Is your cat exhibiting behaviors that are causing you to tear out your hair? Are you picking up more poo outside, rather than inside, the litterbox? Is your cat too vocal or antisocial? If you’re at your wit’s end with trying to understand what is going on inside your feline’s head, you will want to reach out to a certified feline behavior and training consultant like Marci Koski, PhD, of Feline Behavior Solutions.
I recently had the opportunity to ask Dr. Koski about her role as a cat behavior and training consultant, and how her role benefits pets and pet parents.
Q:Dr. Koski, what brought you to the career of being a feline behavior and training consultant?
A:For the past ten years, I have worked as a biologist for the US Food and Wildlife Service. The past few years, I’ve been more involved in the management aspect of that career.
I got into biology because I love animals and wanted to do something to benefit them. Recently, I didn’t feel I had been focused on that in my career; so, I did a lot of thinking about what I love (cats!) and what I really wanted to do (help them live better lives!). I’ve had cats my entire life…honestly, I can’t remember a time when I didn’t have at least one cat in my home. From there, I decided to get my certification and start my own business as a cat behavior consultant.
I left my job in December to start my company, Feline Behavior Solutions. It has been running for the past two and a half years. It was a huge financial adjustment, but it was worth it.
Q:What kind of training do you undergo for feline behavior consulting?
A: I have an academic background in biology, but I now have two certifications in Feline Training and Behavior from the Animal Behavior Institute. There aren’t a lot of cat behavior consultants, and my certifications gave me an education geared specifically towards helping cats and their people resolve behavior issues. So, everyone can have a happy, healthy and long-lasting relationship with their cats.
Q:Why would a cat parent need your services and expertise?
A**:**“The two most common issues I help people with are: litterbox problems and family cats not getting along with one another. There are a lot of other issues that come up as well, including: excessive vocalization, eating/chewing non-food items (feline pica), destructive behavior (ex. scratching and knocking things off tables), counter-surfing, and fear/aggression.
Usually, cat parents reach out to me because the stress of the cat's behavior has become so great, it's causing problems in the home. I've seen human relationships in turmoil, and people who have seriously considered either euthanizing their cat or surrendering the cat to the shelter.
It's hard getting people to step back from the ledge. However, once they realize they're not on their own to figure things out, they can relax a little bit and are more open to making changes: learning more about what their cat needs, and how they can direct behavior to more appropriate outlets. It's amazing seeing that transformation!
Q:What “success story” sticks with you?
A:Let me tell you about a cat named, Tom. He was adopted by Walter and Tiara from a shelter in Hawaii. Although he reminded Walter of another cat he owned, Tom was (practically) feral and scared of people. So, when Walter and Tiara brought him home, he spent most of his time under their bed and any attempts at interaction ended rather violently. (Tiara's face got bitten and scratched up at one point.)
I was so happy Walter and Tiara reached out to me before they made the decision to return him to the shelter. And after a couple of months of step-by-step instruction (focusing on boosting Tom's confidence and reducing his fear of people), Tom became a loving, affectionate cat. He loves lounging on cat trees and sleeping next to Tiara!
The great thing about this case was that Walter and Tiara were willing to be open to making changes and learning what Tom needed to succeed. They did the work, and were patient and persistent. They are exactly the type of people I love working with!
Q:How can a pet parent with a “problem” cat work with you? Are there lessons the pet parent can use to help their cat?
A: I'm not a cat whisperer, which implies I do is something magical or special that only I can do for my client. It's not! I'm an educator, and I teach people about their cat’s needs and how to meet them. I impress upon my clients that they can do everything I can do—and probably better—because they know their cat best.
I do like interacting with my clients' cats to get a feeling for their personalities (and to pet and snuggle them if they let me). Sometimes I visit clients' homes and only get a glimpse of a very frightened cat hiding under the bed—and that's okay; me interacting with the cat directly is not a necessity for a cat behavior consultation.
Q:What is your process for beginning a behavior consultation?
A:A cat behavior consultation is like working on a mystery that needs to be solved. My clients fill out a questionnaire that provides me with background information about the cat's history, daily activities, home environment and family. This information is important because even though something may not seem relevant, I've found hidden gems that help me put together pieces of the cat's behavior puzzle so I can see the entire picture. I'll meet with my human clients to see the cat's environment for myself, at which time I'll form a better picture of what's going on in the home and what's causing the cat's behavior.
I'll discuss a behavior plan with my client and talk about specific things to do over the next few weeks. My clients receive a summary of that behavior plan, along with other informational resources to help them with the details. Throughout the consultation period (usually 30-60 days), my clients email me with questions or issues that come up, and we'll have follow-up phone calls to make sure things are going in the right direction.
If the plan needs to change, we change it! It can take creativity to figure out how to make changes in the home that both the humans and cats can live with, but there's usually a compromise that works for everyone.
Q:I assume you work with cat parents in person and virtually?
A**:**Yes, I do in-home consultations in the Portland, Oregon and southwest Washington State areas. And I can work virtually with clients anywhere with the magic of Skype, Facetime, Zoom and other video-conferencing programs. I've had clients all over the US and Canada.
Q:Why is what you do crucial for cats, cat health and in the overall cat world?
A:Too many cats are euthanized in animal shelters. Many of them find themselves in shelters because of a behavior problem that their guardian perceived as being unresolvable.
If cat guardians understood more about meeting their cat’s needs - as small, wild, predatory carnivores living in their home (because that is what cats are), we would have fewer cats being abused, neglected, re-homed or surrendered to shelters.
The mission of Feline Behavior Solutions is to keep cats in homes and out of shelters. Fewer cats in shelters means fewer cats will be euthanized as the result of a treatable behavior issue. And I think that's pretty dang important for the cat world!
Q:What is the most rewarding part of your business?
A:I love seeing the successful transformation of my clients (both feline and human) during the consultation process. When a client implements my recommendations and see improvement in their cat's behavior, that's great. What's even better is when I get to see the relationship between feline and human turn from one based in frustration and stress, to one based on trust, understanding, patience, and love.
Robbi Hess, award-winning author, is multi-petual: She shares her home with two Devon Rex kittens, three adult rescue cats, a mini poodle, a Goldendoodle, three lizards and two ferrets. When not caring for her pets, she is an editor, speaker, time management and productivity guru, content creator, social media manager and blogger. She writes at All Words Matter, My Divas Dish, and is the story editor and chief cat herder at Positively Woof.