Animal welfare organizations routinely accept large numbers of cats with unknown histories, and whose backgrounds vary from well-socialized pets to cats that have had little or no contact with humans. Agencies are challenged with making the determination of socialization level in a highly stressful environment where cats are often too frightened to show typical behaviors. A variety of structured behavioral assessments were conducted in a shelter-like environment, from intake through a three day holding period, on cats from the full range of socialization as reported by their caregivers. Our results show that certain behaviors such as rubbing, playing, chirping, having the tail up or being at the front of the cage were found to be unique to More Socialized cats. While not all more socialized cats showed these behaviors, cats that did were socialized. Assessing the cats throughout the three day period was beneficial in eliciting key behaviors from shyer and more frightened cats. These results will be used in future work to develop an assessment tool to identify the socialization status of cats as a standardized guide for transparent and reliable disposition decisions and higher live release rates for cats in animal shelters.
Slater, M., Garrison, L., Miller, K., Weiss, E., Makolinski, K., & Drain, N. (2013). Reliability and validity of a survey of cat caregivers on their cats’ socialization level in the cat’s normal environment. Animals, 3(4), 1194-1214.
Stray cats routinely enter animal welfare organizations each year and shelters are challenged with determining the level of human socialization these cats may possess as quickly as possible. However, there is currently no standard process to guide this determination. This study describes the development and validation of a caregiver survey designed to be filled out by a cat’s caregiver so it accurately describes a cat’s personality,
background, and full range of behavior with people when in its normal environment. The results from this survey provided the basis for a socialization score that ranged from unsocialized to well socialized with people. The quality of the survey was evaluated based on inter-rater and test-retest reliability and internal consistency and estimates of construct and criterion validity. In general, our results showed moderate to high levels of inter-rater (median of 0.803, range 0.211–0.957) and test-retest agreement (median 0.92, range 0.211–0.999). Cronbach’s alpha showed high internal consistency (0.962). Estimates of validity did not highlight any major shortcomings. This survey will be used to develop and validate an effective assessment process that accurately differentiates cats by their socialization levels towards humans based on direct observation of cats’ behavior in an animal shelter.
Slater, M., Garrison, L., Miller, K., Weiss, E., Drain, N., & Makolinski, K. (2013). Physical and behavioral measures that predict cats’ socialization in an animal shelter environment during a three day period. Animals, 3(4), 1215-1228.
Animal welfare organizations typically take in cats with unknown levels of socialization towards humans, ranging from unsocialized cats well-socialized but lost pets. Agencies typically determine the socialization status and disposition options of cats within three days, when even a well-socialized pet may be too frightened of the unfamiliar surroundings to display its typical behavior. This is the third part of a three-phase project to develop and evaluate a reliable and valid tool to predict cats’ socialization levels. We recruited cats from the full spectrum of socialization and, using information from the cats’ caregivers regarding typical behavior toward familiar and unfamiliar people, assigned each cat to a Socialization Category. This information was compared to the cats’ behavior during three days of structured assessments conducted in a shelter-like setting. The results of logistic regression modeling generated two models using assessments from the mornings of the second and third day, focusing on predicting shyer or more aloof but socialized cats. Using the coefficients from each of these models, two sets of points were calculated which were useful in differentiating More and Less Socialized cats. In combination with key socialized behaviors, these points were able to fairly accurately identify More and Less Socialized cats.