Showing the belly and leaving the feet in the air says a lot in Cat. Like heading with one’s head, showing this vulnerable area is a sign that we are friends. We let our fingers hover near his belly and we gently rubbed the tufty soles of his feet to acknowledge this wonderful new phase of our relationship.
Mithy has spent all of his three years, less ten weeks, with us. And yet, it took this long. Why?
The way Cat Types interact with ferality has to do with their differing abilities to handle new, and thus potentially scary, things. Alphas do New with more ease than a shy Gamma.
Mithy, like most Maine Coon cats and their mixes, is a solid Beta. He certainly trusts us to keep the food coming, the litter clean, and wield the wand toy when needed; he’s never had a problem being front and center during such activities.
Accepting these gestures does not require much in the way of trust. The activity itself can distract him from anxiety about what we are “up to.” It’s obvious!
Betas have strong expectations for us to manage the confusing human world. All of this works fine for Mithy, because in doing so we are not challenging his “feral programming.”
Affection is a whole different area of the Cat Database.
Mithy got his first five weeks filled with Fear Humans. In stark contrast to Tristan, whose first three weeks was Human Ambivalent (his mother was an abandoned cat who would seek out humans for help) and the next two weeks with Humans are my Mom.
As a result, Tristan is a wonderful influence on Mithy, who sees his mentor cuddling with humans, talking with humans, and even ordering them around. Mithy is quick to use his trilling voice to ask for things, even though he will use such human attention to lead them to what he wants instead of explaining, as Tristan does.
Having our other cats set a good example for Mithy has been a way of reaching him via a channel he trusts: his fellow felines.
While everything I learned about Mithy prior to meeting him pointed to him working in our Cat Civilization; I still needed to see how he reacted to humans. How deep did the ferality go?
He was a Maine Coon mix; our kitten wrangler, RJ, was a Maine Coon mix. Tristan was the right age and temperament to welcome kitten play. Olwyn loves bossing the young and foolish. From what I could tell, we need not anticipate anything wrong with his cat social skills.
The moment this scared little kitten looked into my eyes, I knew we could make him happy. He wanted human affection; he just didn’t know how to accept it. Forty eight hours later, when he crept into my lap for a cuddle, I knew I had interpreted his Catspeak correctly.
But that was not the end of it. It was only the beginning. Because Mithy was still a baby; with baby understandings. Those first months were a constant dance of two steps forward, one step back. He would come for affection; after dithering about it.
I instructed Mr WayofCats that it was okay to push things if he looked confused; if he looked fearful or panicked, we should back off. In this way we answered Mithy’s questions about us. We reassured when he was unsure. We gave him space when he felt threatened.
Each happy interaction with us helped “put on override” on the reflexes his mother taught him during his first five weeks.
The progress we are making now reflects Mithy’s maturing brain. Now, he can override his first impulse with thought.
He’s no longer a baby. He can think.
Now, when I appear suddenly, Mithy’s first impulse is still to run away; only he checks it. It can be comical to see him do the flee/it’s okay/flee/now I look foolish dance in the hallway, but this is far better than just flee and then coming back after a recharge of courage from behind the couch.
The past few months of Mithy appearing to demand deeper trust is a reflection of his new brain processing power. Any human-lonely impulses can be addressed by himself. He can make a decision to seek us out for head petting, chin rubbing, and sweet talk. He can signal hugs and lapsitting and belly rubbing.
He not only feels trust with us. He feels power.
If we wants to go, he goes. If he wants cuddles, he gets them. He finally understands that we are not scary giants; more and more, he sees us as friends.
Where this will end, I don’t know. But I am happy to know it is still a continuing process.
Like all cat relationships, we don’t know how deep they can get.
We use my many Affection Moves to let Mithy know we love him.
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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.