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Kittens socialize while people stretch. KELLY NICHOLAIDES/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL

By KELLY NICHOLAIDES
For Montclair Local

A dozen people sprawl out on mats at Indigo Yoga Studio in West Caldwell, while kittens dart around chasing toys.

“Sit up tall, close your eyes, and take a deep breath through your nose,” instructor Stacy Rosales begins the session, with a cuteness twist, on Sept. 30. “Feel free to pet any kittens coming around and show some love.”

Neck, shoulder and wrist rolls follow as cats lunge after balls and mice toys and curiously inch toward participants. Rosales tells everyone to listen to their bodies to make sure they’re going at their own pace during various yoga poses as the cats begin circling elbows and knees, some rubbing and purring. As the yoga participants begin opening their chests by squeezing shoulder blades together, and bringing hands together to their heart centers, the room is filled with peace for both human and felines as well.

Everyone settles in, cats included, under Rosales’ guidance for some vinyasa yoga for all skill levels. Poses include the Child’s Pose, Table Top, Cow, Rage Doll, Sunflower, and of course the Cat Pose.

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The kittens are ambassadors for CPAW-NJ, a Montclair non-profit organization working to stem the feral cat population through Trap, Neuter, Vaccinate, Release programs. Felix and Panda are tuxedos. Smooch and Wallace are gray tabbies. Rose is a Tortie. Hartley is the patchwork cat with a heart shaped marking on his neck. Captain Jack is the one-eyed miracle kitten, who lost an orb after an infection when he was just four weeks old and 1.2 pounds. All are part of the street kittens that CPAW-NJ could get to within a few weeks of their lives. CPAW-NJ gives them a chance at a forever home.

Participants who paid $25 for a yoga class at the West Caldwell studio donated their fee to

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Kittens and workouts go together. COURTESY STACY ROSALES

Communities Promoting Animal Welfare, CPAW-NJ, which partners with veterinarians, shelters, and organizations to reduce the feral cat population and promote adoption.The group raised $1,000 during its last kitten yoga event in Montclair at Cornerstone Church. Both the Caldwell and Montclair Kitten Yoga events were the result of a fundraising matching grant effort through Community Cats podcast. Money raised is matched. So the total raised is $3,500 from both events. Everyone including the yoga studio donated their services.

CPAW-NJ president Karen Shinevar said the money the organization raises helps save cats’ lives. “We do spay and neuter, vaccinate, return because if we don’t get to the kittens by the time they’re 12 weeks old, it’s harder to socialize them. They’re basically feral at that point but they deserve to be cared for and we need to prevent population growth. TNR gets to the root of the cat colony issue,” Shinevar said.

The group partners with volunteers like People for Animals in Hillside, Twin Oaks in Teaneck, START, Save the Animals Rescue Team based in Little Falls, and more to educate the public, address feral cat colonies, educate and promote awareness throughout Essex County. “We have four or five foster families, but we’re not a rescue organization,” Shinevar said.

The key to addressing the feral population is to spay females who normally begin reproducing as young as three months and also neuter the males. CPAW-NJ also educates caretakers to be responsible feeders and has discussed the issue with Essex County Freeholders. Approximately 500 street cats throughout Essex County, including around 100 in Montclair have gone through the trap, neuter, vaccinate, release through CPAW-NJ and their partnerships, Shinevar noted.

“The left ear tip is the universal symbol of a cat that has gone through TNR,” Shinevar said.
A retired attorney who grew up on a farm before moving to Montclair in 2011, Shinevar volunteered at the Montclair Animal Shelter for three years. She has four cats and dedicates her time to saving other cats, which make up roughly 75 percent of all shelter animals in New Jersey, she notes.

For trapped cats, CPAW-NJ uses transport volunteers and Shinevar has a recovery space in her garage for cats to rest after spay/neuter services at People for Animals. The cost is $55 to for the low-cost service that veterinarians provide.

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Kittens and yoga go together. KELLY NICHOLAIDES/FOR MONTCLAIR LOCAL

START volunteer Marianne Galindo of Lodi said she got involved with helping animal welfare groups more than 10 years ago and has since fostered around 300 cats. She has three fosters and two kittens now. “If it weren’t for the volunteers who get involved to address the overpopulation issues of cats living on the street, the situation would be much worse,” Galindo said.

The participants were encouraged to take selfies with the kittens and post to Facebook to get the word out on these special kittens.

And as the session ended and participants sat crossed legged with eyes closed and hands to heart center, the hope was that one or more kittens might have found their furever home.

To learn more about CPAW NJ and for future kitten yoga dates go to  cpawnj.org.