Monesia McKnight felt so sad for Ripley, a young tabby she fostered, whose shyness was preventing her from attracting local adopters. But Monesia knew Ripley was a sweet kitty who would warm up quickly once someone gave her a chance. “We just had to care for her and love her,” says Monesia, who has lived in the Atlanta area since 2019 and volunteers for Best Friends Lifesaving Center. “That made her attached to us.”
Button training cats
When Monesia watched a TikTok video showing dogs trained to press color-coded, voice-recording buttons that each sent a specific message to their humans, she thought: Why not try this with her shy foster kitty?
Perhaps learning to “talk” via pushing buttons would give Ripley a fun way to communicate with humans and attract potential adopters’ attention. Ripley wasn’t adopted locally through Best Friends, and she would soon be sent to the rescue’s shelter in New York for another try in a different region.
Monesia bought a set of four buzzers, recorded requests and spent time every day training Ripley. With one purple-colored button, Ripley would say, “I want a treat.” With others, she’d say, “Pick me up,” “Pet me” and “Play with me.”
“I felt horrible that she didn’t get adopted here,” Monesia says. She wondered what she could do so it never happened again. “When I saw the video on TikTok with dogs using buttons I thought, ‘This is perfect!’ Not many cat owners can say, ‘My cats can use buttons, and I can communicate with my pets!”
After two weeks of training with Ripley, who was in foster care with Monesia for six months, the kitty got the hang of the buttons. She was sent to New York and got adopted immediately after shelter officials told the future human parents about Ripley’s unusual communication skill.
Training shy kittens to talk
Monesia has trained other shy kitties she fosters from the shelter with the buttons. She does it by repetition and observation: pressing the button, giving the cat the matching reward, then pressing the button again. Cats eventually start putting their own paws on the button, connected to her voice recording, when she prompts them to “talk.” Sometimes, if the cats allow it, Monesia will press their paws on a button during training.
“They’re really smart, and they catch on really quickly,” says Monesia, who hopes other cat parents will try the button training.
“It just makes you so close to your pets,” she says. “You can literally see their eyes glistening because they feel so understood… It’s just so cute.”
Megan Matchett, a supervisor at Best Friends, says that Monesia is an excellent volunteer who has done wonders with helping harder-to-adopt cats find homes.
“Monesia working with our shy kitties is really helpful,” Megan says. “The buttons help the cats build up confidence. They have a way to communicate with you and say things like, ‘I’d like to have treats’ or ‘I’d like to be brushed.’ It gives them some control. It helps to also showcase the animals to adopters. A lot of people think cats aren’t trainable, but that’s not true. You can teach cats tricks.”
Check out Monesia’s cat videos on TikTok @maat_neter.