For the kittens dashing and tumbling around the room, the Washington Humane Society’s first Kittengarten class is all about the playtime.

But for the humans and the shelter there’s a bigger goal: Making sure that cats are healthy and happy in their adoptive homes — and that they stay there.

Kittengarten is just like what it sounds, a class for kittens and their owners. Along with kitten socialization and grooming, the four-week class covers basic health and behaviour facts, including nutrition. While dog owners have long taken their charges for training, cat owners don’t always know that they and their pets could use some guidance too, organizers say.

Even those knowledgeable about cats can really benefit from some hands-on practice, as when trainer Hanna Lentz demonstrates the most important grooming basic for a pet with needle-sharp claws: The nail trim.

Lentz crouches on the ground, holding a kitten with its back to her, and touches its shoulders.

“A cat’s natural instinct when you touch them up here is to back up,” she explains, “so they have nowhere else to go.” Next, she clips a nail. “Do that: One nail, treat, relax in between,” she says. “Taking it slow can really make a huge difference.”

The students, sitting at the table with piles of treats in front of them, attempt to follow her example on the squirming, reluctant little felines.

“They’re not born liking to get their nails trimmed,” Lentz observes. “It’s so important to start when they’re kittens.”

While kitten kindergarten is new in Washington, the idea has been around for a while. Elise Gouge of the Houston SPCA, where they’ve been offering a course since early 2007, says she wishes she could get everyone to take it.

“Cats don’t raise themselves,” she says. “They don’t instantly love people, they don’t know not to scratch the furniture.”

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