Stephanie Merlin's Story
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Stephanie Merlin

Let’s Meet Stephanie!

I was born and raised in Dallas, TX, but have been living in Orlando, FL, for the past 12 years. I live with my boyfriend and our 13-yr. old cat, Chara. Funnily enough, I never had a cat until I was an adult. I came from a household that only had dogs as pets as my mom was allergic to cats. It wasn’t until I had my own cat and began volunteering with cats that I realized that, even though I liked dogs, I was definitely a cat person through and through!

How did you become interested in your field?

I had been struggling to find my career path during college. When I’d taken career aptitude or personality tests, they always suggested that being a teacher or therapist would be ideal for me. My personality is definitely one of a teacher and helper. I just never saw myself in the traditional professions that come to mind when you think of teaching or therapy. During my struggle to find a career path, I began volunteering at my local animal shelter as a “Kitty Cuddler”. It became the highlight of my week. I really connected with the cats there. A shelter is a stressful environment for any animal and I found it very rewarding to be able to create and bring comfort to cats there.

There is a lot of information on dog behavior and enrichment, but I realized there was a lack of that with cats. Many cats are relinquished, abandoned, and even euthanized due to behavior problems, and it became my passion to understand cat behavior better to help keep cats with their families and in their homes. This led me to search for programs in feline behavior and that’s how I found the Animal Behavior Institute. It’s interesting because now, as a feline behavior specialist, I am using my teaching and helping skills but in a non-traditional way!

Where do you live and work?

I live in Orlando, FL and I own my own feline behavior consulting business called The Fulfilled Feline after becoming a Certified Feline Training & Behavior Specialist through ABI. I offer in-home and virtual behavior consultation services for people with cats with behavioral issues and teach classes to the public on feline behavior. Additionally, I still volunteer every week at my local animal shelter, the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando.

How did you benefit from your ABI experience?

The most beneficial lessons I learned from ABI were how cats use their senses and communicate. I learned how to put myself inside a cat’s shoes (or shall I say paws!). This is so essential in understanding cat behavior. If you understand how cats sense their world around them, you understand how and why they react to their environment the way they do. The class discussions and feedback from professors, in particular, Dr. Valerie Chalcraft, were also priceless. Dr. Chalcraft always made the coursework challenging and really engaged my critical thinking skills. Her teaching style has helped me to apply the same critical eye with the cases I work on with my clients to make sure I’m looking at every possible angle!

How did you complete your field requirement?

I completed my field requirement at the Pet Alliance of Greater Orlando animal shelter where I have been a volunteer for the past 6 years. I used my knowledge from my ABI coursework to develop stress evaluations and expand our enrichment program to better serve our shelter cats. .

Do you have any advice for potential students or current students?

Potential students: I highly recommend that you find some way to work or volunteer with animals before you start your program, if you are not already doing so. This not only gives you a clear idea whether it’s the right path for you, but it gives you an amazing network of people to help support you on your path and even jump start your career.

Current students: I recommend saving all of your course materials! I saved every study guide, discussion, and quiz. I have a bookshelf with binders full of my class notes and my textbooks. I am always referring back to my coursework when I work my behavior cases and it is helpful to have everything on hand.

Would you recommend ABI?

Absolutely! I wasn’t sure what to expect before I started at ABI. ABI offered a very high-level, comprehensive, and engaging educational experience. Some of my ABI classes were harder than some classes I took in college, but I was thankful for the challenge. It really prepared me to be professional in this industry and I am grateful for the experience! .

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