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Advice about our cat

post #1 of 5
Thread Starter 
Hello All,

I'm looking for some advice regarding socialising a young female cat.

First some background. My wife and I have had cats living with us for the last 20 years, we don't have children (by choice) and so they and our dog are our family. We currently have 5 cats which over the years seems to be the best number for us in terms of being able to give each of them the attention they deserve. We have 2 older cats, one male (17), one female (15) and 3 younger cats, 2 males and a female all about 3 years old.

About 2 years ago we lost a young female cat. We had acquired her and a young tom cat from the same rescue organisation as kittens and they had really bonded. The young tom took the loss of his "sister" badly and drove us and the 2 older cats to distraction; yowling through the night and wanting to play with the older cats who were not very impressed. So, we went to a rescue shelter and found another young tomcat about his age. The new arrival bonded well with his new "brother" and with the rest of the family and has been a great success.

All was well, except that when I went to the shelter I saw a young tabby female who was hiding at the back of an igloo type cat bed. The woman running the shelter explained she had been rescued from a house with a large number of other cats and had never been socialized. This meant that she was very wary of strangers and would hiss and lash out at anyone who went near her. The woman explained that the best she could do for her was place her on a farm and that she was arranging for this once she had recovered from being spayed. Well, this little cat was on my mind for most of the following month and so eventually we decided that maybe we could give her a better life and found she was still available.

Nearly two years on I think we made the right decision in that she has bonded with the other cats and the dog, and is almost inseperable from one of the young toms; they go everywhere together, play with toys together and even sleep together on a little hammock with their paws wrapped around each other... cute or what?

The only thing that worries us is that she still is very wary of us. She will appear as if by magic if the fridge door is opened and will accept treats like pieces of cooked chicken from our hands, but usually tries to make you drop it by batting your hand with her paw (she does keep her claws sheathed though), and always remembers to hiss after she has the treat. If we try to touch her she hisses and backs off. The only way we can get hold of her to take to the vets or replace a collar etc. is to corner her and cover her with a blanket. We try to keep this to a minimum because it obviously stresses her a lot.

We're happy that she has a better life than what she might have had and we wouldn't be without her for anything, but I was wondering if there is anything you can suggest that might help her to accept us a little more? I often wonder what is going on in her little head when she the other cats jumping on our laps and wanting petting?

Sorry for the rambling post, but all advice and suggestions would be very much appreciated.

Thanks, S
post #2 of 5
Hi S-

Welcome and thank you for opening up your heart and home to this critter. What you have described personality wise is indicative of a cat who has been abused by people. No one has taken the time to get to know her, to bond with her completely. This process can be lengthy and there are many setbacks along the way. Honestly, if she had just arrived to your home, I would describe the process and tell you to start it. But she has found a way to cope with her environment and changing it up now so you can gain a lap kitty may just put her in a tailspin that could go quite wrong. I would leave the status quo as it is, and only change a few things that will inconveinance the humans in the house, but put this cat more at ease.

Any time you are in the same room with her, you ease yourself to the floor. You either want to be sitting, or kneeling. Do not make direct eye contact with her and if you do happen to glance her direction and she is staring back, blink slowly several times, then lower your head and back away.

Do not pursue her if she hides (unless you know she is ill) Let her scoot, scramble, flee and don't concern yourself. I have two right now, they have been here a month, and when I walk into a room where they are, they turn around and flee either down the tunnel into the cat enclosure or upstairs to the cat room. If I pursued them to assure them that all is well, that would only convince them that I am predator. They already know that as prey I taste bad- I got bit the other day, so I am not concerned they are going to attack me. They were found in an abandoned campground and that is where they were terrified by circumstances I will never know about.

Right now, even though this cat has been with you so long, you are still her predator. You have to reduce that threat by staying down to her level, and just ignoring her. But you do talk all the time she is in the room, you just talk to her, say her name, keep your voice low, recite a poem, whatever, but just keep a steady stream of conversation going.

When she eats, remove your shoes, and sit there in your socks on the floor near her but not close enough to touch her and just talk to her. Ignore her, don't glance at her, but just share her meal with your voice and your presence.

Good luck!
post #3 of 5
Thread Starter 
Thanks very much for the speedy reply. A lot of what you have written we're already following; about the eye contact, not following her and talking to her. A few things you mentioned we'd completely missed though. I tend to wear boots a lot and my wife jokes that I sound like an ogre coming down the stairs so no wonder she's scared. I'll try and wear soft shoes indoors from now on. I'm afraid mealtimes are a bit hectic here with all 5 of them convinced that the others' food taste nicer and they move from bowl to bowl. One of us sitting down amongst them would add to the fun but we'll see how it pans out.

What encouraged me to post was that in the last week she has actually been appearing at the end of our dining table while we're eating; I know, but I'm afraid the others all do it too... we're just bad parents. So her behaviour is still changing and I thought we'd better get some expert advice before she gets completely set in her ways.

As regards wanting to change her into a lap cat though, that really isn't the goal. We're just happy to have her around but would like her to feel a bit more comfortable about having to share her home with us.

Thanks again, S
post #4 of 5
Hi Serifini,
It's been a while since I've posted here but couldn't help but reply to you. Back in February we rescued a kitten(7months) that was hanging over a wire fence covered in snow. At first glance we thought she was dead, but when we approached her she lifted her head and meowed softly. We brought her home, we had 4 cats and 2 dogs already and made her part of the family. She turned out to be quite wild and feral. It's been a rough road for all of us but my best advice for you is Patience! In our case, Whitby(the town we found her in) has come along way from the 7 month old wild feral kitten we found half dead to a wonderful loving girl she is now. We encountered alot of problems with her, hissing, biting, antisocial but with time and patience she came around. After nine months she still won't sit in my lap, but she now follows me around, squawks when she wants attention, comes when she's called, and allows me to pet her and pick her up. There are still times when she'll growl at us or swat at us, so we back off, tell her it's ok and leave her be. Patience isn't something that comes easily to me, but I keep reminding myself that Whitby had a rough start in life, probably not too many "good" experiences with people and other cats so the process takes time. Everyday I notice little changes in her, lying outside the bathroom door waiting for me to come out, jumping on the desk wanting to be kissed on the forehead while I try to work(still trying to teach her not to walk across the keyboard though!). Anyway I'll stop rambling now, but just keep in mind, Patience! You're working on her schedule not yours! Good Luck!
post #5 of 5
Bless you for caring so much about kitties! Maybe something in this story will be helpful to you:

While volunteering at a shelter a few years ago, I fell in love with a kitten. Actually, I adored his brothers, too, every last one of them full of personality...but it was Clyde who adopted me.

At the same time, a new cat appeared in the grown-up cat room. She was a stray, trapped by another volunteer who had been feeding her for several weeks. She was so scrawny that they never suspected she was pregnant -- but they found five little babies in the cage with her the next morning!

Her name was Abby, and she was kept in a cage even in the cat room, because she absolutely hated the other cats. She hated humans, too -- I take pride in being fearless when trying to socialize a cat, but Abby would back into a corner of her cage and lash out with such venom that I had to give up.

And then I found out that Abby was Clyde's mom! How such a totally antisocial mother managed to raise the most precious little kitten family I've ever met, I don't know -- but I realized that I couldn't give up on her after all. How could I let my baby's mama end up living in a cage for the rest of her life?

So I made her my project. I visited her every day and stood with my hand resting inside her cage while I talked to her for at least twenty minutes or so, sometimes twice a day. She would always hiss and spit and swing her claws at me for awhile, but eventually, she'd just sit back and eye me warily. Every day, the hostilities ended sooner, and finally one day, I reached slowly in toward her chin, palm up. HISSSSS!!! SLASH!!! ROWWWWRRRRR!!! I backed away, dripping blood. "See you tomorrow, Abby."

So I asked the vet techs to see if they could clip her claws, which they did by wearing The Glove, a huge leather oven mitt like a falconer might use. I did not attend the event, so Abby wouldn't blame me for it.

Next time she swatted me, it was with blunt claws, so it didn't force me to back off. I just kept my hand there, waiting patiently for her to smell me and see what she thought. And she did! So I went for it: still talking quietly to her, I brought my other arm into the cage and gathered her up. She squirmed and hissed and dug her claws in, but I hugged her to me and stepped back from the cage -- and to my astonishment, once I had her in my arms, she went completely submissive. She curled in against me, no resistance at all, and nuzzled her head under my hair. I know it was fear, not love, but it was so precious.

So that first day, I just held her right there beside her cage, with the cage door open, so she could see home. After just a few minutes, I put her back in, and she retreated instantly to the corner -- but no hissing. I thanked her for a lovely visit.

Next day, I strolled her once around the cat room before I put her back. Within a few days, I was able to go sit on a bench on the screened "cat porch" and hold her for half an hour! Other cats came around, and it was clear that Abby was terrified of them, so I made sure to demonstrate that I wasn't going to let any of them touch her. And as soon as she made the first tentative effort to climb out of my arms, I put her back in her cage and stood and talked with her for awhile before leaving.

I felt I was making progress with her -- she hadn't scratched me in about a week -- so when a woman came in while I was holding her and expressed interest, I told her the story. And she adopted her! I was thrilled, and I asked her to call me and let me know how things went.

She called me two days later and asked me to come down and see if I could get Abby out from under the bed. I went to her house, peeked under the bed, and sure enough, there was Abby, hunkered as far out of reach as she could get. I lay down on my side and began talking to her quietly, hoping she remembered me. The woman was standing nearby, telling me how they literally never saw Abby -- they knew she came out at night, because food disappeared, toys were moved, and the litterbox was used, but they never actually saw her.

About ten minutes passed with me trying to talk Abby down, and I felt it was going pretty well. She had settled back into a more relaxed position, and when I stretched a hand out toward her, she didn't panic. Finally, she edged a little closer to my hand, stretching to sniff it, and I almost wept. "That's it, little girl...don't be afraid..."

And then suddenly, some big dark thing came sweeping in from the other side of the bed and SHOVED Abby forcefully down and out from under the foot of the bed! She shot out of the room, and I struggled to my feet to see the woman standing there with a huge vacuum cleaner attachment. "What on earth are you doing?"

"Well," she said, "we can't stand here and wait for her all day. This is the only thing that works."

"But she's already so scared," I said, trying to be diplomatic. "Being violent with her only convinces her that she's RIGHT to be afraid."

"Oh, that's not violent," the woman scoffed. I left the room and went looking for Abby. I spotted her behind a TV cabinet, completely out of reach.

Eventually, I got the woman to cut up some ham on a plate, and I put it on the coffee table and sat a few feet away. I asked the woman to stay in the dining room, farther away. Since Abby was eating only at night, she was terribly hungry, and pretty soon, she came ever so gingerly tiptoeing out, looking all around before hopping up on the table to get the ham.

She ate furtively, glancing around constantly. When the ham was almost gone, I let her see my hand coming over toward her, palm up, and wonder of wonders, she let me brush her cheek with the backs of my fingers!

"Well, GRAB her!" said the woman, running over toward us, and Abby streaked off again.

I tried to explain to this woman that, as I had told her before the adoption, Abby had apparently suffered some kind of trauma, and may have been feral, and would need a lot of patience and care. She said, "Well, I want a kitty that will LOVE me!"

"Of course you do," I said, "but with Abby, that's something that will have to be built over time."

"I didn't get a cat so I could play therapist," she said. I asked her to call me if she decided to give Abby back to the shelter, and I left.

My mother had been to the shelter with me many times and had also come to feel responsible for Abby. When I told her about the way this woman had treated Abby and that I hoped she would not be keeping her, Mom and I agreed that we couldn't bear to see poor Abby go back into the cage she'd been living in for over six months. So when the call came, we met the woman at the shelter and my mom adopted Abby herself. (In my one-bedroom apartment, I could not give Abby the isolation she would need for at least awhile.)

My mom was, at that time, 78 years old -- but when Abby hid under HER bed, Mom just by golly crawled under there WITH her! She lay there and talked with Abby, sang to her, rolled little foam balls to her. She brought Abby warm milk-substitute and little treats, served right there under the bed. And she kept the other cats out of the room, of course, so Abby never had to worry about them.

The fourth day, my mom woke up in the morning to find Abby sleeping ON the bed, not under it. She was curled up at the very edge, in danger of sliding right off -- but she was there.

Today, about two years later, Abby is still afraid of other cats, although she doesn't panic the way she used to...and she's generally afraid of us humans, too, except for Mom. She adores Mom, trots out to play with her when she dangles a pompom toy, comes up to sniff Mom's hair, and even lies down to let Mom brush her!

(The way Mom got Abby to accept brushing was by regularly letting her watch through a glass door while Mom brushed her other cats. Each time, Mom would then bring the brush into Abby's room and lay it down where Abby could sniff and play with it, and pretty soon Abby was EAGER to be brushed. It seems to be a very strong bonding activity, a great way to build trust. Have you tried brushing your little girl?)

Despite her isolation, Abby seems to be a happy kitty, and it's entirely due to Mom's determination to show her that she's loved. She has refused to let Abby just withdraw from the world, yet she hasn't pressured or pushed her, either. It's a fine line to walk, giving a cat both interactive affection AND private space... and it takes a tremendous amount of patience to build even minimal trust. But like you and your wife, we are just happy to know that this special-needs kitty has a home where she is understood.

Thank you for bearing with me through this long, long post. I wish you the very best of luck in easing your kitty's fears.
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