SAN DIEGO — Fely has one of the most demanding jobs at the San Diego Humane Society. The 6-year-old domestic short hair cat tests dogs to see if they are “cat compatible.”
Fely is a somewhat unexpected fit for the job. He was adopted out of the San Diego Humane Society as a kitten, but later brought back by his owner because of behavior issues. “He was returned because he was aroused easily,” Jerrica Baker, canine specialist, said. The family that adopted Fely played with him using a sock and later he started attacking their feet. “He also had bathroom issues,” Baker said. “He prefers to use everything but a litter box. But he didn’t mind dogs.”
Fely’s traits make adoption difficult, but suit him for the job of behavior assessment cat. Fely returned to the Humane Society in 2006 and started working as the behavior assessment cat in 2007.
Fely lives in the cheery 20-foot-by-20-foot behavior assessment room equipped with a cat tree, play tunnel, litter box and toys. He is on call to be part of behavior assessments as needed, which is usually a few days a week. His job description is to “hang out and be a cat.”
Behavior assessments give a picture of a dog’s personality. Fely’s job is to test how a dog reacts to a cat. “Fely is never in any danger,” Candice Eley, public relations coordinator, said. A handler introduces the dog to Fely and observes the behavior of both animals.
When a dog initially enters the behavior assessment room, Fely is in a crate out of the dog’s view, Baker said. After a few preliminary assessments on the dog, Fely is put on a chair in the center of the room and the dog and cat are observed.
If it is a “cat-friendly” dog, Fely will jump off the chair, strut around the room and paw at the dog, Baker said.
The assessment is important before placing dogs in homes that have cats. “If someone asks for a dog that is ‘good with cats’ it’s exactly how we know that,” Eley said. “He’s so super at it, he’s pretty special.”
In his off time, Fely likes “people watching” the steady stream of folks who walk through the adoption gallery hallway and past the two large indoor windows of the behavior assessment room. He also enjoys climbing the cat tree and visits form staff.
Fely is presently not up for adoption because of his job testing dogs. If animal handlers notice a behavior change or discomfort in Fely he will be retired from his duties and be considered to be put up for adoption.
Out of the 500 animals housed at the Humane Society Gaines Street Campus, around nine of them are working animals that help in Humane Society pet assisted therapy and education programs. Cats, dogs, bunnies, guinea pigs and a bearded dragon are working animals in these programs.