The Sooke Animal Food and Rescue Society (SAFARS) has instituted a program that uses animal therapy to encourage pro-social behaviour in youth.
The Feral Kitten Whisper Program currently has nine participants who work with feral kittens for the purpose of rehabilitation.
Margarita Dominguez, SAFARS president, said the kitten whisperers play and cuddle with the feral kittens to get them accustomed to human interaction.
The kittens usually arrive to SAFARS fearful, hissing, scratching and biting. The process of habituation is necessary to make sure the feral kittens are adoptable.
“The kittens, in the end, it was so nice when you see them playing like regular kittens and not always hiding under the blankets,” Dominguez said.
According to Dominguez, the program fosters healing in children who are bullied or discriminated against.
She said the children identify with the animals that they are saving, which can help alleviate their own suffering.
Dominguez added there is also an aspect of acceptance among the kitten whisperers who work together for a common goal.
“They empathize with the animal, and meet other children. They join together, and then they feel less lonely,” she said.
The rewards from the program include witnessing their rehabilitated kittens find loving families, and receiving unconditional love from animals.
“The animal will always accept you. It has no discrimination, it will never abandon you, it will never hurt you, or criticize you. That is the part that is rewarding about working with animals,” Dominguez said.
Other duties of a kitten whisperer include finding suitable families, bringing the kittens to their new homes, building public awareness, and fundraising.
Aliisa Adler, 13, is an avid participant of the kitten whisper program.
She said has seen changes in fellow kitten whisperers, who come to the program very quiet and reserved.
“It just changes a person because it makes them a lot happier, and then they can think more of themselves, and it’s just calming.”
Adler, who owns two cats that were abandoned as kittens, said it has been “amazing” to help save the lives of feral cats in the region.
“You are able to say, ‘I’ve saved lives.’ It’s really nice.”
The kitten whisperers are currently working on creating greeting cards that will be sold at markets, and participating stores. All funds will be allocated to the Feral Kitten Whisper Program.
SAFARS is currently in need of carpenters for a barn that is being used as the society’s rehabilitation centre.
For more information on the society, please visit: www.safars.org.