plus email support after.
Garber does more than in-home work. She also works with rescue groups and shelters. She works to socialize and train cats so that they are more adoptable, and because of her work, she has saved some lives that would have probably been euthanized due to their lack of socialization and adoptability. For her, this alone makes her work so rewarding.
Garber has plans to add another facet to her business, and that is to “catify” homes. This means that she would add different elements to her client’s home to make the home more cat friendly – “catios,” “climbing shelves,” and more. She can customize these types of things for her clients, which is what a lot of people want, for their homes to look nice and to match their home décor or look.
Through all of this, she has continued her work in editing but plans to merge into her company, Lifeline, as a full-time job this coming year. She says that things are really picking up with her company, adding over 30 clients which is twice as many as she had in 2016. She has said that there is no other place or person tackling this type of work in her area and she knows there are a lot of cats that need this type of help.