"Everyone loves to be understood," Monesia Greene says. "That breaks a sort of language barrier."
woman training a cat with buttons near a sofa
Credit: Courtesy of Best Friends Animal Society

Faced with shy cats with a challenging path to adoption, feline foster mom Monesia Greene turned to a solution commonly associated with dogs: talking buttons.

You know the ones. Some dogs will look down at mats full of buttons. When pressed, the buttons utter words like "treat," "walk," or "outside," allowing dogs to tell their humans what they want. Online, Greene, who moved to Atlanta in 2019 and works with Best Friends Animal Society, saw the work of Christina Hunger, a leader in the "talking dogs" space.

Greene wondered if she could train cats to do the same, giving them a valuable skill that could help them find forever homes. So far, it's worked splendidly with her three most recent foster cats, including two who were recently adopted.

"It's just unique," she tells Daily Paws. "That's what I love about it." 

Already a prolific "cat whisperer"—as described by Best Friends Animal Society Atlanta supervisor Megan Matchett in a news release—Greene has worked hard to keep cats healthy and clean to get them adopted, even bathing a foster cat before an adoption event. Ripley, however, would be her first pupil on the buttons.

She found out about the buttons while caring for the cat, a shy and afraid 2-year-old who'd been staying with her and her husband for months. After purchasing the buttons, Greene's training commenced. 

It took Greene several tries to find the right location for the buttons—near the couch finally worked—but Ripley was a quick learner. It only took her two weeks to learn her four buttons: treat, play, pick up, and pets.   

Greene started the training with the "treat" button, placing a morsel on the button so Ripley would press it before rewarding the cat with the treat. If you're thinking of teaching your cat how to use buttons, treat is the best one to start with, Greene recommends.

"They love food. They love treats," she says. "That really gets them every time."

a cat sitting near buttons on a yellow mat for training
Credit: Courtesy of Best Friends Animal Society

Soon after, she taught Ripley "pets" and then the other two buttons. Best Friends says her newfound confidence helped her get adopted in October. Then came Momma Cat, who learned the buttons from Greene even faster: in just a couple of days.

She weighed around 9–10 pounds, so it was easier for her to press the buttons, Greene says. Momma Cat also worked from a different set compared to Ripley. Instead of "play," she pressed the "brush" button.

"Everyone loves to be understood," Greene says. "That breaks a sort of language barrier."  

Momma Cat's proficiency caught the eyes of the family who soon adopted her and bought additional buttons for her to use. The last Greene heard, she was still using her buttons. 

"This is something that they can take with them forever," she says, later joking that cats might like it because it's another way for them to "boss you around." 

Her current charge, Autumn, is still learning the buttons, pressing them about 60–70 percent of the time she means to. (She's smaller than Momma Cat, so Green put extra padding around the buttons to help Autumn generate a little more power.) Autumn likes to hit the "play" button because it will often bring out her favorite toy, a fish attached to a wand. 

Greene hopes her work encourages other people to try buttons out as well—both to help find cats new homes and just so owners or fosters can get to know them better. It's another way to bond, after all. 

"Just jump in and decide you're going to do it," she says.