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Cats and Small Children

post #1 of 4
Thread Starter 
In November I adopted a declawed cat from my local shelter. The reason listed for his previous owner surrendering Willie was that "grandson has allergies". In the subsequent months Willie and I have had a great time living together. He is a warm and loving lap cat. He follows me everywhere. He always greets visitors to my house, and my friends have told me that he welcomes them at the door when they cat sit.

Last month, I decided to take Willie with me on a vacation to my mother's home in Pennsylvania. The car trip (5 hours) was a little less than steller, but Willie ate and used his litter box as soon as we arrived. He was kinda hiding out behind the sofa, but he would come when he was called. My mother has a 2 year old foster child in her house (Rachel). After Willie had eaten and explored the family room, we bought Rachel in the same room so that she could see the kitty cat. It was clear immediately that Willie didn't like her. He hid under a table and hissed at her in a way that I had never heard before. Rachel did not touch him and we took her out of the room. Over the next few days, we tried a couple more times to re-introduce Willie to Rachel. I would sit her in my lap and guide her hand as she petted him, so I know that she didn't treat him roughly. I tried to keep her as calm as possible, but she was very excited and talking loudly. He would usually run under a table and hiss. When Rachel went to bed, he would come out and sit in my mother's lap. He had just met my mother.

Of all the people who came into the house that weekend, Rachel was the only one who seemed to scare him. I'm thinking that he may have a fear of small children because of his experience at his previous home.

Is there anything I can do to help him overcome this fear? Rachel is a big part of our family, and she will probably be with us permanently. Also, I would like to have children some day, and I would hate to think that Willie would be frightened of my children.

post #2 of 4
First off you mentioned the reason why Willie was given up was because their grandson was allergic to him it may very well be true but that is also known as a big excuse when people dump pets off at shelters.

It may be that Willie was treated roughly by a young child at some point and has a fear of them. It's also likely that Willie wasn't exposed to young child much so their high noise and engery level along with their unpredictable actions could frighten him. When Brian's nephew comes over to the house the cats are no where to be found. Tyler has never hurt any of the cats and if he does get a chance to hold or pet one he is very gentle but my cats are normally not exposed to small children.

I think it will take some time for Willie to get used to Rachel. You could try showing Willie that good things happen when Rachel is around like giving Willie his favorite treats or a favorite toy. When Willie seems a little more relaxed in Rachel's presence then she can try giving Willie some treats and playing with him.
post #3 of 4
This is my educated guess, that Willie was abused by a young child in his previous home. This caused him to act out, and possibly get his claws amputated because he was defending himself the only way he knew how.
Now, when he sees a young child, the memories come back and he is afraid.

Because Rachel is so young, unless she is a serene and mellow two year old it would be difficult to get Willie used to her. Little kids when they see cats get all excited and want to tug ears, pull tails, lug kitty around so kitty's hind legs drag on the ground. Typical kid and kitty encounters, Try at first at feeding time to confine willie in a small room. Fix him a tasty treat and give the dish to Rachel and follow her in the room. Have her sit the bowl on the floor and back off just a few steps and sit down nearby. Tell her this is a game to be still like a stone, and see if willie comes up to the bowl. Tell Rachel that the game is to see if she can sit so still for the entire time the cat is eating and not say a word. If she can do this, then perhaps you can give Rachel a treat like take her for ice cream afterward or something. Do this everytime kitty eats (if you can) Lace Willies food with tasty things during these feeding times. If Rachel is not present, then just give Willie his regular food with no sardines, or cheese or whatever it is he loves.
You want to show Willie that Rachel is not the child that harmed him. Once he realizes she won't hurt him, interaction between the two can begin with toys on a stick, or a peacock feather or something where Rachel can play with the cat at a safe distance. These are my thoughts. Good luck to you.
post #4 of 4
Thread Starter 
Thanks so much for the wonderful suggestions. I will try them out the next time Rachel comes to visit.

You're correct that Rachel probably makes too much noise for Willie. It's usually just he and I at home, and the noise factor, along with a strange place may have been too much for him. The only strange thing was that he wouldn't leave the room, just hide under a table and watch us. If Rachel ignored him (which was rare) he would just observe. I would try to take him in another room, but he would inevitably come into the room in which Rachel and I were playing. Maybe a little jealousy at play?

I will see how he does when a friend brings a child to our house for a short visit.
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