Houseplant Cat Club: PSPCA helps shy cats flourish with time, patience, and plenty of sun

Left: Plants are pictured at Urban Jungle Philly; Right: Silver the cat is pictured in a foster home

The Pennsylvania SPCA hopes to show that — with time, patience, and plenty of sun — under-socialized cats can blossom into forever companions. (Urban Jungle Philly/PSPCA)

The coronavirus pandemic led to many trends: a rise in sourdough bakers, work-from-home dwellers, the concept of “work sweatpants” vs. “sleep sweatpants.”

The Pennsylvania SPCA hopes that one such trend — in which quarantined residents developed green thumbs — will prove serendipitous.

“Over the course of the last year, pandemic plants have become very popular with individuals wanting to care for living objects while creating tranquil indoor sanctuaries during these uncertain and stressful times,” shelter officials said in a press release. ”The PSPCA is hoping these very same people will open their hearts and homes to cats who are in search of tranquility, hope and a new beginning.”

The matchmaking effort comes in the form of a new initiative: the Houseplant Cat Club.

Specifically, the nonprofit seeks to showcase cats whose social skills leave something to be desired.

To encourage new cat families to “grow together,” the PSPCA is teaming up with Urban Jungle Philly. Under the program, adoption fees will be waived for these shy felines, and each adopter will receive a $25 gift certificate to pick up a houseplant from Urban Jungle. Adoptable cats will be featured on the garden center’s social media and on posters in store.

More than a dozen felines are currently designated as potential “houseplant cats,” but the shelter has no shortage of shy kitties, Maddie Bernstein, PSPCA’s manager of lifesaving, told WHYY News.

Pennsylvania’s Humane Law Enforcement Department operates under the PSPCA, Bernstein explained, so a large percentage of the animals the shelter pulls come from cruelty and neglect cases. Just this past month, the PSPCA has taken in at least three large groups of cats — usually as a result of hoarder cases. Those cats tend to be fearful and under-socialized.

“It doesn’t mean that they are bad or scary,” Bernstein said. “It just means that they need a little bit of extra help to figure out how to live in a home.”

When a cat transitions from a shelter to a home, it can be disorienting, Bernstein said. “It’s like taking a human and putting them in a spaceship … they don’t know at all what is going on.”

With time and the proper space to decompress, though, cats have a better chance of blossoming into forever companions.

Once they’ve figured out the ins and outs of being a pet, Berstein said, “they’re kind of home free.”

“At the end of the day, it’s that transition to a forever home that we’re really hoping for,” Bernstein said, adding that such adoptions free up both shelter space and foster homes to save more lives.

The promotion is expected to run through the end of April. But Bernstein envisions a world where the houseplant cat concept transforms into more of a community.

Glimmers of that community already exist, to an extent, in online circles where Philly animal welfare advocates can “geek out” over shared interests, Bernstein said. That cross-section of people, she says, tend to be fun-loving and enjoy caring for living things — in this case, plants and cats.

“They like putting their TLC into something that really needs them,” Bernstein explained. “It’s a low input for a high output.”

All that’s needed, Bernstein said, is patience and someone who can love them.

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