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Expert says your cat can be trained
By Michael Picarella pic@theacorn.com

fWild or tame, cats can be trained. First you train the owner, then the cat.

Mollie Hogan, a Thousand Oaks native and the founder of Cat Business, insists that people have to understand cats before they can judge which are trainable.

"I always say, 'If you can train a mountain lion, a housecat should be easy. Actually, this is very true because wild cats and domestic cats are very similar in their makeup," said Hogan.

Hogan started Cat Business, a training service, in 2005. She's been a professional trainer of wild cats for 20 years. After many years at the Los Angeles Zoo, she is now the director of the Topanga Canyon-based The Nature of Wildworks, a nonprofit organization that provides interactive wildlife educational programs to enhance public understanding of nature and the environment. The Nature of Wildworks also provides a lifetime of quality care for non-releasable wild animals.

"The most often asked question when presenting a wild or exotic cat before the public is, 'How do you train a cat?'" Hogan said. "That's what made me realize that cat training might be a valuable service to provide."

Cat Business has been gaining popularity, Hogan said. She operates the business mostly through phone consultations and home visits.

"Meeting the people and their pets in their environment is the best way to work on problem solving," Hogan said. "I offer people training tips and demonstrate my recommended methods in their home with their felines."

"It's important for the success of the session to teach the pet owners how to work effectively with their cats because after I leave, the animals will need to respond to their caretakers. So mostly, I train the people to train their pets," said Hogan.

Hogan said most people want to know how to solve cat behavioral problems such as furniture scratching and excessive meowing.

But cat owners aren't the only ones who might be interested in some help from Cat Business. Cats can annoy neighbors by roaming the streets and irritating gardeners who want to keep their greenery safe. Grass and other plants can be destroyed when used as a litter box.

"There are techniques that we talk about in our Wildworks wildlife shows to help discourage urban wildlife from coming into your yard," Hogan said. "The best success would require a joint effort between (the) cat owner and (the) neighbor whose interest is in keeping the cats away."

Hogan said the best time to start training any animal is when it's young. But if people are willing to learn the techniques and put in the time and energy, animals of any age can be trained, she said.

Asked why cats have a reputation as untrainable, Hogan blamed people who try to train felines as they would dogs.

"Domestic cats are considered to be solitary animals," Hogan said. "Dogs are social pack animals. Housecats hunt alone and do not require the cooperative hunting style of the pack. (Cats) come together to breed and the young stay with their moms for a time and then go off on their own. When living with a human family, dogs consider us to be pack members. The pack requires a leader and they are looking to us to fill that position.

"Because of their social structure and because dogs are looking for a leader, they are considered to be more trainable. However, when living in the household with humans and in multi-cat households, cats have a social order. Even though they don't rely on a leader, there's always a dominant cat."

"So, through training your cat at home, your goal would be to achieve 'lead cat' status in the household colony. The cats will then learn to respect you and be more responsive to your wishes," said Hogan.

When owners say they can't get cats to learn anything, it's because they aren't effective as teachers, Hogan said. Cat Business, she added, can teach owners how to better relate to their felines.

Hogan has loved cats since she was young. "I think cats are the most beautiful and mysterious creatures on earth," she said. "I had numerous pet cats growing up and the circus trainers always intrigued me with tiger acts like Gunther Gebel-Willliams."

"When I first saw a mountain lion-my favorite cat-up close in a zoo, I knew I was hooked and I eventually got a job at the L.A. Zoo training cats for their cat show. When the show was cancelled, I acquired the cats that I'd hand-raised, and I formed our nonprofit wildlife education center, The Nature of Wildworks," said Hogan.

Hogan hopes to build Cat Business into a larger company, offering her services extensively to the public through in-home visits and public seminars. "Our goal would be to lessen the need to place problem cats in animal shelters and encourage people to have better methods of caring for their cats," Hogan said.

For more information about Cat Business, call Mollie at (310) 455-0550.

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