The downward-facing dog may be a popular yoga pose, but cats ruled the day at a recent yoga event at the Humane Society of Carroll County.
As participants practiced their breathing and moved into poses, 16-week-old kittens Winky, Spider-Man and Runt scampered about or settled on yoga mats or laps for a quick snooze much to the delight of the class.
“It’s yoga. It’s kittens. What’s not to like?” said Dave Ledford, assistant director of animal care at the Humane Society.
The Sept. 16 event was the second kitten yoga class at the Humane Society. A third class was held the following day at Branches of Yoga in Sykesville. Kitten yoga is the brainchild of Sue Miller.
“I had gone to goat yoga in Gettysburg,” said Miller. “It was a lot of fun. And I thought it would be so cool if I could do cat yoga. I started looking around but they were all too far away.”
Then Miller had a light bulb moment.
“What am I thinking?” she said. “I have access to yoga instructors. I work at a shelter on the weekends. I can have cat yoga there.”
And in the process, raise money for the Humane Society and help kittens and cats find homes.
Miller is the wife of Mark Miller, chief animal control officer at the Humane Society, and is a vet tech for a facility in Frederick. She is also a yoga enthusiast as well as an animal lover with a cat of her own named Sam.
The first session was a “test run,” said Miller, and was not publicly advertised, with only friends and acquaintances invited.
“I wanted to see how it went,” explained Miller. The event was a success and the three kittens who participated all found homes that day. Miller quickly realized she was on to something good.
“This was a great idea,” said Charles Brown, executive director of the Humane Society. “And Sue just ran with it.”
In fact, yoga classes with animals are becoming quite a trend and include not only goats and cats, but dogs and even horses.
According to Miller the second class with its 10 to 12 slots filled up “immediately, within 24 hours.” And 100 percent of the proceeds from kitten yoga go to the Humane Society. Yoga instructors for the classes at the Humane Society volunteer their time through Sol Yoga in Frederick, and its Good Cause program. That day, the class brought in approximately $280 for the Humane Society. Total vetting for a cat before it is adoptable costs approximately $50 per cat, according to Ledford. “We got enough money to take care of several cats,” he said.
Miller hopes kitten yoga can become a monthly activity at the Humane Society. “People respond to this,” she said. And she understands why. “I wouldn’t go to Gettysburg just for a regular yoga class but I would for yoga with goats.”
“We’re here for the cats!” said one participant at the beginning of the class as she unrolled her yoga mat and happily eyed Winky, a female calico, and Spider-Man and Runt, black-and white-spotted males. A fourth cat, a large orange stray male was also later added to the class. Some class members took selfies with the friendly felines. Others enticed the cats to play with them using toys, such as a jingling ball that was a favorite of Runt’s.
“With kitten yoga, you have to realize that you’re not going to be completely zen,” said Miller. “At some point, there is going to be an animal running between your legs or jumping on top of you. But I’ll tell you there is more giggling in goat or cat yoga than I’ve ever heard or seen in any other regular yoga class. It makes people happy. It makes them smile. People just really enjoy it.”
Class participant Amy Wildberger appeared to be the cat whisperer of the class with more than one cat seeking out her lap and her mat. At one point, she was hesitant to move and displace the kitten sprawled across her leg. “I’m going numb!” she said.
Meghan Budge had the unique experience of having a kitten sleep on her back for a portion of the class. Winky made herself at home while Budge was doing the child’s pose and was low to the ground and easily accessible for the kitten. Situations such as this resulted in yoga instructor Jacquie Wuertz adjusting her instructions to include “For those without cats in their laps or on their backs …”
“It was awesome,” said Budge, from Westminster, of her piggybacking furry friend. “I’ve never been to kitten yoga before. And it was just awesome.”
Wildberger, of Uniontown, said she received a friendly warning from her husband as she left for the class.
“The last thing he said to me as I walked out the door was ‘Don’t bring one home,’” she chuckled.
Not an easy task. And if one was inclined to adopt because of the event it was certainly encouraged. While the three kittens participating in that day’s class were already spoken for there were plenty of others just across the hall who needed good homes. For the class at Branches of Yoga, Miller was taking Winky, Spider-Man and Runt, but also photos of cats that had not found homes yet.
Christina Manderfeld of Westminster came for both the yoga and a cat. As she participated in the class, her 6-year-old son JoJo waited patiently outside, drawing a picture of a fluffy orange cat. At the end of the class he and his mother were introduced to a four-month-old orange female feline not so different from his drawing. This cat was the first and only one they visited. The connection was instant. “I want her,” said JoJo excitedly. The mother and son then accompanied Miller to begin the paperwork to make the cat their own.
For Zachary Keim of Pikesville, the class was an opportunity for him and his girlfriend to do something together that appealed to both of them.
“I love cats. I grew up with cats and dogs. My girlfriend is really into yoga. She told me, ‘This class is perfect. It has something we both like,’” he said.
In fact, Keim was so impressed with the experience that he was looking ahead to other possibilities.
“So, when’s the puppy yoga?” he asked Miller as the class filed out the door.