UW-River Falls: Purr-fect: Falcon Feline Adoption Program finds homes for shelter cats

March 23, 2022 — Nearly 40 people lined up on a recent Wednesday evening in Hagestad Hall for a chance to meet, pet and interact with K.C. and Zack, two cats living in a small animal shelter being operated by University of Wisconsin-River Falls students.

The shelter, which is a collaboration with the Dunn County Humane Society, is part of the capstone Animal Science 421 Advanced Canine and Feline Management class. Students keep the shelter clean and feed and give needed medications to the cats. Twenty-five students are part of the class and 15 have chosen to be part of the optional Falcon Feline Adoption Program. The program can provide services to four cats at a time.

“Our students need applied animal activity,” said Beth Rausch, Animal and Food Science Department associate professor who is also a veterinarian. “This is a way they can get care and management experience on cats. Some cats have been at the Dunn County Humane Society shelter for over a year waiting for a home. What we excel in is taking special needs cats.”

The Falcon Feline Adoption Program opened in October 2021 and has helped the Dunn County Humane Society find homes for about a dozen cats, Rausch said. Initial funding came from part of a U.S. Department of Agriculture Capacity Building Grant Rausch received.

Rausch is not aware of any other student-run, university-driven programs.

“The No. 1 thing I see is the incredible teamwork,” Rausch said. “It gives me goosebumps. This is a group of students who are coming together and making this happen. It is another applied experiential learning experience for our students. Those experiences are so important to our students. It helps companion animal students see the future and provides applied learning opportunities.”

Students monitor the behavioral and physical health of the cats as well as use social media to help promote adoptions. The humane society handles the final adoptions, approving the homes for the cats, Rausch said.

Grace Berends, a senior majoring in Animal Science – Companion Animal, started in January with the Falcon Feline program.

“I like being a part of this because I like helping cats at the shelter,” Berends said. “I like that we have the space the cats can play. I love seeing them come out of their shells. When Zack first got here, he was super shy. He would hide. Now he is super loving.”

Being a part of the program helps Berends, of St. Charles, Minn., learn how a shelter operates and cares for the animals.

Sierra Jossart, a senior Animal Science -Companion Animal major from Milwaukee, said she is learning but also enjoying caring for the cats.

“It’s fun, especially when they are cuddling you,” she said, smiling. “I was interested in the program to learn more about cats and about their behavior and their body language toward each other. To be able to do this hands-on experience helps solidify what I have learned in class. I am glad to be part of this unique program. This is why you go to school to have a great experience like this. I appreciate the program and the opportunity to be part of it.”

Jamie Wagner, Dunn County Humane Society kennel manager, said Falcon Feline provides a safe, healthy place for the cats to grow and be socialized.

“It is a benefit for us because we can get the cats living cage-free and they get excellent care from the students,” Wagner said. “They are seeing a different audience for adoption that we might not see at the shelter in Menomonie.”

The students are doing a fantastic job caring and socializing the cats, Wagner noted.

“The students are always coming up with ideas for enrichment for the cats,” Wagner said. “They even rotate the toys, so the cats won’t get bored.”

The Dunn County Humane Society is a no-kill shelter with about 40 cats available for adoption. To learn more, go to dunncountyhumanesociety.org.

The furniture in the Falcon Feline program is reused from the university Surplus Property Program and many of the enrichment opportunities for the cats are made from recycled materials. Litter boxes are made from cardboard, which will break down in a landfill, Rausch said.

Falcon Feline is a program that became a reality because of cooperation between University Police, Facilities Management, the College of Agriculture, Food and Environmental Sciences, the Food and Animal Science Department and the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee, Rausch noted.                                 

Falcon Feline is open from 4 to 6 p.m. on Wednesdays through the end of the spring semester to allow anyone to meet the cats and fill out an adoption application with the Dunn County Humane Society. Email [email protected] to make an appointment to visit the cats.

At the recent open hours, K.C. and Zack purred as they were cuddled by potential adopters and took time to chase a feathered interactive toy. Those attending smiled and laughed at the cats’ antics.

“Compassion for animals transcends humanity,” Rausch said. “I see that through this program with my students. All of them are welcome and all of them feel welcome. It speaks to student belonging.”

For questions or to learn more about the Falcon Feline Adoption Program, email  [email protected].