Morgan Adams works at the Greater Androscoggin Humane Society, socializing shy cats. Sayla, a 3-month-old kitten, was waiting for her new owners to pick her up later in the day. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

LEWISTON — Most days, Morgan Adams spends her lunchtime with a cat.

She hunkers down in a spare, quiet corner at the Greater Androscoggin Humane Society and keeps company with an old fellow who’s been in the shelter for a while or a stray kitten who doesn’t trust people. As an animal care technician, it’s time off the clock. But as the shelter’s unofficial cat whisperer, it’s all part of the job.

“I feel like it helps them feel more comfortable. Especially if they have come from a home, they don’t know what’s going on. They’re at home and one day they’re here in a kennel,” she said. “Then we get ones who are strays who have never been in a kennel before or really inside with all kinds of other animals. . . I sit with them and just try to get them to warm up a bit.”

Adams, 24, began volunteering at the Lewiston animal shelter when she was a teenager. Because she had cats growing up, she gravitated toward cats at the shelter — cleaning their cages in the morning, getting their food and water, making sure they were ready for the stream of adoptive families sure to come in. Five years ago, she began working there as a tech, a job that allowed her to care for the animals and help match pets with families.

Adams is trained to work with all the shelter’s animals, but cats — particularly skittish cats — are her specialty.

“At this point I like the social ones, but I really enjoy working with the ones that aren’t the most social things in the world,” she said. “I find that it’s very rewarding when they do finally become social because they tend to be more loving and more social than a cat that’s grown up his whole life with a family. They have a lot of time to make up for.”

Adams spends a lot of one-on-one time with the cats who don’t trust anyone else. She offers slow blinks, a sign of affection in the cat world. She holds the ones that will let her. She matches scared cats with a feline friend so they don’t feel so alone. And she’s patient, taking time to learn every shelter cat’s likes and dislikes, quirks and personality.

One of her favorite success stories was long-term resident Scrunchy, a short-haired black stray with patchy fur from allergies. He felt so threatened at the shelter that it took three people to hold him down for a blood draw.

“After that, I’d put him out in our big sun room, he’d find his pillow and he’d sit,” Adams said. “He turned out to be the most social cat. He’s one I spent a long time with. He didn’t look pretty, but he was a good boy.”

Calming the humane society’s most skittish cats is only half the job. Adams is also known for her knack for pairing the right cat with the right home.

Sayla, a 3-month-old kitten, enjoys her sleeping bag that staff at the Androscoggin Humane Society in Lewiston use to keep her calm. Andree Kehn/Sun Journal Buy this Photo

After months at the shelter, Scrunchy found his place with a woman with special needs. With a compulsive attention to detail, she had no problem sticking to Scrunchy’s strict allergen-free diet. And Scrunchy immediately took to both the woman and her caseworker.

“The caseworker came in and Scrunchy just went up on her lap,” Adams said.

And then there was a 13-year-old cat named Scamp, who was so happy the day he met his new family that he relaxed into the woman’s lap and drooled all over her leg.

“She had really young kids, one was a just little baby, not even crawling yet, and (the baby) was screeching away. The cat was just in her lap purring, didn’t care that the baby was screaming or the other kids were playing with the cat toys,” Adams said. “That right there, that’s a good fit.”

For Adams, it can be hard spending weeks or months with a cat and then handing the animal over to a stranger. But it’s also worth it.

“I know they’re going to good homes,” she said.

Her current favorites are Eliza and Celeste, black kittens who arrived separately at the shelter as nervous strays and bonded after Adams put them together. For months, they shied away from strangers, staying hidden and huddled in a box. Today, they hang out together in the open area of their cage and watch videos of squirrels and birds on an iPad that Adams brings in for them.

“They have been doing really well,” Adams said. “They’re getting there.”

To match a cat and family, Adams considers the home environment. Is it boisterous or calm? Does it include other animals or young kids? Does the family want a lap cat or a barn cat? Because she’s spent time with each of the shelter’s dozens of cats, she knows exactly who is cuddly, who is playful, who won’t be terrified of a toddler, who would work well with a giant dog.

“You get to know which home they would do good in,” she said.

It’s difficult to say whether there have been more successful cat adoptions because of Adams, but shelter Executive Director Katie Lisnik said the Lewiston humane society has been able to help more shy, scared and semi-feral cats since Adams began working there. The cat return rate remains low and when cats are returned, it’s often because families didn’t realize what they wanted in a cat until they brought one home.

“(Adams) views returns as a positive opportunity to learn more about the cat and what he or she was like in the home — to find a better match next time,” Lisnik said.

Animal Tales is a recurring Sun Journal feature about animals and their people. Have an idea for Animal Tales? Call Lindsay Tice at 689-2854 or email her at [email protected]

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