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'Paws' for inner peace

Jasper helps Friends of Animals Interim Director Mary Nelson with her yoga April 23 at the first cat yoga class at the Friends of Animals in Cloquet. Jasper has been living at the shelter almost a year due to being diagnosed with FIV, which is contagious to other cats, but not dogs or people. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal1 / 2
Robin Poppe pets Jasper as he stops by to investigate what she was doing during cat yoga at Friends of Animals in Cloquet. The shelter partnered with Cloquet Community Ed to teach yoga while adoptable cats stroll through the classes and hopefully find new homes. Jamie Lund/Pine Journal2 / 2

Move over, downward dog — the tiger pose is the newest trend in town.

Jasper the cat meandered around as the women began stretching and bending. He paused and sniffed toes. He watched curiously as the women stretched their hands to the ceiling, then down to their sides. When they lay on their mats, Jasper got a little closer. When he saw arms swinging around and not petting him, he positioned himself in the way and was rewarded by a few pats.

Several weeks ago, Joy Nelson, the recreation coordinator for Cloquet Community Education proposed an idea to Mary Nelson, interim director at Friends of Animals.

Cat yoga. That's right — a combination of shelter cats and yoga.

Joy noticed the Humane Society of Douglas County had successfully offered the class for a while. Mary, a yoga enthusiast herself and cat lover, was excited about the idea.

Community Ed and the shelter partnered to offer the first class Wednesday nights for six weeks starting April 25.

The class description says: "Experience yoga and its most blissful form with cat yoga. Treat yourself to a yoga session that not only your body will enjoy but your heart will love and you may just find your next new family member."

Longtime yoga instructor Melissa Nick led the five women as they set up yoga mats in the large room upstairs at the shelter. Even though none of them were interested in adopting a cat, they were intrigued by the idea of cat yoga.

"I thought it sounded like a good combination of something I love and something I wanted to try," Traci Marciniak said. She has several cats at home already and informed the others she felt bad because she couldn't take home any more.

Jasper and Flounder were the first furry guests to attend the newest craze in Cloquet. Both cats are FIV positive and have been residing at the shelter longer than usual. While FIV is very contagious to other cats, it is not to humans or dogs.

Jaspers favorite mat was Mary's and he lay on it several times to keep an eye on everyone, stretch alongside Mary or just walking underneath her. Cat toys were strewn about to encourage the cats to play and interact during the class. Jasper pretended to be interested for a minute, then went to peek at a reflection of himself.

Flounder was shy and hid during the class.

Each class will introduce new adoptable cats or kittens to interact with the class. For those unable to commit to a six week class, there will be a one night class June 27. Drop-ins are welcome to stop in and try a class.

A portion of the class fees will be donated to FOA.

Cat yoga is one of several new programs at the shelter. The broken bag program is aimed at cutting costs of pet food and litter for the shelter. If enough pet food and cat litter is donated from area stores, FOA could save $2,000 a month. The Humane Society of Douglas County has already achieved that goal and was the inspiration for FOA. Another project in the works to help local families with pets is a partnership with the Salvation Army. Once the program is set up, qualifying families will be given a recommendation to the shelter to receive pet food and some supplies such as leashes or sweaters.

Another possible class idea for this summer is doga — yoga with a dog. Visit the Friends' website, foaonline.org, for class and program updates.

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