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One of my cats is terrified of anyone besides me

post #1 of 9
Thread Starter 
I have two cats, a mother (Cathy) and daughter (Phoebe). Cathy showed up on my front porch as a very friendly stray in September 2004, so I took her in and of course she took over the house. A few months later, I came home from work, she ran out the door as soon as I opened it, I couldn't catch her, and she came back three nights later smoking a proverbial cigarette. She had a litter of six kittens 10 weeks later.

After the kittens were weaned, I placed an ad in the paper to give them away, and when it got down to the last two kittens, the one that had the poofiest fur ended up being the last one left because she wouldn't let anyone besides me near her. I had been present literally from the moment she was born (in the kitchen, with me helping Cathy do her Lamaze breathing and standing by as the kittens came out--well, almost.).

So here it is almost four years later, and of the dozens of people I've had in my apartment since she was born, Phoebe has only let about two or three other people anywhere near her, hiding under furniture the rest of the time and refusing to let anyone else come near her, hissing at them if they try. And then as soon as they leave, Phoebe comes bounding up to me and jumping in my lap as if nothing happened.

The pivotal moment came last week when my long-distance girlfriend (we met last year online) got to come to my place for a visit for the first time. I figured there would be issues with Phoebe and my girlfriend, so figuring that both Cathy and Phoebe would meet me at the top of the stairs when I got home (my front door is at the bottom of a stairway, with stairs immediately inside the front door and two doors on opposite ends of the landing at the top), I called the two of them to me, then closed the two doors at the top of the landing and then had my girlfriend come inside. That's when things got interesting.

Cathy loves people and just came right up to my girlfriend, nuzzling her and purring and demanding a belly-rub. Phoebe, on the other hand, bolted behind boxes that were at the top of the stairs, and when I tiptoed slowly over toward her, talking softly and telling her it was going to be OK, I picked her up gently and started walking over to where my girlfriend was sitting at the top of the stairs. Phoebe started this very loud, mournful half-cry, half-whine and jumped out of my arms and ran back behind the boxes. So I repeated my steps, but this time didn't pick Phoebe up but grabbed her gently behind her front legs and guided her gently over to where my girlfriend was sitting. My GF reached out to pet Phoebe, and I could feel every muscle in Phoebe's body tense up even though my GF was also talking very softly and petting Phoebe just the way she liked to be petted (Phoebe, not my girlfriend). I didn't want my girlfriend to stay at the top of the stairs the whole time, so I opened the door, Phoebe bolted through it and proceeded to hide under the chair she usually hides under when people come over. So after giving my GF a tour of the apartment, we walked back to the front room, I told my GF which chair I thought Phoebe might be hiding under, so my GF went over, lifted up the fabric on the front of the chair, and there was Phoebe, who promptly hissed at my GF--not the way I'm wanting to start this relationship between my GF and my extended family.

Phoebe has been acting this way around every other human besides me for as long as I can remember. She'll turn 4 (in human years) on May 2. What can I do, if anything, to help acclimate Phoebe to other people? It's kind of hard to acclimate her to other people when she's always hiding under furniture when they come over.
post #2 of 9
IMO, you just need to accept that this is the way she is, and not try to force her into trusting or being around any other humans.

My Ferris was feral-born, and he's my watchcat - whenever anyone approaches the house, he growls a warning and dashes off to hide under my bed until they are gone.

It's my job to keep him happy, and if he wants to stay away from all humans except me, that's the way it will be. He's my special little wild boy, and I'm just tickled that he trusts me as much as he does.

Edit: It might take years for her to come around to getting to trust someone that visits you every day or even lives with you. You just have to let her be, if she wants to come around she will, but on her own terms and in her own time.
post #3 of 9
I have a couple kitties like this, one is/was a semi-feral and the other is just....weird. Apollo, the semi-feral, took almost a year to where he could trust me to pet him and if someone comes over he is MIA, heck, he's MIA when it's just me most of the time But my other one, Perseus, is extremely friendly and loving to me, but is deathly afraid of visitors

I think the best way to approach this situation with Phoebe, is like Ginger'sMom said, just let her be. If your GF comes around frequently, then Phoebe may begin to trust her enough to come and visit, but until then, I'm sure Cathy will be happy to get all the pets!
post #4 of 9
First, don't force Phoebe into being 'friends'. The amount of stress this causes her could result in someone being badly bitten and/or scratched. If she is pushed to 'defending' herself, she may never get over it. She has to decide if she wants close contact with someone beside you. Just ignore Phoebe and let her make the first advance. If she doesn't on this visit, then so be it. If you and your girlfriend decide to live together then later on your gf could feed both cats. This way Phoebe would associate her with good things. You could keep an article of clothing like an old T-shirt with your gf's scent on it to help Phoebe get used to her. (Natural scent, not perfume.)

Does Phoebe like toys like Da Bird? Try playing with her with your gf in the room watching. If you can get Phoebe to relax enough to play that will also get her over her fear of the gf. Even if you can get her to come out to watch Cathy play that would be a step in the right direction.

Good luck and let us know how it goes.
post #5 of 9
Daphne loves me to pieces and hides when anyone comes over. It is just the way she is.

My sister stayed with me for 8 weeks this past summer. In week six, Daphne allowed sis to stroke her fur one time. Sis felt like she had been awarded some grand prize

During this 8 week visit, Daphne went from hiding under the blankets and in closet, to slinking around the edges of the room (she is my watch cat and must know who is doing what at all times ), to sitting across the room then she actually allowed sis to sit on sofa an arm's length away. That was when sis got to pet, two strokes before Daphne slipped away.

She also learned to play with DaBird in the same room with sis but never fully relaxed.

I think if I had someone living with me, Daphne would eventually accept them - it would just take a long while.

It may take your girl a long time to accept another person. Please don't force her. Her fears are not our logic. She may figure things out in time but for now, she just knows she is scared.
post #6 of 9
Have you ever had somebody staying with you for an extended period, not just visiting for an hour or so? Does Phoebe ever warm up to somebody she see's frequently?

I have two scaredycats, one 2 years and the other 7 months old. They cuddle up together on top of my shoes in the closet whenever strangers come in the house. My niece was here for a week in February. Both cats hid from her the first day, but by the second night they were sleeping with her. You never know what it's going to take.

Getting an old sweaty T-shirt from your girlfriend is a good idea--something she doesn't necessarily want to wear again. If you put the shirt under Phoebe's food dish she'll start associating the smell with something good. When your girlfriend comes over let Phoebe approach her. It could take a long time, especially if the GF isn't around very often.

for an easy introduction.
post #7 of 9
My orange boy will jump into anyone's arms, or on their head, but the other two hide out until the visitor is gone and then come slinking out just to make sure the "coast is clear". That's just their personalities.
post #8 of 9
I agree that physically forcing Phoebe to be "friends" is very detrimental. If what you want is for her to be at ease with others, being held in a situation that is unsafe to her is a very traumatic experience. You may see it as "making friends", but to Phoebe it can also be seen as confrontational, yet another reason for her retreat. No animal - especially a cat - should be kept from acting on their natural flight instinct by being held.. that can lead to the fight instinct!
Originally Posted by GoldyCat View Post
Have you ever had somebody staying with you for an extended period, not just visiting for an hour or so? Does Phoebe ever warm up to somebody she see's frequently?
^ is a great idea! It would be the perfect opportunity for you to get to know Phoebe's boundaries with others by observing her. In my opinion, cats that are not comfortable with strangers should be ignored (ie: not approached). As they are very independent, someone who appears to want nothing to do with them can be much more inviting and experienced as 'safe' than someone who might be seen as invading their personal space.

Johnboy is a lot like Phoebe in the sense that he looooves me, but can't stand others. On one paw he's terrified, on the other he's disgusted, on the other he just doesn't like them, etc.. And he's been like that since the first day I met him as a kitten. The vet had even nicknamed him "squirmy". I have one picture of him and I from when he was a baby.. and that was taken when he was totally passed out after a dose of medicine that made him drowsy. Otherwise, he just didn't want me to touch him, so I didn't. After awhile he started to pet himself with my stationary hand, almost like he was showing me how he wanted to be pet. Now I'm the only one who's allowed to touch him.

Hopefully one day your girlfriend & Phoebe will form their own little relationship. It can take a very long time, but it's well worth the wait & patience!
post #9 of 9
Maggie is very lovey with me and trusts me completely. My mom moved in with me 2 months ago and it only took about 3 weeks of Maggie seeing her every day to warm up to her. Now she pats my moms leg to let her know she wants up in her arms (she doesn't do that with me). My brother who always visits, it took Maggie 6 months before he was allowed to touch her, but this was because one night she saw him holding her favorite brush. I would say he's here 3 times a week and stays for hours. Anyone else, she'll run in another room and hide until they leave. I refuse to force her to interact with anyone, and I allow her to decide on her own. I'm assuming that if Maggie feels the person is going to be more permanent in the house, she'll OK it. Other people to her are only aquaintances and should be ignored
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