Meet the Kiwi Cat Whisperer

Molly has discovered the key to understanding mysterious moggys

If Molly Kelsey looks like the cat that got the cream, it’s because she feels like she landed the purring job — she gets paid to talk to feline friends every day.

The 30-year-old Aucklander is a qualified feline counselor who spends her days communicating with tabbies and cats (and their owners) to address unwanted behaviors.

While dog trainers are a dime a dozen, cat whisperers are rare – there’s only a handful in New Zealand – so Molly is used to people taking a second look when she tells them what she’s doing.

“They often think I’m joking or can’t believe there’s a job like that,” she laughs. “Their next reaction is, ‘Can you fix my cat? She’s crazy!’ or ‘Cats can’t be told what to do!’”

Molly is a natural at getting in touch with feline feelings.

This latter reaction only makes Molly shake her head and smile. She insists they can be trained – and that she can tell exactly what a cat is thinking by reading physical cues owners may miss.

“Cats have very expressive body language and facial expressions if you know what to look for,” explains Molly. “Pupil dilation, ear position, and what her tail is doing can tell me a lot about her current mood, which then helps me figure out what her problem might be.”

Having grown up around cats from an early age, Molly has had a lifetime to decipher cat behavior.

“When I was born, my parents got two cats as a ‘welcome to the world baby’ gift, just like you! When I was a child I had three cats – Monty, Thelma and Charlie. Monty was a particular favorite, snuggle up in bed next to me and I would read to him, even though he had a not-so-lovable habit of leaving gifts of dead mice on my pillow!”

When Monty died, Molly began fostering and has cared for more than 50 cats and kittens over the years. Of these attendants there was one she could not part with.

“Frodo was my ‘heart cat’. I fell in love with him so much that I had to adopt him. He had so many quirks, including trying to catch butterflies and sleeping under the covers with me with his head on the pillow.”

Molly always knew she wanted to work with animals, but it wasn’t until she started working at an animal clinic that she realized she wanted to be involved with cats.

“People always commented on how good I was with animals, which was a consolation because people weren’t my forte!” She laughs. “After training to be a veterinary assistant, I worked at a small animal clinic and realized how many cats needed help, but how difficult it was to find that kind of support.

“I remember a heartbreaking case where the cat was over-groomed due to stress. The family had brought home a baby without preparing the cat and he was not doing well. Cases like this weighed really heavily on my heart and I wanted to change things. When I stumbled across the behavioral field, I knew I had found my way.”

Molly went back to university and did a two-year postgraduate course in cat behavior. In June 2021, she launched The Cat Counselor and now makes a living caring for troubled kitties.

The most common issues people seek help for are aggression and tension between multiple cats, as well as cats messing indoors, damaging furniture, jumping up, disliking a new family member (human or animal), or being afraid of travel or vet visits.

Some of Molly’s more memorable cases include a cat burglar stealing underwear from a neighbor’s house and a cat attacking anyone sitting in her favorite spot, resulting in bloody injuries that required stitches. In the latter case, Molly’s advice saved the cat from being euthanized.

A young Molly with her favorite cat, Monty.

Molly also uses her expertise to volunteer for the SPCA. “It’s really rewarding,” she smiles. “I work with tricky behavior cases to give them a good chance of becoming successful pets and reduce the likelihood that they will be returned after adoption.”

When asked if it’s cats or humans that are causing many of the problems she sees, Molly is quick to respond.

“I hate to say it, but we are!” she calls. “It’s a lack of knowledge, and there’s a lot of misinformation out there. There are tons of articles out there on how to train a dog, but because not much is written about cats, most people don’t know what they’re doing wrong or don’t realize there are things you can do to help. I really hope to change that.”

Despite their love of cats, Molly and her environmentalist Tane currently don’t own one, although they share responsibility for their flat cat, Bowie.

“I also have two rats named Vinnie and Pudge and a 15-year-old dog named Alfie,” says Molly. “He’s a Papillon Chihuahua crossbreed and at 3kg he’s smaller than most cats.

“After 13 years of caring for cats, I’ve noticed that he doesn’t like sharing the house with kittens anymore, so I’m giving him a break. Luckily I get enough cats every day at work!”

Click here for Molly’s top tips for cat owners

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