Hi there! I just wanted to give you a huge THANK YOU for your wonderful blog. A month ago, I adopted a semi-feral cat who was trapped with her mother and litter mates as a kitten. Her momma was released and the rescue team attempted to rehab the babies.
8 months later, every kitten had long been adopted except my lovely K–. She stayed very scared and ran/hid at every opportunity, so no one wanted her.
I just had a feeling about her though! I knew she had the potential to be a great house mate if she had someone who could give her loads of attention and patience, understood where she was coming from.
I read your blog a lot before I went to adopt her (when she realized what was happening, she scaled the wall and hid in the ceiling!!!) and periodically since, and you’ve given me so much help and encouragement to help her come around.
I’ve included a photo album of the last month. She’s been making amazing progress and is well on her way to living the leisurely housecat life. THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU!!!
This makes me so happy. This reader is transforming this cat.
How do these successes happen? How could this cat spend eight months in the shelter, with no progress, and then in one month, make great strides?
Focused attention. On both sides.
It is difficult to accomplish in the shelter. The environment is inevitably more chaotic than a home situation. Busy workers come and go. There are often distressed cats, who can make other distressed cats more distressed.
People who work and volunteer in shelters are animal lovers, but they also have limited time to devote to one cat. The task of taming, above all, requires space and patience.
When we bring home such a cat to a truly safe and quiet space, we help them develop a more receptive state of mind. This is what lets them accept our overtures of friendship. With young and impressionable kittens, taming can take place even in a shelter situation, as with K–‘s littermates.
But it seems evident that K– is in need of a safer space than what they could provide, and that she was actually going backwards in her taming as a result of them not being able to meet her special needs.
As seen above, K– spent her first 17 days hiding under the bed. She’s kenneling herself.
Kenneling is what I call the act of shrinking the cat’s world. Any cat can be easily overwhelmed with too much input, and when they are stressed and frightened, the amount they can cope with dwindles accordingly.
When we rescue any cat, we often assume that our understanding of “Yay! Happy Ending!” will be shared by our cat. But they are not working from the same knowledge base that we are. We know our intentions are nothing but the best.
It takes longer for the cat to know that.
The most important thing that can happen to a recovering feral cat is… nothing. Absolutely nothing at all.
The more a cat sits in their safe spot while nothing terrible happens, the more the cat starts to feel silly about being in a state of fear all the time.
As they thaw, they move to get a better view of the situation. They will be seen more, then eat in front of us, then venture out from their “fort.”
They are slowly expanding their safe space.
All the while, we “speak cat,” telling them with soft words and slow movements that we are their friends. By giving them trust gestures, holding back from accidentally frightening them, and letting them relax at their own pace, we let the cat decide when they feel comfortable. This has to be the cat’s decision.
It won’t work any other way.
Look at the results. I am impressed. A cat who spent eight months freaking out in the shelter took one month to reach this point. Such a secure state of mind that she can lounge in the open, on her side, showing her belly.
In one of my favorite childhood stories, the Velveteen Rabbit of a boy’s childhood becomes Real; a live rabbit who can hop and play. Because he was loved by the boy; he is transformed.
My reader loved K–; and what is more, she was able to communicate that caring. And K– was transformed.
This much happy progress is an encouraging indication she and her person can look forward to K– becoming more and more a Real Cat.
We are raising a semi-feral kitten, too. Learn about Mithrandir’s progress.
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There’s more ways to get our cat to be affectionate in The Way of Cats than the article you are reading now. See all of my CAT AFFECTION posts.