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The Blair Cat Project

Blair the black cat playing with a yellow feather toy.

My name is Anna Miller and I am currently the General Manager at Zoology Foundation. I’ve been working here for 7 years. I started as an animal care specialist, moved into the volunteer coordinator role, then to sanctuary manager ,which led to the role I’m in now. In the years I’ve worked here, I’ve met numerous animals who have important stories to tell. Some are uplifting and fun, while others have a more somber tone. This particular story you’re about to read is one of my favorites. I hope you enjoy!

Blair is Zoology’s 8-year-old domestic shorthair cat. Fitting to her name, she is all black with golden eyes. The typical black cat you think of around Halloween! Blair has been at Zoology Foundation since 2016. She was adopted from the Denver Dumb Friend’s League in their working cats program. Many shelters and rescues have working cat programs to help find homes for cats who may not be best suited as a house pet. Blair was and still is cute and feisty! When first arriving at the farm, she was comfortable being around people, but she didn’t want any physical interaction. If you dared to touch her, she would respond with a claws out swipe of her paw! This is probably the reason why she was put in the working cats program.

After a couple years, it became clear that Blair was not our typical barn cat. The other cats living at the barn spent their days exploring, hunting mice, and cuddling with each other and the surrounding human staff members. Blair, on the other hand, would spend all of her days and nights laying inside her favorite heated cat house right next to her food bowl.  It is no surprise given her couch potato ways, that Blair became heavier and rounder. And continued refusing to hunt mice, interact with the humans or other cats, or participate in any sort of physical activity whatsoever.

Although Blair may not have minded this lifestyle, the staff became concerned for her health. Obesity in cats can lead to a variety of issues including diabetes, arthritis, and heart disease. So in 2020 Blair was brought down to the Zoology office trailer in order for the staff to better manage her food intake. The Zoology office trailer has 3 separate areas and a bathroom, making it a good-sized space for one cat. Given her history with people, everyone was a little nervous going into the situation. Including Blair!

The next week or two Blair got used to her new home. She investigated all the areas and quickly found her new breakfast and dinner location. Once she was comfortable Blair surprised everyone by starting to ask for attention from humans! She was rubbing up against people’s legs, accepting pets on her back, and meowing at us. Seeing this change, we decided to experiment and bring her a variety of cat toys to see what she’d do. Turns out, she LOVES cat wands! Especially ones that have feathers or strings attached to them. She will chase after it, roll onto her back and bat at it with her back legs, and chew on it. Since she was clearly food motivated, we also tried clicker training with her. Clicker training uses positive reinforcement to encourage certain behaviors. Blair was a natural! Now Blair has learned to touch her nose to a target, sit, high five, stand on her back legs, and jump onto and off various platforms and surfaces.

Between the structured feeding times, play time with toys, and activity of training, Blair easily got back to a healthy weight for her size. She now spends her spare time lounging in her favorite cat tower right by the window where she can enjoy the sunshine and breeze in her hair. As well as sitting in my lap when I do office work such as writing this article. I have worked with a lot of animals in my 7 years at Zoology, but Blair’s transformation has really touched my heart. Even though she isn’t your typical household snuggle bug, it wasn’t true that she wasn’t suited for a house cat. She just needed to find the right home where she felt comfortable and safe to be herself. And I am overjoyed that we are able to provide that for her!

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