#76 - Katenna Jones: Build a Better Relationship With Your Cat

[00:00:00] Katenna: If you’re not careful and, you know, set up boundaries for yourself and take care of yourself, it can completely consume you because it’s never ending. There’s always something that needs help. And if you don’t take care of yourself, then you’re useless to the ones that you want to help, so you end up helping less. But if you take care of yourself and say no on occasion, then you have longevity. And I think maintaining longevity can be difficult for a lot of people.

[00:00:21] Allie: Welcome to Enrichment for the Real World, the podcast devoted to improving the quality of life of pets and their people through enrichment. We are your hosts, Allie Bender…

[00:00:38] Emily: …and I’m Emily Strong…

[00:00:40] Allie: …and we are here to challenge and expand your view of what enrichment is, what enrichment can be and what enrichment can do for you and the animals in your lives. Let’s get started.

 Thank you for joining us for today’s episode of Enrichment for the Real World, and I want to thank you for rating, reviewing, and subscribing wherever you listen to podcasts. The voice you heard at the beginning of today’s episode was Katenna Jones. Katenna Jones accidentally discovered her career as a volunteer dog walker in 1999, and went on to earn a Master’s from Brown University where she studied animal behavior, learning, and cognition. Eventually, Katenna became a cruelty investigator, worked for American Humane Association, and also worked for the Association of Professional Dog Trainers. Through Jones Animal Behavior, she now provides cat and dog behavior consulting, and educational services to pet owners, rescues, and various pet professionals around the world.

Her current passion is speaking. She is a published author and is an Associated Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist, Certified Cat and Dog Behavior Consultant, and Certified Fear Free Trainer. Katenna shares her Rhode Island home with two cats, five chickens, and the random foster pet. I adore working with cats, and so I always love when we get to have somebody who also loves working with cats on the podcast.

And one of the reasons that I love working with cats is they’re not as necessarily forgiving as dogs are with their training. If they don’t want to do something, they’re just going to go away. And I kind of love that. They make me a better trainer. So even if you don’t work with cats, I still recommend listening to this episode because you are going to pick up tips for any species that you work with.

In this episode, you’re going to hear Emily and Katenna talk about new ways of thinking about pottying outside the litter box, making sure cats know what you’re offering them, cultivating a cat centric point of view, why cats require precision training and why suppression sometimes works, but still isn’t a good idea.

All right, here it is, today’s episode Katenna Jones, build a better relationship with your cat.

[00:02:48] Emily: Tell us your name, pronouns, and pets.

[00:02:51] Katenna: My name is Katenna Jones. My pronouns are she/her. And my pets, I have two cats. Wheezy, but her full name is Eloise Gremlinsky Bulldoggo. And Banshee, but her full name, her legal name is Susan Bianchi. And I have five chickens.

[00:03:07] Emily: I love that so much. Who, who was it? A poet or writer that talked about how all cats have three names?

[00:03:13] Katenna: Well, like serial killers, you know, it’s similar.

[00:03:16] Emily: Yes. There are some similarities.

[00:03:18] Katenna: So, you don’t mix them up with anyone else.

[00:03:20] Emily: Yeah, absolutely. I love that. Okay. So tell us your story and how you got to where you are.

[00:03:27] Katenna: It’s kind of weird, like it just happened. I started, I knew I wanted to do something with animals, so I always studied sciences and biology, and I was studying biology as an undergrad, and my advisor told me about this thing called animal behavior. So, I was looking into that, and I was interested, and I was going to pursue working with gorillas. So I had applied to work with the Diane Fossey Institute in Rwanda. And as my application was pending, it occurred to me that I’m absolutely terrified of bugs. So, Rwanda is probably not a good place to go. Yeah. So, I was volunteering at the same time at my local animal shelter. And I just fell in love with cats and dogs in that setting. And I wanted to do something tying my biology with that love and that interest. And I just feel like I had a natural instinct or affinity for it. And I found a program in Rhode Island. 

So I moved to Rhode Island to attend Brown University where I got my Master’s in Experimental Psychology, but my work was animal learning behavior and cognition. And I studied communication and domestic dogs. And I did that for however long. And then I got a job as a cruelty investigator at a local shelter. So, I did that for several years and I, I didn’t know what else to do. So I just kind of, as an opportunity came, I took it. And I ended up leaving that position and I got another job working for American Humane Association in the humane education department. And then I eventually ended up as the Director of Education for the Association of Professional Dog Trainers. So it sort of evolved from biology, specifically to pets, specifically to science, and then it went into humane animal welfare rescue, and then it went into education. So, it just sort of evolved. I didn’t pursue like, “Oh, I want to be a cat behaviorist. And I want to teach people.” I didn’t have the plan. I just, as an opportunity came up, I just took it and just kind of ran with it.

[00:05:18] Emily: I love that. And I feel like that’s a really common experience that a lot of us have where we know that we love animals, and we want to do something with animals, but especially I think when you and I were probably getting started, it wasn’t a really well known thing that you could work in animal behavior.

And so there’s, there’s for most of us, a circuitous path of how we ended up kind of honing in on, oh, actually animal behavior and helping animals thrive in pet homes is my area of focus. And we get there eventually, but, yeah, it’s not a direct path.

[00:05:53] Katenna: And it’s, it’s definitely not a, if you want to, you know, have a great income animal, the animal world, well specifically cats and dogs and companion animals, is not super lucrative. It’s a love based passion, not a money based passion, which I’m okay with.

[00:06:07] Emily: Right, you’re, you’re doing, I mean, we all should make enough money to meet our needs and make ends meet. And I do think that there is a tendency in our profession to sacrifice ourselves to help others and, and, I think, you know, the case should be made that we should, we can’t help others when our cup is empty, right? But even thriving in, in our profession looks different than thriving in like a tech profession or something. So yes, it’s definitely a love and passion based profession for sure.

[00:06:39] Katenna: It is. And if you’re not, like you said, if you’re not careful and, you know, set up boundaries for yourself and take care of yourself, it can completely consume you because it’s never ending. There’s always something that needs help. And if you don’t take care of yourself, then you’re useless to the ones that you want to help, so you end up helping less. But if you take care of yourself and say no on occasion, then you have longevity. And I think maintaining longevity can be difficult for a lot of people.

[00:07:02] Emily: I, I like to tell my students, “You can’t save someone from drowning if you’re drowning right next to them. You have to get into the boat, boat first, and then pull them out of the water, right?” And, and even though I know that, and we talk about enrichment and, you know, we help people to do that, I’m still learning.

You know, as you know, learning is cyclical and you have to learn something over and over again. And I just, my therapist recommended a book called Trauma Stewardship that just immediately started calling me out from the introduction. And I was like, okay, so I still have a lot more to learn in this, in this idea of taking care of yourself so that you can be in it for the long haul of taking care of others.

[00:07:44] Katenna: Yeah, and I find in the animal industry, people with a background in trauma or mental health issues tend to be attracted to the animal industry. So, we tend to be kind of a vulnerable population anyway and very susceptible to compassion fatigue.

[00:07:56] Emily: Absolutely. Yeah. And, and yeah, so I, I’m just going to give a shout out for that book, Trauma Stewardship. It is, it is, I think, required reading for anybody in our profession, for sure. Or parallel professions, people who work in animal welfare. Yeah, so, I want to start off by talking about a big welfare issue for kitties, speaking of welfare.

And one that you have really gone to bat for cats about. And that is inappropriate elimination because it affects so many kitties and households. And there are so many people who just don’t know what to do about it. And, you know, cat urine is pungent. And so it really can be a destructive force in people’s lives. And it’s valid for them to be upset and distressed about that. So I think it’s probably the most common issue that we get called into cat consultations for, and in my work, in my history in shelters, it was one of the most common reasons that we would see cats being surrendered to the shelter because of those behaviors.

So, I love the work that you’re doing here, and I love that you created a course so that other behavior professionals can learn how to effectively and humanely address these litter box issues that are so common. And in doing that, you have empowered a lot of people to help a whole lot of cats and their families. So, I would love to talk about inappropriate elimination in cats. What would you like pet parents to know about litter box issues, and how do you approach these issues when working with your cat clients?

[00:09:28] Katenna: I would say it’s normal to be frustrated, and I lived with it myself. I lived with a cat– I had my two cats, and I moved in with my husband at the time, and he had a cat, and my two cats were too much for his cat, and she was peeing. And I’ve lived with it. I know the smell and I know how frustrating it is. You get the smell up and you clean it and then they do it again. And it feels very personal. But I think one of the most important things to remember is it’s not personal, and it’s not vindictive, and they’re not getting back at you for something. It definitely feels like it is.

Because I think one of the easiest ways to think about it is cats lick themselves after they go to the bathroom. So, they lick their, themselves in the lower region and they, so they’ll get their own urine in their mouth. So, they don’t think urine is disgusting. So, in order to punish you, it has to be something that they know you don’t like. So, I don’t believe that cats can be okay with urine and not find it disgusting but understand that humans have a different opinion, and also understand the concept of property or value. So, I understand that you have this couch and it’s brand new, and I know that even though I don’t think urine is gross, you think urine is gross. So, I’m going to put my urine on your thing. In understanding ownership value, and that is going to thus ruin that thing, as my way of getting back at you for whatever.

It’s always much simpler. Always a very simple answer. Not necessarily an easy or simple solution, but it’s always the cat is communicating something. Any behavior that an animal does is them communicating with you and trying to tell you something in some way.

[00:10:57] Emily: I love that you differentiated between a simple answer and a simple solution, because I think that’s something that a lot of people struggle with is like, well, if we understand why it’s happening, and it’s so easy to understand why it’s happening, then why can’t we just easily make it go away? And it’s like, well, okay, that’s a really valid question.

And also, just because it’s simple to understand, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s simple to change. Can you speak more to that? I would love to hear more. about how you talk to clients about that.

[00:11:28] Katenna: Well, on occasion, it is a simple solution. And then I look like a magical guru. “Oh my God, you’re amazing.” Oh yeah. And it was just a simple thing, to me, it was simple. And sometimes I think you can’t see the forest for the trees, so when you’re in it, and you’re on the floor scrubbing up pee, it can be very hard for you to figure out what the solution is. And I actually was a consultant at the time, and I had to hire somebody to help me.

And they’re like, “Katenna what are you doing? Why are you paying me for this? You know what to do.” I couldn’t see the answer, and I do this professionally. So getting help doesn’t mean you don’t understand your cat, it means you understand what your limitations are, and you need help, and that’s okay.

And sometimes it can be something simple like changing the type of litter box, or changing the type of litter that’s in there because a lot of times cats will tolerate something for a very long time, and tolerance is not the same as enjoyment. So it’s kind of a straw-camelback situation. So, say the cat was tolerating your wood pellet litter that’s one that’s very common typically, on average, the stereotypical cat does not particularly enjoy pellet type litter. Like the paper pellets, or the wood pellets, and they may have been tolerating it for years and years, and then something happens.

Like, say you move in a new partner, and then they start peeing outside the box. It looks like he’s mad at me because I moved in my new partner. So, now he’s peeing on my stuff. But what it could be is that the change of cats typically don’t like a lot of change or disruption. So, the change of dynamic of moving someone new into the house, and disrupting a cat’s entire world stressed them out to the point that they no longer are willing to tolerate the pellets.

So, they may have been tolerating it all along and then there’s just that one little drop that causes the bucket to overflow. So it’s not the pellets that are the problem. The pellets were somewhat of an issue all along, and it’s not the partner moving in that’s the problem. That’s just the one more straw that broke the camel’s back. So, sometimes it’s a combination of those two things, and then it starts to become more complicated.

[00:13:21] Emily: Yeah. I, I’m, there are so many things that you just said that I love and I kind of want to pull multiple threads, but I want to start it, I want to start at the end because I think that is such an important thing to bring up is that first of all, fine is the worst four letter word because, you know, fine doesn’t actually mean it’s meeting their needs and and they are fine, they’re good with it. It means that they’re tolerating it. And I think when I describe a human experience of this kind of, you know, stress stacking process that happens, it makes a lot of sense to people.

Like, I will use an example for myself. I have an auditory sensory processing sensitivity. And so most of the time I can tolerate certain noises in my environment just fine. But if I’m stressed because I had to deal with a difficult, you know, emotionally fraught thing at work, and maybe I’m having a bad pain day, and then, you know, the, the you know, delivery person knocks on the door and it sets the dogs off barking, and then my birds make a perfectly reasonable noise that they make multiple times a day, every day.

But in that moment, right, and a lot of times I don’t even notice it, right? But in that moment, I’m like, “SHUT UP!” Right? And it’s because, it’s because I don’t enjoy that noise, but I’m really adept at tolerating it most of the time. But when there’s all these other stressors, and then that noise happens, it is the final straw, right? And so I think when people can, connect their cat’s experience to an experience that they have, like the one I just described, it helps them not only have more empathy for their cat and what their cat is experiencing, but it also helps to kind of demystify the behavior, which helps them feel better about the process as well. So, I think that’s, that’s a really important point.

[00:15:12] Katenna: And I think the average, I would say American domestic cat, I’m guessing that it’s the same in any culture, but I can only speak for a couple of different cultures that I’ve worked with, but specifically American pets. I think the average house cat is extremely stressed and under enriched, and so they’re tolerating so much all the time.

We just pick them up and kiss them on the head and flip them over without ever asking. So, we’re assaulting them over, and over, and over. And they may not be getting their needs met, like getting enough mental stimulation, enough exercise. Maybe their diet is lacking in a little bit of something. So, they’re constantly just fine.

Okay, that touch is fine. It’s not terrible, but I don’t like it.

The litter is fine. I don’t love it, but it’s not terrible.

And everything just sort of becomes fine.

And then, excuse me, that one final thing happens, that final straw. And it looks like that final straw was the issue because that’s the most recent thing. And it, I think understanding that they are typically sort of like somebody who has any type of sensory processing issues. It’s, they’re constantly living in a state of distress or frustration even. And we, we punish cats a lot. I think squirt bottles are the worst thing that ever happened to cats. Squirt bottles are for plants, that’s it, they should never be used on a cat. And that’s really hard for people to understand.

[00:16:29] Emily: Yeah. And I think one thing that I, I find myself explaining a lot with clients who have cats, or birds, or anything other than a dog, essentially is that one of the important things about giving an animal agency, and choice and control in their lives is that, that a lot of people I think don’t understand is that you have to know what your options are, and know that you even, that choosing things even is possible before you can choose things.

And because with a lot of these non-dog species, people have no idea what the species needs are and how to meet those needs, a lot of pets in our homes, grow up from birth, not having options and not having skills. And so, even if you do decide, hey, I want to try a forging toy or, you know what? I just, I just read that cats need vertical space, so I’m going to get them a cat tree. Just because your cat doesn’t avail themselves of that doesn’t mean they’re not interested or they don’t like it.

It means that they have spent their whole life being fine, and just tolerating, and, and being exposed to things they don’t really like, but they don’t know that they have an option to not engage in, and so they have no idea how to engage in those things, right? So even when you do first start to provide enrichment and meet needs, don’t be surprised if your pet doesn’t engage with them, and you have to kind of help them.

So, how do you help clients kind of do that kind of exploration and figure out how to meet their cat’s needs when that might be a totally new experience for both them and their cat?

[00:18:07] Katenna: It’s very, very common. Like, say we get puppies, we’re always training them. As soon as they come, we know we have to take them to puppy class. We’re hand feeding them treats. And human behavior evolved along with dog behavior, so dog behavior makes sense to us. Socially, we are pretty similar.

Cats have a different social structure, and their behavior is very different, just like birds, and horses. And so, sometimes somebody will offer their treat, their cat a treat, and the cat doesn’t take it. So, he doesn’t want to train. That’s not the case. Cats just don’t take food from hands because they didn’t learn how to do it. If you start with a kitten, then they will do that throughout their life. But it’s very common that, oh I gave him a puzzle toy, he didn’t care about it. Or, you gave your kid, that has never had a puzzle before, a Rubik’s Cube, and just set it in front of them. And then they just sort of look at it. You know pick it up and set it down and have no idea what to do. It’s not because they’re stupid, or not interested. They just don’t have the experience and a lot of times cats have no problem solving experience.

So I typically have them start out with something really really simple, like I’ll take say like heavy stock paper, or even print printer paper, and say we have a food like a round food dish. Put the book the paper part way on the dish. So, as the cat eats their food that their forehead kind of bumps against that paper, so that they start learning how to understand, oh, I have to move this thing to get to my food. Then we can progressively make it harder, and harder, and harder.

And a big thing with enrichment, so the definition of environmental enrichment is providing enriching resources, but also helping to facilitate the use of it. Because we might have, say, a captive-born gorilla, and we give them an enrichment toy that wild born gorillas know how to use. But this captive born guy has no idea what to do with it. Sometimes we have to help them.

So, like behind me, I’ve got a, a little thing on my shelf here, a little box. So, I’ve provided them with a vertical resting spot, but if they don’t know what’s there, they don’t know how to get there, then it’s useless. So, I’ve, I’ve put little treats on that shelf, in the box, and on the shelf below to encourage them, to facilitate their use of it. So, they’ll go up, find the treats on the first level. Then they’ll find the treats on the second level, oh, there’s treats in the box too, and now I leave a puzzle toy with food in it inside of that box.

So, anytime they go to the box, they get a food puzzle. So, I’ve helped them understand that it’s there, understand that the problem solving process of how to get there and then encourage them to keep using it. And I think sometimes we have to break it down for cats and help them. And they’re not like, I’ll put a treat on his, on the floor. And it’s right in front of his face. He’s so stupid. He can’t see it. No, he literally can’t see it. Cats have a blind spot that’s right in front of their face. So, I call whiskers reading glasses. That’s how they see the close up stuff. And I think understanding how they process the world and that they are different from us can help a lot.

[00:20:53] Emily: I think all of that is so important. I mean, being able to understand– So we had one in, in season one of our podcast, we had Dr. Eddie Fernandez come on and he taught me a term that I have used over and over again since then. And that is theromorphic, taking a theromorphic view of animal care. In other words trying, understanding as best as we can what their experience is like. Rather than trying to meet their needs from an anthropomorphic or human-centric viewpoint where we’re kind of mapping our expectations, our beliefs, our desires onto these animals.

And so I have used that word theromorphic so many times since we interviewed him. And this is definitely one of those situations where, if we want to best meet the needs of our cats and help them, we need to first understand what they need and how they perceive the world, and how they engage with it.

And also, another important facet of what we’re talking about is helping them to understand what the expectation is. Giving them a point of reference, a frame of reference, because even if you are a fully grown adult human of sound mind, if you don’t understand the rules of engagement, you’re not going to be any better than your cat, that is not a human, at solving a problem.

And I had a very real world experience with this a few years ago when it was Christmas time and I went home to visit my family and we do like a, you know, Secret Santa type of exchange. And my cousin drew my name, so he was my Secret Santa. And my cousin’s very sweet, we just don’t know each other very well because he lived in Mexico for most of our lives. And so, we just didn’t see each other a lot. We don’t have a really close relationship. And so, he gave me, I, I unwrapped the gift. And it was a wooden box, and so I saw that, and in my head, my frame of reference was, this is a box and something is inside it. So I was trying to figure out how to open the box, and I couldn’t find any, like, entry point.

And I, I kind of fiddled around with it for a while, and I was like, “How do you open it?” And I handed it to him, and he kind of looked astonished that I didn’t know that it was a puzzle. And he was like, “Well, it’s a puzzle,” and he like showed me how to solve the puzzle. And you like push these little pieces and you open, you know, and it like opens up into this like different shape.

And I was like, oh, okay. So this is what animals experience all the time. Like I could, that was the first thing that came to my mind was like, this is such a good empathetic exercise in what animals experience. Because I saw that object, and I had a very specific idea in my head of what that object was, and I couldn’t figure it out.

Because I had a different framework in my head for what that box was and what it meant and its relevance to me. And it meant something entirely different. It wasn’t a storage device, it was a puzzle. And I was like, okay, this is, I need to be thinking about this when I’m offering animals opportunities, because if they don’t have a frame of reference that like this is a device that you can play with and manipulate in order to get food out, or this is a device that if you push the fabric up, you can crawl into it and it’s like a little, a little, you know, cave nest for you– 

If they don’t know what that point of reference is, they’re never going to figure it out on their own. We have to help them. So that was a really profound lesson for me of like, of empathy for what it is that we’re putting animals through when we’re trying to enrich them, but we’re not giving them enough information to actually succeed at engaging with the materials.

[00:24:35] Katenna: Yeah, and it’s very common, because you know, I tried clicker training in the past and it didn’t work. Well, maybe the approach that you’re using wasn’t correct for the individual that you were working with. And you might be able to clicker train your Bengal cat and have them do a fantastic job, but this other cat is stupid. No, your Bengal cat was exceptionally driven and exceptionally great at problem solving. And food motivated. And this other cat is not. So, their motivations are different. It doesn’t mean they’re less intelligent. It just means they’re different. So like, my motivation for my career is love. It’s not money. If I was more motivated by money, I would have pursued a different career. And understanding there’s different perspectives based on previous experience. So, my experiences, my genetic makeup, the things that motivate me are very different than that of my sister. Even though we share some genetic material. Our experiences growing up in the same house were similar, but our histories and our stories are unique. And each individual cat is an individual with a personality and a history. And I think we need to consider each one as its own separate entity.

[00:25:38] Emily: Absolutely! What they already know, what skills they already have, what frames of reference they have, like, or points of reference they have. Absolutely. All of that plays into it. I think another thing that is interesting about people trying to use food to train cats is that they’re– when– because I think most people, their learning history with using food in training is with dogs.

And, and they’re like, well, with the dog, I don’t have to teach them how to eat food from me. Like they just will, they smell it and they come and eat it. And then it’s like, well, yes, because dogs as a species are opportunistic scavengers. Cats aren’t. So, that’s not how that– unless, like you said, unless they were socialized from a kitten to eat food in this way, that’s not how eating works for them in their brain.

That’s not how they’re thinking about procuring food. So, you have to remember that you’re not working with just a smaller dog, dog. You’re, you’re working with an entirely different species who has different types of feeding behaviors, and hunting behaviors, and different socialization around food. So we have to set up the food for them in a way that actually makes sense to them.

[00:26:53] Katenna: Right, exactly. And I think it’s also important to realize that because you were doing something one way in the past doesn’t mean it’s the best way. And it doesn’t mean you’re bad or incorrect. It just, I did things in my past of how I raised pets, or how I handled different situations, or even how I instructed clients. And when we know better, we do better. So as I learn, I’m like, oh crap, I really shouldn’t have done that with that client seven years ago or whatever. And now I know, and I’ll never do it again. And you’re not a bad owner for having never known what food puzzles are or never trying one doesn’t mean you’re bad. It just means you didn’t know. And that’s okay.

But now you know, so knowing that something is new to you, or learning new information can help you expand what you’re providing to your cat. And I think just constantly being open and willing to– I don’t know if you can hear that, my cat is racing around behind me like an idiot. Being able to let go of your ego and admit, that’s okay, I didn’t know and now I do. And what I did in the past wasn’t the best, and now there’s a different way. It doesn’t mean you’re a terrible person. It just means now you have different information.

[00:27:56] Emily: Or what you did in the past might’ve been perfectly appropriate for that individual, but this is a totally different individual. We had a cat when I was in high school and you know, my twenties who had been raised around our dogs and had been orphaned early on. It’s a long story I won’t go into. But because he was orphaned and then as, you know, in his critical socialization period, he was kind of raised by our dogs, he had a lot of very doggy behaviors. And one of his favorite things to do is he would run up to our Boxer and kind of bunt her on her jaw, and then just stand there and wait with his kind of like, his scruff kind of presented to her, and she would pick him up by the scruff, and just run around our territory at full speed. And people would see that and would be alarmed for this cat because it looks like the dog is running off with the cat. It was his favorite game and he would ask her to do it. And sometimes he would ask her to do it to the point that she’d be like, “I’m tired, I don’t want to do it anymore. No.”

Would I recommend that play for any other cat? No, that is not how I would recommend that dogs and cats interact in general. But for him, that was a really beautiful way that he had, you know, his relationship with our Boxer. That worked very well for them. So, even if what you did in the past worked beautifully for that animal, that doesn’t mean that it’s appropriate for every animal moving forward, right?

So that kind of segues into the next question I wanted to ask you, which is helping clients to be able to see the difference between a cat who’s totally into something, a cat who’s maybe tolerating it, a cat who’s silently suffering or anxious. Being able to help clients see body language is one of the biggest challenges that I have found because there are just fewer body language resources for cats than there are for dogs. And by fewer, I mean a lot fewer, like really, really, this is an area where we, we could use a lot more resources.

So, for that reason, it’s understandably challenging for people to learn the more subtle signs of anxiety or the, the like really subtle conflict that can happen between cats where they’re kind of mean girling each other. There’s not open conflict, but there’s, you know, that kind of subtle conflict that happens. Or the subtle signs of pain in cats that maybe aren’t as obvious. Or on a more positive note, the subtle signs of consent that maybe aren’t as big and obvious as bunting. And for those of you listening who don’t know what bunting is, it’s when an animal kind of bumps their head up against and brushes against a surface or a person or another animal. We see it most commonly in cats and bunnies, I think, are the two species that we see it most commonly in, in terms of, of pets. But even people who don’t know what the word bunting is, and don’t know a lot about cat body language can look at a cat you know, bunting up against their leg and say, “That’s a cat who wants attention.:” But it can be harder to see more subtle signs of consent, right?

So, what is your approach to helping people to learn more about that subtle body language? And do you have resources on that to share that we could put in our show notes so that people can, after listening to this episode, go off and learn more about cat body language?

[00:31:25] Katenna: It’s a hard one. So, the more subtle it is, obviously, the harder it is. Because it’s like learning any language. Say you’re learning German. The really subtle maybe local phrases, or different dialects between regions might vary slightly. And you don’t know that until you’ve been immersed in it for a really long time. And it’s similar to cats. And I often hear, “Well, I’ve had cats my whole life.” Well, I have had feet my whole life, but I’m not a podiatrist. You know, so everything is different and sometimes you might have had cats your whole life, and maybe you weren’t looking at them as a communicative species that’s talking to you. And I think just watching them, and paying attention, and learning your cat’s dialect, which might be different than the other cat in the house. Like I have two cats that commune, they’re sisters, they– I call them sister wives because I don’t know what the relationship is. They could be aunts, cousins, daughters, I don’t know what they are, but they’re sisters, adopted sisters. And also that adoption, we don’t know what their history is or how other people talk to them or what human cat language they know.

So, I think paying really close attention and just watching and making a cat-centric point of view where it’s about the cat. It’s not about you. So it’s not about what are they doing, what are you getting out of it, what are they getting out of it? So if they do something, what immediately follows? And giving them a chance to figure things out.

So, I know a lot of people will see a cat do something and, like, the cat is going for a string. Oh no, oh no, no, no! Don’t get that string! Okay, why? Because he’s going to eat it. Has he ever eaten a string before? No, never. But I had a cat once, 15 years ago, that my uncle’s cousin’s girlfriend had, who swallowed a piece of string and then had to have surgery. Okay, but is this cat going to do that? Or is he going to play with it? And he approaches it, sniffs it, and walks by.

So, I think sometimes we jump to conclusions a lot, or make big assumptions about their behavior. And watching those really, really subtle behaviors, I talk about the way animals communicate as talking, whispering, and shouting. Most people know what shouting is, so that’s like the hissing, and the growling, and the meowing and the more obvious, overt stuff, like when they swat you, that means they don’t like it. And when they rub up against you and sit on your lap, then that means they do like it. If they walk toward you, they want more. If they walk away from you, they want less. That’s the shouting.

And then there’s the everyday talking, which is more like the bunting, and kind of swirling in and out of your legs and different subtle meows. Some, so some cat people know this cat means or this meow means I want food. This meow means I want to get on your bed. And they know different accents of meows.

The whispering is really subtle stuff like body language. So, whiskers make different positions, and those different positions mean things. And did you know there’s whiskers on the back of a cat’s front feet? So on their wrists there’s a whisker there and a lot of people don’t know that. And that is to detect movement of their prey. So when they’re holding their prey in their claws, if it moves a little bit, it’s going to tickle that whisker and it’s going to trigger their body to grab onto it more because the prey might get away. So, there’s all these little subtle things that we don’t know exist. And really watching for those whispers.

And one thing that I like is it’s a DVD called What Is My Cat Saying? Feline Communication 101. And I think it’s a great introduction into how cats talk. There’s a little bit of whispers in there, and it’s by Carol Byrnes and Jacqueline Munera. And you can get that through Dogwise. So if you go to dogwise.com and search it, What is My Cat Saying? It’s a little DVD CD that pops up and you can watch the, it’s a PowerPoint presentation, and I think that’s a great resource to look at.

And another one is through Fear Free Pets. So if you search Fear Free Pets, FAS. There’s a poster. So FAS is Fear, Anxiety, Stress. And there’s different levels of stress. So Fear, Anxiety, and Stress are three different behaviors. Or three different internal experiences. But the outward expression of those experiences looks very similar. So they’re all combined together. And it’s this little PDF poster that you can take a look at. And there’s degrees as those fear, anxiety, and stress feelings increase or escalate for the cat. Their behaviors will escalate, and it starts out with whispers, and it gets to talking, and at the end of the sequence, it’s shouting. And it’s a great resource to look at for those really subtle things that you might not know about.

[00:35:34] Emily: I love that. I, one of my favorite things from Dr. Susan Friedman is if we learn to listen to their whispers, they’ll never have to shout. So, I love, I love thinking of it in terms of whispers and then, you know, regular talking inside voices, and then shouting outside voices. Yeah. Yeah. That’s beautiful. Thank you for sharing those resources.

[00:35:57] Katenna: And check out the Fear Grimace also. There’s a Fear Grimace scale. If you Google Fear Grimace, there’s a scale of different facial features that, or facial features. expressions that tell you the degree of pain that a cat is experiencing.

[00:36:11] Emily: Thank you for bringing that up. The Grimace scale is a big, a big resource as well. I love that. Thank you so much for sharing those resources. And I really love that you emphasize how the different subtle behaviors that their cat makes is their way of communicating very specific things that’s maybe unique to them. So I, I love that. Teaching them body language by learning to speak with their cat.

[00:36:38] Katenna: Yeah, and like you said, you know, your cat with your Boxer, that is a very specific learned behavior that is specific to that cat. And if you– Say that cat passed and you brought another one and the Boxer tried to pick that cat up, that cat might freak out. And it doesn’t mean that cat can’t be with dogs. It just means it’s a different relationship and they have to learn each other’s new language. So, as a new pet enters the house, that’s a whole new, okay, I speak German and you’re speaking French. Together, we have to learn Italian. So, trying to find that commonality based on body language takes time.

It’s a little bit like if you have a new friend, or a new person that you’re living with. Those subtle little things. Oh, how do you know when she’s angry? Well, she does this thing with her eyebrow, and I know that that means that I’m in trouble. You don’t know that until you’ve spent a lot of time interacting with that person. Those subtle little details. The tiny little individual nuances that are specific to that individual. Our cats are the same way. And I have one cat, she’s right next to me. She screams, she meows so much, and it’s ridiculous, and my, somebody will visit and they’ll say what is she saying? I have no idea. She’s just yelling. I don’t know what she’s saying, I think she’s just liking the sound of her own voice. So sometimes they just do things because they want to, because it feels good, and it’s fun, and it may have resulted in something in the past.

[00:37:56] Emily: I love that. Yeah. I mean, I, I, I agree. I have met animals who it seems like they just vocalize for the joy of hearing their own voice. They just walk around and they’re like, I just want everybody to know that I’m here.

[00:38:12] Katenna: And they have these little, little plushies and I collect them and they carry them all around. So if I’m on Instagram, if you follow me on Instagram, Jones Animal Behavior on Instagram, I post different pictures of what my cats bring to bed in the night, and I’ll have like five to twenty toys in my bed. And there’s a specific toy that they bite onto, it’s, it’s a fruit tart bed and it’s got these little kiwis and lemon slices that are about the size of the cat, and they carry it in their mouth like how we would bite into a lemon. And they are biting down on it and screaming the whole time, and coming up the stairs and it sounds like some sort of terrible entity living in my house. And it’s just my cat with her lemon wedge.

[00:38:51] Emily: That’s adorable.

[00:38:53] Katenna: Oh my god, they’re so cute. I can’t stand my cats, how cute they are.

[00:38:57] Emily: I had a kitty. She was my heart cat. I, I raised her from birth. Her, her story is on my Substack page, but she was mostly blind because of the circumstances of her birth. She, she could see some stuff, but she always had just like really dilated pupils. And she learned that on this, the stairwell, there’s a landing on the stairwell that was kind of halfway up the stairs. And that was the only place in the house where, no matter where you were in the house, you could hear and be heard from. So she would, when she couldn’t find me, she would go to the landing and make this very specific meow that was like, ma mow, ma mow.

Or if I couldn’t come to her, I would just call her and she could hear me from any part, wherever I was in the house. And then she would come to me, and I thought it was amazing that she just figured that out on her own. And she only used that very specific, like ma mow sound when she was on the landing looking for me and I, you know, and now I know more now I’m, I’m older and it makes perfect sense. But at the time I just thought. Like, what is the sorcery? Like, how does she, how does she do this? Like, she’s, she’s so magical. I mean, I still think she was magical. I still think cats are magical.

[00:40:10] Katenna: Yes. I think they are too, because they’re so observant. Cats can pick out patterns, like, unbelievably. I feel like dogs are like doo doo doo doo doo, and cats are precision. They know exactly what’s up. And cats are really great to train, because they pick up patterns so well. And I think training dogs sometimes are like, “Okay, human, I know what you meant. I can figure it out. This is training.”

And the cat’s like, “Oh no, human, that wasn’t accurate enough. I’m not training. Because you need to move your hand three and three quarters inches to the left and down two millimeters.” Because cats are super precise. And they’re very visually programmed. So, their bodies notice movements. And they’re very auditory, so they hear little sounds. And I think they can pick out patterns, like they know, dogs know when you’re going to go for a walk. Cats know when you’re going to get the canned food versus you’re going to get the dry food, versus the treat, versus this toy, versus that toy. Like, they know our behaviors and our movements down to the tiniest detail. And they can figure out how to talk to us.

And often, cats will do things that we unintentionally reinforce them. So sometimes, like say a cat is biting your hand. The very common assumption is that we should give them a toy to redirect them from our hand to the toy, which can work, but they also learn that biting your hand makes you play, so then they bite your hand more to get you to play with them. So, I don’t want to go into the details of how to deal with the biting of your hand, but they can figure out, if I bite you a little bit, you just ignore me. If I bite you harder, then you’re going to go get the toy. And they can figure out those tiny little nuances because they’re so observant. And I think that’s why they’re so magical and why they may be able to detect entities that live in your home. You might have ghosts or spirits and cats can tell because they’re so observant.

[00:41:53] Emily: It’s interesting because I, the, you know, I think most, I think you’re absolutely right that by far and away, most dogs, and I think this is true for horses too, are incredibly forgiving of sloppy training, partially I think just because they’ve been bred for, for millennia – or with horses, centuries – to collaborate with humans. And so they, I think that’s part of it. Part of it is I think we just have a culture of training. So the horses and dogs are just trained from, from the time they’re little babies. And so, they’re kind of used to figuring out what we want. And so I always tell people, if you really want to get good at training, if you really want to learn precision training, go work with a species other than a dog or horse.

And, and I, and I wanted to say, because I am a big believer in behavior is a, is a study of one, there are certainly outliers. I have worked with dogs who had such precise rules in their head that I had to measure my distance from them by inches because they, they noticed those differences, and there have been horses that I’ve worked with that have had incredibly, incredibly strict rules in their head. And I’ve had dogs and horses who have made me work for the relationship. And, and, and I had to prove to them why they cared enough, right? So, outliers exist in general. I think those species are much more forgiving of, you know, whatever, and they just kind of do sort of filter out a lot of the things that we do.

But working with cats and, and parrots, and rabbits, and some of these other species that are incredibly observant, incredibly tuned to movement, and, and very, very precise in the rules of, of engagement have, have really made me a better trainer. I, I, okay, asterisk. It’s been years since I’ve regularly trained animals because I’ve been working online with humans for so many years, but when I was, you know, in the trenches training individual animals all day, you know, every day, those are the species that made me really, really good at training because, because they do have, such precision in their perception and in the rules in their head of this exact movement, your head tilted at this specific degree means this specific thing. That had made me really aware of my body, and what I was doing, and how precise I needed to be when I was communicating with them what I wanted from them.

So, yeah, and, and also there are outliers in that way too, because like I said, our cat who acted more like a dog, also acted more like a dog in training. He was like, yeah, I get what you want. I mean, because he was raised with dogs and he wanted to be trained whenever we would work with our dogs, he was being trained right alongside them. So there are always outliers, but in general, yeah, I think it, I think if you want to really learn precision training, go work with a cat, or a parrot, rabbit.

[00:44:43] Katenna: I thought I was a pretty good clicker trainer when I was training dogs until I started training cats. I was like, oh, I’m not very good. And then I started training chickens. I was like, I am a terrible clicker trainer. Cause training chickens, man, you have to be on it.

[00:44:55] Emily: Lightning fast reflexes, for sure.

[00:44:57] Katenna: And very clean, very precise, very clear with what you’re trying to train. And building on that, your perspective of what you think you’re training may be different than what they’re perceiving you training. So, one example is I was training a dog to look away from the cat because this dog was staring at the cat, and was freaking the cat out. And it was building anticipation and anxiety in the dog. So, we were training him to look away, and at first he would just look over his left shoulder to look at the cat. You know, we were reinforcing that. And then I asked the client, I’m like, do you always stand on that side of the dog, so the cat is on the left of the dog? And she’s like, yeah. So I said, come on the other side, so the dog has to turn around so the cat is on his right.

Well, didn’t you know the cat, the dog kept looking over his left shoulder. We thought we were training him to look at the cat. The dog thought we were training him to look over his left shoulder. So, it appears to be something to us and they’re experiencing something very, very different.

[00:45:51] Emily: Yeah. I, I love doing little tests like that to be like are we really training what we think we’re training, or is something else entirely happening? So yeah, I love that. That’s a powerful lesson of like, oh, wait a minute. The dog actually isn’t getting the message that we thought we were delivering.

[00:46:11] Katenna: Yeah. And the phrase, he knows better. He does not know better. They never, they, they know what they know. And he knows better is typically they learned, oh, I’m allowed to be on the counter when you’re not in the room. When you get in the room, it’s time for me to get down. So, they don’t know better, they don’t know they’re not allowed on the counter. They know they’re not allowed on the counter as soon as you enter the kitchen. And that is very different than not allowed on the counter.

[00:46:34] Emily: That is one of the most common outcomes I see from punitive training, or, or attempt to punish a behavior is people don’t understand that they’re not actually punishing the behavior the animal is learning. I mean, that might be what they’re intending, but what the animal is learning is I can’t do this behavior in your presence. And so, then the animal is being interpreted as being deceptive, or sneaky, or something like that. And it’s like,

[00:47:00] Katenna: Yeah, “Look at him. He waits until I get out of the room.” No, you trained him to do that.

[00:47:05] Emily: To do that. That’s what you, you, you trained him not to do that thing in front of you. So, that’s what he’s doing. He’s not doing it in front of you. So yes, absolutely. I’ve, I’ve had several clients where we’ve had to have that conversation, and find ways to get the animal comfortable with communicating, you know, in that person’s presence again.

[00:47:24] Katenna: And that’s why punitive training can be so, or aversive training can be so problematic. Because they associate the unpleasant experience – say, the squirt of the water bottle – with you. So, it has an impact on your relationship. It has no impact on the countersurfing at all. The cat’s hanging out on the counter taking a bath all day while you’re at work, because, let’s say that’s where the sun puddle is. Well then, find them a comfy spot in another sun puddle. So, they still get that reward of that experience, but in another way. Rather than they learn, I get in trouble when you come near me. So, I learn about you. I don’t learn about this counter that I’m sitting on.

[00:47:59] Emily: Exactly. Exactly. And I think the other thing that I’ve found a lot with clients who have come from a background of, you know, of punitive or aversive training – whatever you want to call it, coercive, there’s a million words, terms for any training method – is that they don’t actually enjoy doing it, they just are frustrated and they think it’s necessary.

And so, many times when we’re like, “Hey, let’s just focus on meeting needs and find a more appropriate outlet for this need to be met,” there’s a, just enormous relief because most people have pets because they want the relationship with the pet. And so, when they’re doing something that is punitive, or aversive, or coercive, or whatever, it doesn’t feel good because you just want to have a relationship with this animal and now you got to, you know, quote unquote, lay down the law. And who wants to be a, you know, constantly have a war of the wills with their friend, right?

So it’s it’s not just better for the animal, it’s better for the human when they can learn how to think of behavior as just communicating needs. And okay, this is not the best way for the cat to meet their need because, yeah, you don’t want the cat to be putting their, their butt all over your counter where your food is, that’s a valid concern. Or if you’re allergic, or somebody in your house is allergic, you don’t want cat hair anywhere where the food is a valid concern.

So, let’s just find another way to meet that need in another place where the cat can actually be, and everybody can be safe, and everybody’s needs are met. And then you still get to be friends with your cat. Your cat doesn’t fear you, you know.

[00:49:37] Katenna: Yes, exactly. And I think it’s super frustrating. “I’ve told you over, and over, and over, and you’re not getting the message.” And you think you’ve told them, but they’re not getting the message because you’re not speaking the language, and it doesn’t make sense. And it’s a little bit like relationships. So, you might have told your partner something over, and over, and over. But if they’re not hearing it, it’s not necessarily because they’re not listening, it’s that they’re not hearing what you’re saying, because we need to talk to them in a language that makes sense to them, and not just constantly being an unpleasant experience, because that’s not good for the relationship. So, I want to effectively communicate with my partner, my best friend, my mother, my cat, and there’s ways to do it. So, if you’re doing something, and it’s not changing the behavior, and you don’t know what to do, ask for help. Cause there are people out there. I have a lot of students that I work with who professionally can help you change your cat’s behavior. And it feels like, “Oh my God, I’m spending money on a shrink for my cat.” Yep. And that’s okay.

[00:50:30] Emily: Yeah. I mean, people can frame it however they want to frame it. If they, if it helps them to think of it as a shrink, great. If it helps them to think of, you know, as a mediator, great. If it helps them to think of it as a liaison, great. An interpreter, whatever, you know, whatever feels good to you in terms of, you know, justifying having this person come into your home, is the framework that you should operate within. But the reality is we are helping you to understand your pet so that you can meet their needs, and meet your own needs, so that everybody in the house can live harmoniously, and you can have the relationship with your pet that you want to have. The whole reason you have a pet is so that you can have that relationship, so we’re just helping you build that relationship, right?

[00:51:16] Katenna: And a very common fear that I see with my clients is, “Oh, my house is a mess.” We don’t care if your house is a mess. I’m not there to judge your housekeeping. I don’t care. As long as your litter box is clean, or I can help you get your litter box cleaner if that’s a struggle for you. I don’t care. I don’t care if you’ve got eight weeks of pizza boxes on your table. If it’s not interfering with the behavior at hand, it means nothing to me. And I see a lot of people who put off having me come because they didn’t get around to cleaning the house, and they’re embarrassed. I really don’t care. I’ve been in hoarding cases where there’s like upwards of a hundred cats in the house, trust me. I have been in a worse house, whatever your house looks like I’ve been in worse, I had to wear a hazmat suit and a mask and several of them and we don’t care.

[00:51:58] Emily: You know, after 30 something years in animal welfare, seeing my share of, of hoarding cases where we needed hazmat suits to walk in. And it’s like, trust me, no matter how bad you think your house is, it is not nearly as bad as, as what I’ve seen. And, and actually that’s one of the things that we helped people to get comfortable with remote behavior consulting sessions before COVID hit and they were just necessary. One of the things that we would bring up is like the upside is you don’t have to clean your house for us to be able to meet because we’re just meeting on Zoom. And so, you know, I don’t have to see your house, If you’re not comfortable letting people into your home, let’s just do this over Zoom.

[00:52:36] Katenna: Which is usually more enjoyable for the cat anyway.

[00:52:38] Emily: That’s, yeah selling people on, “Remote sessions are better for your pet because it’s less stressful for them than to have a stranger come into your home,” is most of the time not as easy as selling them on, “You’re not, you are not gonna have a stranger in your home That’s gonna make you uncomfortable. You don’t have to power clean to feel good about having me come over.”

[00:53:00] Katenna: Yeah, if it’s a litter box case, I can’t smell your house from my computer.

[00:53:04] Emily: Yes, so meeting, meeting both the human’s and the non-human’s needs is, is a big part of what we do. Making everybody feel safe and heard is, is the job. So, speaking of which, along those lines, you mentioned earlier that, you know, it’s really common for cats to have a lot of unmet needs because people don’t know what the species needs.

So, what are some of the most common opportunities that you find for improvements? That, you know, relatively easy things that people can do to improve the quality of life for their cats.

[00:53:37] Katenna: I think relationship and communication. Because like we’ve talked about the cat is asking for one thing, and we think they’re saying something else. And we’re saying something, and they think we’re saying something, they’re saying something else. So it’s kind of like this bad communication system.

And being clear about what your expectations are, and sometimes that’s really hard. Like, you might have to hire a marriage counselor to figure out how to talk to each other, and that is okay. There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s just getting help. And like I said, I was doing this for years, and I had to hire somebody, and pay them several hundred dollars to tell me over the phone, to do something that I teach other people how to do. And that’s okay. Sometimes we just need help.

But I think communication, and punishing less, and encouraging more. And being more supportive and I, my general rule is I try to say, to very rarely say no. So say no to no. Don’t say no. Say yes to yes. Try to say yes more often. So it’s not no, get off the counter. It’s yes, get on the floor. So it’s, which is really hard to do. It’s easy for me to say, and I get that it’s really hard to do, but the more we shut down or suppress behavior, the more frustration we build, and I think a lot of our cats are really stressed out. Because their needs aren’t met. Like, they have a litter box, but it might not be a litter box they like. Like, if you go to a festival, there might be a port a potty there. But if it’s a port a potty that freaks you out, then it’s not useful, and it’s really stressful. Or you might have toys, but it might not be the type of toy they want. And there’s dry food available, but it’s in a puzzle that I don’t understand how to solve.

So, paying attention to them. Look at them, and see what they’re doing. See what they’re telling you they need. And if you don’t know, take a video and send it to me and I’ll tell you. I interpret videos a lot for people.

[00:55:17] Emily: That’s such a great service. I love that you did that. I, so I’m so glad you brought that up because I, I, that was one of the threads that I’d wanted to pull earlier, and then I forgot we got, we were, I was so absorbed in our conversation, but I think that is a really important thing to emphasize.

That nobody can be their own behavior consultant and you shouldn’t be, and that’s not the goal. And I think a lot of people, especially who are newer in this field, or who are in parallel professions, feel a level of shame when they have to call in a behavior consultant because they’re like, well, if I were better at my job, I wouldn’t need to do this.

And what I want to say to everybody who has ever had those feels is, actually the more experienced you are, the more willing you are to reach out to your community for support and building a support team, because you know that you can’t be your own behavior consultant. We all, I mean, even clinical psychologists who have PhDs in human behavior, and that’s what they do for a living, they all have their own therapists, because you can’t be your own therapist, you can’t be your own doctor, you can’t be your own behavior consultant. You don’t have the objectivity when it’s your own life, and your own case, and your own emotional attachment to your, your own pet.

You just can’t do it. So, I love that you brought that up because that is something that I, I think everybody should, should know, no matter how much experience and knowledge you have, you cannot be your own behavior consultant because you lack objectivity, right? So, thank you for bringing that up again, because I think that is a really important point.

And another thread that I wanted to pull that you talked about was the the thing about suppression, causing frustration. And so, I’ve, I’ve spent a lot of time in communities with trainers across methodologies. And I think one of the converse, I think one of the, the ways in which the training community talks past each other, and the reason that we’re having these communication misfires is because the, from, from the kind of force free for lack of a better term, the force free side of things, we’re talking about suppression, as if, you know, all of the fallout that can happen and fallout is real, like, you know, that there, there are whole books, behavior and analytic books about coercion and it’s fallout to, to borrow the exact name, title of a book. But I think the, the, the place where we’re talking past each other is acknowledging, yes, you’re right, sometimes we can suppress a behavior, and there seems to be minimal frustration, and it gets the animal to kind of stop doing the, the thing in a moment long enough for them to learn something better.

I wish that that was a conversation that we had more often, because we, we need to acknowledge just like with the cat, instead of saying, no, get off the counter, we should be saying yes, get on the floor.

I think the other, the, the corollary to that in terms of talking within our profession is instead of saying, no coercion, always has fallout. Saying, yes, sometimes it doesn’t, and even in those best case scenarios, I’m looking at behavior through a longer lens. And I’m seeing that if we teach them to not do this behavior through suppression in this context, in this context, they might end up more behaviorally healthy because they, they temporarily don’t freak out in order to learn better ways of doing things.

But in the future, they still, we have not equipped them with the skills for how to problem solve, and emotionally regulate, and come up with better alternatives for themselves down the road. Because we did that for them through suppression. And so it does, we’re depriving them of the opportunity to learn how to navigate situations by themselves or, or in collaboration with their, with their pet parents when we’re just using suppression to get rid of a behavior and replace it with something else.

And that’s, that’s kind of a soapbox I wanted to go on because I love that you brought that up and it’s so true and also that’s, that’s a piece of, of the conversation. And the other piece is, even if it works, it’s still not enrichment. We’re still not meeting their needs because we’re not teaching them how to handle the tough parts of life, but when we’re just suppressing their behavior and replacing it with something else. So, I just wanted to put that out there because I, I have, I know lots of people who are like, “Well, yes, but I’ve used a spray bottle on my cat and it works fine, and we have a great relationship.” And my response to conversations like that is. “I believe you, I have no doubt that that is true. And also, we’re not just concerned about what’s happening in this moment, but we’re looking at the overall wellbeing and welfare of this animal and their, their skills and their abilities to navigate their environment for the rest of their lives, not just in this moment.” So I just had to thank you for letting me have that soapbox. I just had to say it.

[01:00:10] Katenna: Along with that, I think a lot of times when our pets are doing things, it’s a symptom of an underlying issue. And it’s not necessarily the issue. So, is he on the counter because he’s bad, or is he on the counter because that’s where he feels safe? And he needs more vertical spots to feel safe. And if we teach him, being up somewhere high is an unpleasant experience, then we’re saying you don’t get that resource that you need, or that experience that you need. Or, if your cat is peeing on the couch, and you get mad at them, and they get in trouble whenever you come near them, they may stop peeing on the couch, but they’re probably going to pee somewhere else. And we’re not dealing with the underlying issue, which could be a simple UTI. And meanwhile, we’re trying to deal with the behavior by punishing, and punishing, and punishing. And that UTI is getting worse and worse and worse and it becomes harder and harder to treat. So any unwanted behavior that I see is usually a cat, I think typically is, and like you said, with outliers, is typically indicative of something that’s missing in their life.

So if they’re scratching your furniture, they’re telling you, I have a need to do this behavior, whether it’s for scent marking, or nail care, or body stretch, or play, or just because I want to. So, providing them with another way to do it in a way that they find enjoyable. Well, I’ve got a scratching post over there, but they don’t want the scratching post over there. They want the scratching post right here. Well, I don’t care. I don’t want it there, but they want it here. So it’s not about giving them control over your life.

It’s giving them control over their own life. And so I, sometimes when I tell people about giving their cat control, it’s agency over themselves, and their own experience. It’s not control over you or telling you what to do. They’re not bossing you around. They’re making requests. And it’s fairly simple to provide what they need to help deal with the issue. And then what I tell people is then we try to find a mutually agreeable solution. So the cat wants it here, you want it there. So, let’s put it where the cat wants it so we stop destroying your couch, and then we’ll find a place where you’re both okay with it.

And like I had one client, the cat was pooping in the the dining room, and I was like he seems to be choosing the dining room table, so let’s put the litter box on the dining room table just temporarily, this is not my solution. And the cat started using it. And I was like, okay, now we’ll start moving it to a better place. And the owner said, I don’t care. I’m fine with this. And I’m like, really? You’re okay with the litter box being on your dining room table permanently? She’s like, yeah, I don’t use it.

I’m like, okay, if you consider that resolved, then it’s resolved. I don’t think it is, but it’s not up to me. And the cat wants it there, you’re okay with it, then beautiful. So, sometimes we can find a mutually agreed upon resolution. But I think most behaviors are telling us a need that needs to be met.

[01:02:47] Emily: I am, as we speak, going through this with a rabbit right now. So, I had a rabbit named Bundini who was supposed to be a foster animal and, and then we moved to Seattle and it’s really common in Seattle for the property managers to not allow what they call verminous pets, which they essentially I think mean rodents. But rabbits are on the list of “verminous pets”. And so we, for two years of living here I had to have Bundini in foster care because I couldn’t have him at our house.

And so, he, he went through a few foster homes over the course of that two years, we just bought our house. Last week, we brought Bundini home and he had lost his litter box habits for good reasons, and through nobody’s fault, or neglect, or anything like that, it’s just the reality of moving foster homes in two years, right? And his chosen place to pee, was right in front of the gate, walking into his little enclosure in our basement. And I was like, okay, I hear you, bud. And I’m going to put the, the potty stuff here for you right now. And every day I’m going to move it over an inch. And I don’t need to move it where I initially had hoped you would want to potty.

I just need to move it far enough over that I can get through the door without having to step in rabbit pee. That’s, that’s my criteria, right? My criterion, in the singular. And so that’s, I’m, I’m literally doing that right now as we speak with my rabbit. It’s like, okay, I hear you that you don’t like my potty corner, that you want to potty here, and that’s, that’s cool, but we’re just going to move it over one inch a day so that eventually I can just walk through the door without having to do gymnastics to like, you know, pole vaultover the rabbit pee. it’s a good, good exercise in empathy for my clients.

[01:04:35] Katenna: Yes. And I think sometimes people are worried, well, then he’s going to be in control of my life. I think of it as compromise. Like you should in any relationship. Oh, you don’t like Thai? I don’t like Mexican. Okay, let’s get Indian. Okay. So it’s not, giving them say over everything, you know, like some people might say, well, your cats run your house. Yeah. Cause I’m okay with it. I don’t care. My cats can do whatever they want and it’s compromise. And it’s compromise I’m okay with because I love them. I don’t care if they’re climbing on my bookshelf, or sitting on my dining room table, cause I don’t care. But if you care, I will help you resolve it. And it’s the compromise that has to work for that relationship.

[01:05:12] Emily: Right. I think one of the reasons that we talk, we at Pet Harmony, talk about enrichment in terms of meeting needs is because it, it feels better to people to hear, we’re, we need to meet your animal’s needs and we need to meet yours. We’re, we are invested in meeting everybody’s needs, including you.

We’re taking care of you and your pet, so we need to make sure that your pet’s needs are being met, but not at the expense of your needs. Everybody here has to live an enriched life for us to be successful, otherwise we’re missing the mark, right?

[01:05:47] Katenna: Yeah. And if my solution is going to cost you 4 thousand dollars, then my solution is not a solution. It has to be something that you can handle that is acceptable to you, and that allows you to have the quality of life that you want, and them to have some quality of life as well, so that everybody gets their needs met. That’s what a relationship is.

[01:06:05] Emily: Yeah, exactly. That is, that is exactly what a relationship is. Communication, compromising, making sure everybody’s needs are met, building trust. It’s what it is. Awesome. All right. So having had all of these discussions, what are our observable goals and actionable items that people can take away from this session?

[01:06:27] Katenna: Assessing what’s going on with your pets, so we’ll say cats specifically. What are they doing that you might find annoying, or things that they do that may indicate that they’re feeling distressed, or something that they do repetitively. In which case, they’re doing it repetitively because they enjoy it, or because they’re asking you for something.

So try to determine, is this something that needs to be resolved? Is it weird that my cat hides all day long? Yes, that is weird. You may have just a very shy, frightful cat, which could be, but we can help them. So, is there anything that you think might be problematic for them, or that is problematic for you? And then figuring out what would be an agreeable solution between us that is, I want you to hide less, but I also want you to feel safe. Okay, then try putting hide spots all over the house to get them to come out and explore the space more. Trying to find where an issue might be needed, or might exist and resolution might be needed and figure out different ways to resolve it.

And if you don’t know, don’t go to social media because most people have no idea what they’re talking about on social media. Go to, you could go to a professional’s social media page, and they can give you good advice, or contact a professional. And I always give out just answers on email or social media, and if I need a consult, I’ll tell you, you need a consult. But if I can give you a quick, easy answer, I will, but I think there’s things that you can do and look at their needs.

So, with the five freedoms are they have to be free from discomfort, like environmental discomfort, like temperature. So they have to be comfortable in temperature, protected from the elements. Free from fear, pain, and distress. So, that’s physical and emotional. So if your cat is stressed out, then we are obligated as their caretakers to ensure that they’re as stressed out as little as possible and making sure that they have the opportunity to engage in behaviors that are normal for that species. So, think about what cats do. They run, they jump, they scratch, they roll around, they smell, they look at things, they hear things. Does your cat have things that are entertaining for that? Can you stimulate their ears more? Can you stimulate their nose more? Little things like taking a branch from outside and bringing it in. And I don’t mean like a ten foot branch that fell off your maple tree, but like a little twig. And I bring stuff in all the time, if I find a bird feather outside, I bring it in for my cats to check out. When I get groceries, I just put all the bags on the floor and the cats check out everything. Because I’m assuming that can of beans was probably in a warehouse where there were rodents, so that can of beans might be very smelly and entertaining for my cat.

So, ensuring they have sensory enrichment, eyes, ears, nose, taste, and sensory. So different tep er, different textures to touch. Like paper bags or plastic bags or soft stuff, heated stuff, cooled stuff. So, they have tactile stimulation. And physical enrichment, physical things to do, to climb, to hide in and mental things to do. So, problems to solve, things to figure out. And that could be simple training or it could be a simple puzzle toy. So, something like taking a piece of tissue paper, putting a couple of treats on the floor, and putting the tissue paper on top of the treats. That’s a great way to start out with a food puzzle. And just enrichment for all senses, and all physical, and mental, emotional needs.

And if you’re not sure, Google enrichment for cats. There’s all kinds of free classes out there, and there’s all kinds of DIY stuff. So you can spend a million dollars on toys, or you can find free DIY stuff that’s quite entertaining. But I think assessing where they might be lacking in some things can be quite effective in trying to resolve those things.

So, for example, my cats, I don’t think they get as much visual entertainment as what they could. So, I leave on my TV, and I put on cat TV, so they can look at the birds, and my cats are not frustrated by that, because they like to watch the birds from a distance. If your cat is super predatory, then having something like that can be very frustrating. Which is why there’s not a one answer solution to everybody’s pets, so I think finding out where they might be lacking, and then providing some sort of answer to fill that lack, and provide them with some sort of outlet.

[01:10:34] Emily: I love that. Thank you so much. All right. So at the end of every episode, I like to ask people the same questions. And the first one of those questions is, what is one thing you wish people knew about either the topics we’ve been discussing today, your profession, or enrichment, your choice?

[01:10:53] Katenna: I would say my profession. In that it is a profession. This is something that you get trained in, in education, and it’s not, I had a cat and now I’m a behaviorist. This is an actual scientific industry where there’s credentials that are not required. You can know the difference between a cat and an orange and call yourself a cat behaviorist, which is disturbing, but true. So, looking at the credentials of anybody that you hire to make sure they have formal education, and are pursuing continuing ed, because we’re constantly learning new things about behavior, about cat sensory perception, and making sure that they are a qualified professional, because it could be they just had a lot of cats in their life.

You can have a lot of cats and know a lot of stuff, but like I said, I’ve had two feet my whole life. Everybody in my family has had feet, both sides of my family have had feet, all of them have had at least two feet, some of them have had fewer, but they’ve all had at least two feet. None of us are podiatrists. There’s continuing education in this industry, so make sure any professionals that you work with are actually qualified with that species. I’m highly qualified in behavior and behavior modification, I am not qualified to work with horses. So, I think ensuring that they have credentials and actual education to back up what they’re doing and understanding that those do exist.

[01:12:07] Emily: Yes, absolutely. Yeah. What is one thing you’d love to see improved in your field?

[01:12:12] Katenna: Well, it’s a bit of an unpopular topic, but regulation. And I know it’s really hard to regulate, and I’m not saying licensing, or mandatory certification, but some type of regulation so that the public doesn’t have to determine. Like if I had to line up a bunch of plumbers and say, okay, are you qualified? Are you qualified? I don’t know. But knowing that there’s a regulation that you are a plumber who has gone through plumber school, and you know things. I can trust that you’re not going to make my plumbing worse. I think having some way, some consistent way, that is international, or at least broad within a species, or within your country, so your country has its own regulations, so that the public can make informed decisions without having to assess quite so much. Cause I think putting that responsibility on the owner is a, it’s a tall order and I don’t think it’s entirely fair.

[01:13:00] Emily: It isn’t, because if they knew enough to be able to identify who is knowledgeable, that would mean they would know enough to be able to, to address behavior themselves, right? That would mean that they were also professionals.

And even though, like we just said, even behavior consultants need a behavior consultant, that’s still an unrealistic expectation that they would have that level of knowledge just to be able to hire somebody for help. So I, I agree with you. The onus should not be on the public to find, to, to be able to identify who is actually qualified, especially because marketing is a thing and, and somebody can be really good at marketing themselves and, and be terrible at the profession and people are, are giving the money because they’re responding to the marketing, they’re not responding to the, the core competencies, right?

And so, I think that is a really, a really good case to be made for, for regulation. The, the, the tricky part, as always, is getting the, the, the profession to have some consensus on what regulation would look like, because for me, that doesn’t look like policing tool usage, and it doesn’t look like making, forcing everybody to go to college, which, has some ableist and classist implications, at least in our country. But it does look like, like you said, being able to, to prove competency, being able to demonstrate that you have learned the skills, and that you know how to utilize the skills, skills in real-world, practical ways.

And so, how we go about that is obviously going to be up for debate, but I do think it’s something that we need to work towards, because it isn’t fair that currently the onus is on the, you know, the, the customers, the clients to try to suss that out for themselves.

[01:14:52] Katenna: Yeah. And I recently had an experience, so I know what to look for. I know what credentials somebody had, should have, and there was a local trainer, dog trainer near me who had all of the credentials, had all the certifications, had all the right stuff. And a client had contacted me to tell me some of the things that they were doing and I’m like, that’s weird that they were doing that because according to their credentials, they should not be doing that. And I dove deeper and they did not have a single one of the credentials that they claimed to have. Certifications, degrees, didn’t have any of them, and did not actually do the approach, or the methodology that they were claiming on their website. It was very, very different. And when I contacted them, they denied it, and said that that’s not true. And, but the client had sent me video of it. So I, I’m watching you do this right now. You’re doing this to this dog. And they denied it.

And I contacted the organizations and they contacted them, and made them take down the claims. And so, I mean, it can be misleading and sometimes it can be a flat out lie. And that’s not illegal, there’s nothing wrong, er, I mean, morally, ethically, it’s wrong. But, professionally, it’s, allowed.

[01:16:00] Emily: Yeah. We’ve had multiple people claim to be certified through us, through Pet Harmony. When, first of all, if they knew us at all, they would know that we don’t believe in giving out certifications as, as an organization. I, and I know that people do and, and that’s fine, but we don’t agree with giving out the certification with, that has letters at the end of your name because we are not a certifying body, and we are not assessing competency in our courses.

And so, we don’t think, we just don’t feel comfortable giving out certifications when a certification means you have proven competence–well, it should mean that you have, you have demonstrated competency at these things. So, we don’t give out letters at the end of our name. And that has not stopped people from inventing Pet Harmony certifications that they claim to be certified by.

And the first couple we reached out to, and we were like, “Stop. Seriously.” And then it just became so exhausting because there’s nothing we can do legally. And we just realized like, we can’t stop everybody in the world from abusing our, our name, and our reputation. But it’s, it is frustrating because we don’t, we have worked with people in a similar situation where they, they paid a lot of money to somebody because they were misled as to that person’s qualifications, and education, and background, and I’m talking about both pet parents and professionals who have paid a lot of money to people because they claim to have education and background that they don’t have, and they have been miseducated.

And then there’s that emotional attachment, there’s that Sunk Cost Fallacy where it’s like, but I’ve devoted so much time and money to this already. And hearing that it’s not– that it was a waste or that I, I have to relearn things now is really heartbreaking for people. And it’s heartbreaking for us to have to deliver that information and go, okay, here’s what’s actually true, we’re going to start over there. It’s not a total loss. There are things that we can take from what you learned, and we can utilize those things, but we need to kind of go in a different direction.

And it’s really hard to have that conversation with people because the time and money that they’ve invested into something that ultimately doesn’t serve them. So yeah, it’s an ethical concern, and also the, the path to getting to where other professions are is going to be a tricky and long path, I think.

[01:18:19] Katenna: Because I feel like the cat is out of the bag already, and I don’t think you can put the toothpaste back into the tube. It’s really hard. So, I don’t know, I don’t know how you get there. I don’t claim to have an answer. But I do think we as an industry need to work toward that.

[01:18:33] Emily: Yeah. And I, every time I start to feel frustrated about this, I just remind myself that the field of medicine was unregulated for centuries and yet they got there and that still doesn’t mean that there aren’t doctors out there who do harm, right? It doesn’t mean that there aren’t doctors out there who are peddling pseudoscience and, and, you know, so it’s not, it’s not a panacea.

It’s not going to fix every problem, but we’re not going to get lost in the Nirvana Fallacy where we’re expecting regulation to solve all of the world’s problems. But we can at least work towards regulation in order to reduce harm, knowing that we’ll never fully eliminate it and and knowing that it’s going to be an imperfect journey.

But we can see the ways in which regulation has helped professions like the medical profession, and the legal profession, and how it has reduced harm in those fields, and we can want that for our own industry and work towards that for sure.

[01:19:27] Katenna: And I, to that end, I think we have come a long way. And I know there’s, like, people who are new to rescue, new as in less than 10 years, to rescue and think that the pet overpopulation problem is completely out of hand. And yes, it’s still a problem, but it is better. Slowly, slowly, it’s getting better.

And our industry is slowly, slowly moving more toward a more reward- or positive-based approach. And it is better than it was 25 years ago.

And it may not seem like it because you might be newer, new being a relative term, but from where it started out, like say, when Ian Dunbar started out, I can’t imagine what it was like for him and the folks that have been around for 30, 40 years, or even I don’t know.

I can’t, I can’t think of their names, but it has slowly, slowly gotten better. You know, you can’t move a mountain quickly. It’s a slow process, but it is moving.

[01:20:19] Emily: Change happens in approximations. That’s the mantra. I tell myself when I’m impatient about any kind of cultural or social change. All right. On a, on a happier note, what do you love about what you do?

[01:20:32] Katenna: I think my favorite thing is seeing that bond strengthen because when we get called to come in, there’s sometimes or not sometimes, there’s very often a fracture in the human animal bond. And sometimes there’s a full break, and it’s very hard to fix that. But if it’s a fracture, and we can repair it with a little bit of glue, and a little bit of duct tape, then we can make it so strong that we don’t need to have that little repair anymore.

It’s just fixed. And seeing a pet, or seeing an owner have that lightbulb moment of inspiration, where they see that their pet can do this thing that they didn’t know that the pet was capable of, and see them on a whole different level. Like, oh, I didn’t realize that was him talking to me. I understand now that he has this need. And if I provide for that need, then the problem will go away. And then they can build on, so we worked on one thing to fix this one problem, but then they can take that information and apply it to other things that might pop up in that pet’s life in the future, or to another pet later on. And I think giving them, giving people that knowledge, it’s like, you know, teach a man to fish or fish for them or whatever that saying is. I think it’s the teaching them to fish that is most rewarding for me.

[01:21:40] Emily: Yeah, you can, yeah, you can give a person a fish and you’ll feed them for a day, or you can teach them to fish and feed them for a lifetime. And that’s, yes, and that’s exactly how I think we, what we have in common about how we approach behavior change is we’re not just trying to alleviate this pain points that are happening right now, but we’re giving them the tools so that they can alleviate pain points in the future as well. And so, yeah, we definitely share that mindset. And I also love that. I love it when clients tell me things like now, now that I can see body language, I can never unsee it. Yeah. That’s the goal.

[01:22:17] Katenna: And I’ve had some clients tell me that I’ve ruined them for pets. Like they’d now they drive down the street, and they see somebody walking their dog and they’re like, don’t do that to your dog. You know, they think to themselves, oh, that dog is telling you something. So, now every time you look at a pet, you see their needs or you see some miscommunication happening.

And it makes it so apparent of how big of an issue this is. But I think that can become almost infectious, where if you learn, you can tell your friend, or you can tell your neighbor, and then they learn, and then they’ll tell someone else, and you can kind of spread that information. And I think it can become something that goes far and wide and benefits everyone, the human side and the animal side.

[01:22:56] Emily: All right. So, what are you currently working on? If people want to work more with you or learn from you, where can they find you?

[01:23:03] Katenna: I currently am trying to focus a lot on helping other consultants to gain an education, and I do a couple of mentorships. I do one through the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, the IAABC, and I do a cat mentorship through them. I usually do about two a year. But I also have an ongoing, that is a cat behavior mentorship, if you’re interested in becoming a cat consultant. And I also do a lot. With my partner, Michelle, through Hippocampus Online. So, Hippocampus, like the structure in your brain. So, hippocampusonline. com. And that’s where you can find the litterbox course, and I also have a mentorship, where we have live meetings and I just started this new program. It’s called Cat Calls. And it’s a free, quote unquote, free service to the public, so if you’re experiencing a cat behavior problem, you sign up for the service, and it’s, it’s 10 dollars, but we donate the 10 to a cat rescue. And that’s basically just so I don’t have 20 students lined up and you don’t show, it’s just to create commitment. And my students in my, in this mentorship can attend, they can run the consult, or they can attend the consult just to see a real consult dealing with a real cat behavior problem.

So, we do that and we’ve got meetings every once a week and we’ve got, we share issues with each other. So somebody’s working on, Hey, I’ve got this litter box case. What do you guys think? And we all share and support each other and have like a vent session. Monday nights are usually venting time where we complain about stuff. And just kind of give each other, you know, pep talks. So, it’s to support cat consultants, so you don’t feel quite so alone and create a community where we can share with each other and cross pollinate ideas.

And like this week I’m in one of my courses, I’m having them share what their favorite litter box tools are. So what’s your favorite thing to recommend for litter box case? And I’m learning stuff from these guys, like, oh, I didn’t know that was a thing that existed, I’ve been doing this for a while. And I think learning new stuff is super exciting.

And we also have some on demand courses. So one that’s in there is Feline Behavior and Body Language, and we also have Feline Sensory Perception. So they’re about an hour long webinar that’s pre recorded. So you can just check it out and watch it. And I, let me check, I believe that those are free. Let me see, yes, those are free. And so, there’s some stuff for people who are pet owners, and there’s stuff for people who are consultants, or want to get into consulting. And that’s my biggest focus right now. So if you want to learn about litter boxes, that’s on there. The mentorship is on there.

[01:25:34] Emily: Yeah. I love that. Thank you for sharing that, we’re in a similar boat where I no longer see clients directly because Allie and Ellen and I started a mentorship program called PETPro, and so that’s what we’re doing in, you know, helping people to become behavior consultants. And then I oversee our team of consultants, and we work in a residency model. So I am currently entirely focused on professional development as well. So yeah, yeah, it is, it is a fun and fulfilling job. I really enjoy what I do.

[01:26:06] Katenna: I agree. I love seeing the little baby cat consultants out there. Or the kittens, I call them kitten consultants.

[01:26:13] Emily: Kitten consultants. Out there growing and gaining confidence and experience. It’s just so fulfilling. Yes. It’s like, this is the thing that brings out the maternal feelings. I never had a desire to be a, a parent of humans, but this brings out all my maternal feels.

[01:26:30] Katenna: Yeah, and I see like somebody will post something, and somebody says something mean and I’m like, don’t you talk to my little baby like that!

[01:26:37] Emily: Right! How dare you hurt my child? The mama bear in us comes out. Yeah.

I love it. Well, thank you so much for being here and for the conversation. I really appreciate everything that you do. And I’ve loved getting to talk to you and hear what you have to say. So thank you so much for joining me today.

[01:26:58] Katenna: Thank you very much for having me. I appreciate it. And thank you for providing this resource for people. I think it’s great and providing more education. I think whether you’re a consultant that’s been doing this for a hundred years, or you’re just starting, or you have your very first cat, or you’ve had cats your whole life. I think we can always keep learning and keep finding out new things. So, any education I think is an awesome resource and definitely worth pursuing and creating.

[01:27:21] Emily: Yes, I agree. It’s a lifelong learning process. And maybe if we could extend our life to 300 years, we’d finally get to a place where we felt like we had a good grasp on things, but we’ll never, never, never, never stop learning.

[01:27:36] Katenna: Yeah. And I’ll sometimes go to a client’s house and they’re like, why is my cat doing that? I have no idea. I don’t know what they’re doing or why I’ve never seen that before, but for teaching me about this. I’m going to do research and I’ll get back to you.

[01:27:48] Emily: Well, thank you. It has been a joy.

[01:27:50] Allie: I always love when we get to talk about species other than dogs on this podcast. Obviously I love dogs, but I work with them every day and I don’t get to work with other species every day. So, I absolutely loved getting to hear Katenna and just like so much time talking about cats, absolutely loved it.

And I especially loved Katina’s emphasis on communication and reducing client shame. I love how she approaches that with her clients. Next week, we will be talking about how to evaluate your environment for behavioral impact.

Thank you for listening. You can find us at petharmonytraining.com and @petharmonytraining on Facebook and Instagram, and also @petharmonypro on Instagram for those of you who are behavioral professionals. As always links to everything we discussed in this episode are in the show notes and a reminder to please rate, review and subscribe wherever you listen to podcasts a special thank you to Ellen Yoakum for editing this episode, our intro music is from Penguin Music on Pixabay.

Thank you for listening and happy training.

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