By Jon Delillo
My journey began on January 10th, 2003. I was a young punk with facial piercings, pink hair, a love of animals and a thirst for knowledge but clueless when it came to shelter work. All I knew was that my cat at the time (Oliver) was my best friend, and I needed a job.
When I arrived at Bideawee in 2003 the organization had a lot of challenging cats and my training was very trial by fire. The first year or so I got so many bites that I stopped seeking medical attention for them. My interest in psychology and deeply held belief in the sentience of all living beings propelled me on an often clumsy, but always rewarding search for some kind of understanding of the animals I was working with. I became dedicated to trying to understand why some animals acted so aggressively, and how it might be possible to gain their trust. Just like humans, I realized that a lot of aggression is based on fear and insecurity.
A cat in a shelter has no control of their surroundings and everything around them is alien; this would be a scary predicament for almost anyone. I began realizing that patience and understanding were needed to reassure these cats and set their minds at ease. At one point, I attended a feral cat conference in Philadelphia and had nowhere to stay. I wound up wandering the streets the entire night, and got a sense of what life must be like for homeless animals.
I have always believed that all animals need love and have a very clear language that they use to communicate with us. Often we place our own expectations of what a pet should be on them and are too rushed for a solution to every personality trait that doesn’t align with that expectation. When we do this, we miss out on loving a pet for who they are and gaining the type of trust that can only be achieved through mutual respect.
Through working with my colleagues, Kerrie McKeon and Mike Rueb, as well as many past coworkers, I have learned a lot about cats and myself. I have always tried to be a friend to the resident cats and have consistently tried to find ways to make them more comfortable during their stay at Bideawee.
My work with cats over the last 12 years has taught me a ton about cat behavior but perhaps more importantly, it has taught me about the value of patience and
understanding, as it relates to any, and all species. I truly hope I have made a positive impact on the lives of the cats I have loved and worked with over the years, and I leave you with the following takeaway: The secret to solving cat behavior problems is simple. Show your cat love, compassion and patienceand you will be met with their gratitude and steadfast companionship.