An opinionated feline in Edmonton, Canada who lived with a retired cat behaviourist, Greyce provided behavioral advice to cats in need until her death in July 2014. Because her entries are useful even today, the blog remains posted.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Re-integrating the Nervous Cat: Sinbad's Case Continued

Dear Greyce,

Tent Basket on Top of Drawers

I hope you haven't forgotten me - the cat who left home because he was overwhelmed by all the changes in it? (entry: Cat Leaves Home On Purpose)

As requested, here are some photos of the cat furnishings at home. To the left is my covered cat basket (some people might call it a fleece cat tent) which sits on top of a chest of drawers in the corner of the hall to the master bedroom. 

Cat Tree

To the right is the cat tree. The scratch pad is of no interest to me as I prefurr to use the real trees outside. And neither Bella nor I are much interested in sitting on the top level. It is located in the living room at the corner of two walls.

Best to you,

Dear Sinbad,

Thank you for the photos as well as the additional information provided in your e-mail to me. In your case it will result in a change of my suggested action plan for you.

I still would like your purrsons to read up on cat signalling because I think it is very important for them to understand what both Bella and you are saying - not only when Bella is up to no good.

From the additional information, I get a stronger impression that while your relationship with Bella is an important factor and continuing issue, your challenge is getting your trust back of the overall homestead - because not only does Bella bug you but also your are jumpy with Herself (with whom you loved to cuddle) and you are nervous when you are in that environment (likely because you associate it with the renovations). Therefore I believe that we need to work on your overall comfort level first.

Restoring The Bond

The key to this is Herself because she has been your primary bond. You see the Siamese is you makes you want to have a purrson-based rather than place-based bond, so I'd like to see if we could restore the bond between the two of you to begin with.

Now I will outline what I would like you to achieve and you and she will need to figure out a way to make this happen, based on the realities of your situation.

If at all possible on a daily basis (and optimally more that once a day), it would be lovely if Herself and you could meet for a visit. Quality is more important than quantity to begin with, so I'm not suggesting more that 10 or so minutes at a time to start with. But the quality is paramount. In this case, quality means that you have Herself all to yourself without being disturbed - no kids, no baby, no phones, no Bella. And that may be a challenge to achieve.

Some things to consider: Is there someone else in the household who could keep Bella occupied and entertained while you are visiting with Herself? Is it possible to close access between where Bella would be and where you would be, to remove the chance of contact?  Or if not, is it possible that your kind foster parents next door might allow Herself the chance of brief visits on their premises in order to spend a bit of time with you?

Visiting Herself

Step 1: During the initial visits, I'd just ask the Herself be alone with you in the same room or area. She will need to be calm (I always advise humans to take several very deep, slow breaths so that you do not pick up any anxiety from her.) If she is a guest next door, she can pretend to talk with the neighbours while you are in her presence. If you are at the homestead, purrhaps she could meet you in the basement (since that is you first point of entry because of your cat door) and just sit near you. You need to pick a time suited to both of you, of course.

If appropriate, it would be lovely for her to talk to you in s-l-o-w, soft tones frequently using your name and reminding your of your best qualities (your handsomeness, for example). She should remain at a distance with which you are comfortable. And she should make no effort for physical contact with you.

Step 2: With repeated contact of this nature, you will eventually be interested in coming closer. Purrhaps she could offer you a particularly tasty treat (only a small treat) placed about a metre from her.

When you have brushed up against her OR rubbed your cheeks along her fist (when she slowly extends her arm to you), that is you signal that coming closer would be in order.

I want you to be in control of how fast the two of you get closer and for how long you stay. Eventually you should be able to relax in her presence, be near her and even accept petting. But the first petting sessions should be brief. Better for you to want more than to be overwhelmed by too much.

Because you are so nervous, I don't advocate that she attempt any cuddling or playing or include any other human at this time.

Note: At some point, Herself might want to consult my entry, Meditative Stroking (1/28/10), for an alternate idea to petting or the section on Touch in my entry, Lifting the Sadness (1/30/10).

Step 3: This Step begins at the time are have met the following conditions: 1) you are able to accept a small treat from her, not necessarily directly from her hand but within 1 metre of her; 2) you are able to accept a some petting, and 3) you are comfortable being within 1 metre of her.And so now, if you both agree, you can even introduce some play with the mouse-on-the-string you like so much. This is an important Step because getting you to focus on play will help when other members of the household are re-introduced as well.

Step 4: Once play is re-established betwee the two of you,  I'd like her to extend your environmental range - again just with her. For example, if you've confined your visits to your foster home, then it is time to try the basement level of the homestead. If you are find on the basement level of the homestead, it is time to advance to the next floor, etc. The last area of conquest should be the living room, because that is the room where Bella tends to pounce. And it is quite open - and cats feel most vulnerable in open spaces. We will need to figure out some ways of making the room more safe for you - as well as figure out a way to keep Bella elsewhere for your initial visits to this room. So when you are ready for that I want you to contact me, BEFOREHAND.

To re-cap: I want you to start by re-building the bond with Herself and slowly extend the building of that particular bond to cover all the prime areas of the homestead for you (meaning the basement hall and feeding area, Themselves' bedroom and the living room.

Step 5: When you have accomplished this, purrhaps Herself can invite one of the children (just one at a time) to attend some of these sessions. Again the child should keep distance from you until you are ready to lessen it, and speak to you in slow, soft tones. You will let the child know when you are ready for more. No sudden moves or loud noises from the humans, please. And purrhaps the child could give you a treat (or place it near you) and/or play mouse-on-a-string with you. How and when Himself gets into the picture is up to you and Herself (oh, and Him, too).

Step 6: When you have become more comfortable, we will re-introduce Bella into the equation - but at a kept distance (depending upon the method Themselves have from my previous entry to you or other means - for example, a short lead connect to her collar). But again I get ahead of myself. When you are ready to proceed, contact me and we will go over the details BEFORE you implement them.

So dear, slow and steady wins the race. The frequency will be determined by the practicalities of the household schedule. The degree to which you advance from just being in the same room to being petted and played with in different rooms and with others present will be up to you. You MUST set the pace in order to re-gain confidence.

A Cat Tree

I also believe in the importance of proper cat resources, which leads me to your cat tree. The one in the photo is a lovely and well-made example. It's configuration and most especially it's height is suitable for a very young kitten. Not for you. Obviously not for Bella either. It has only one level and it is too close to the ground.

I'd like Themselves to consider either getting a proper cat tree OR an equivalent (shelves or furnishings at varying heights). This will be important when you are re-introduced to Bella and also when Baby beings to crawl. I am a strong advocate of suitable and suitably placed cat trees for two reasons: 1) It lessens the tension between cats in a household by offering different resting levels (even if only one cat occupies it and the other remains a ground or chair level). 2) It offers security and safety from a crawling or toddling child. And that will become an issue in your household in due course.

Please consult my entry: A Cat Tree for Every Cat  (Feb. 7, 2010) which outlines the requirements that need to be met. In your case, such a tree needs to have more than three levels (including the ground) to enable the possibility that both Bella and you could use it at the same time. And the highest levels would have to be sufficiently so that a toddler could not grab you.

As they will learn from reading my Cat Tree entry, location is very important and the current location is not the most desirable. While that location - in a corner - does give you a view of the opening to the kitchen, it would be so much better for you if it was located by the window(s) assuming there is an interesting view. It would be best situations so that  you could have a) a view of the outside as well as be able b) to view the action in the room and c) keep an eye on any being entering or exiting the room - all from the same place.

Cat Tree Alternatives

There ARE alternatives to a cat tree. Consider using existing human furniture as shown in my entry, Cat Decor Ideas (7/30/10).

Another option is staggered shelving. For a variety of decorating ideas involving shelving as perches here are some resources:
- Catswall  has various climbing wall systems
- Climbing & Perching options on the Modern Cat site
- The Refined Feline  top-end cat shelves
- IkeaHackers Ikea Hackers build-it-yourself idea
- Dream Cat Stairs from Apartment Therapy

I do recommend that Herself view these options. You never know what creative spark that might ensue!

So now, Sinbad, you are ready to proceed.

Feel free to ask for more information. In any event, I look forward to hearing of your progress.

With purrs of good luck,