Tabby kitten during enrichment session (2015)

Tabby kitten during enrichment session (2015)

Spring semester 2015 was a magical time. A new opportunity for community collaboration was launched on the Canisius College campus. As part of my Animal Learning class in the Animal Behavior, Ecology and Conservation undergraduate major, we hosted six kittens from the SPCA Serving Erie County in my class. My students learned how to teach kittens to do some simple behaviors – walk into a carrier on cue, jump over a flower pot, sit patiently on a mat, and run through a tunnel. It was an amazing time.

What I didn’t expect was the crowds that gathered, regularly, at the large two-way glass wall that looks into the Margaret L. Wendt Animal Behavior Lab (ABL). Whether during training sessions first thing each morning (8:00 AM classtime!) or during the afternoon and evening enrichment sessions, visitors came to see the furry felines in action. Faculty would stop by for a break in their day to unwind with us. Students would take a moment to smile at the silly antics of the kittens. One of my favorite was the maintenance staff worker who used to come by at the same time every day with the broom to sweep the floor at the window which fascinated the kittens who endlessly chased the broom back and forth, back and forth from inside the ABL. It became such a hit that prospective student tours would end at the ABL during enrichment times so that prospective students and their families could laugh a little after taking in a lot of information about everything Canisius has to offer – including what has affectionately become known as “Kittens on Campus.” It even has its own hashtag – #KittensOnCampus.

It wasn’t just on campus that our kittens were famous…Channel 2 News came to our ABL to interview me about the class and to learn how easy it is to train cats! They stayed for over 30 minutes taking video, watching the students work with their kitten in what can only be described as a beautiful dance of cues and reinforcers.

Marketing & Communications class visits Animal Learning Class (2015)

Marketing & Communications class visits Animal Learning Class (2015)

Other classes came to visit the kittens and their student trainers and learn not only about training, but to use this program as their own assignment – developing a marketing plan to tell the world about this innovative collaboration between Canisius and the SPCA Serving Erie County.

At the end of the semester, all six kittens were adopted into loving homes. Two of them now reside with Canisius faculty, three were adopted by the students working with them and the last by an adopter from the community who is very happy to have such a smart, engaging and well-socialized kitten!

During a town hall meeting with the college president, one audience member declared that we should have Kittens on Campus every year. The riveting success meant that we simply had to keep this collaboration going! The Animal Learning class will welcome new kittens to the ABL on Monday, April 4. The kittens will stay on campus until their return to the SPCA for adoption on May 6. I can now enthusiastically say…

The Kittens are Coming! The Kittens are Coming!

Students enriching kittens in the ABL. (2015)

Students enriching kittens in the ABL. (2015)