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.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Skittish Cat Meets Demonstrative Human: Bea's Puzzlement with Bonding

Dear Greyce,
I am a stunning, five-year-old, female tortoiseshell in a long, fine fur coat that I keep in good condition largely by myself - though admittedly I do produce furballs. Two months ago, I arrived in my third home via an animal shelter, as a companion for a 14-year-old, male tabby called Henry after the death of his former feline room mate (also male). While considerably older than me, Henry is in good health except for having high blood pressure. We live with Herself in a five-room, single-storey home.

When I arrived, I was placed in the second bedroom with a catnip pillow. Of course I had my purrsonal litterbox and food and water bowls. At first I hid.

Herself visited every evening for about two hours. Henry would come to the door and we would hiss at each other (me in response to him).

Two weeks later, I was let out to explore the rest of the house for brief periods. There was still some hissing but it calmed down. Now I have the run of the house.

Now Henry and I eat out of each other's bowls (mine is still in the bedroom). We now share a common water bowl as well as a common litterbox (kept very clean - in the basement). From time to time he will grab my hind leg in an attempt at play and I will run with him chasing me. It's very benign and he doesn't harm me in anyway. But other than that we seldom interact. For example, during heat waves I stay upstairs while Henry goes to the basement which is cooler. At such times I like to lie behind the sofa table near the window which is purrfect because I am hidden but can bask in a light breeze.

So what's the problem?  It depends on whom you ask.

According to me, things are basically fine. The quiet household suits my sedate nature (Herself is away about 11 hours a day.). I get regular feeding, access to water and a clean litterbox. I have a favourite toy (catnip pillow). Henry and I live and let live.

I am not interested in cat aerobics. The only time I run is when Henry chases me. The only time I jump is to get access to the bathroom window sill. And the only time I engage in play is if Herself persists in tantalizing me with a wand toy. Initially I will just lie still and try to slowly swat the feather with one paw; but if she keeps on I will start to hunt the feather. I do stop if Henry joins in. My favourite game is to hold and snuggle with my catnip pillows. Toy mice and crinkle balls are of no interest whatsoever!

I eat to live (rather than live to eat). This means I do not demand food or tell my purrson when I am hungry. I have shown Herself that I have no interest in wet food or in treats, though she has tried to interest me in a variety of brands as well as bits of people food. I am fed dry food twice daily.

I favour sitting on upholstered chairs (near Herself's bed, in the living room and in the dining room) with views of interior spaces. I will also lie on a side table directly in front of an open window - usually facing away from the window itself. And I to like sit on the bathroom window which is higher than most.  
There are two scratching posts: one vertical in a corner of the dining room and one horizontal in the living room near a large piece of furniture. I use neither, although I have claws.

I am in good health which is fortunate because I would be difficult to medicate. Herself attempted to give me fur ball gel once and could not do it. Similarly I don't take well to being groomed. I will accept a wire brush on my jaw and head, but not on other parts of my body. And as far as I'm concerned, a comb with rotating teeth is evil.  Okay, I'll admit it: I don't really liked being handled except under certain circumstances that are under my control.

So as far as I'm concerned, all is basically well - especially since I've been training Herself in my prefurrences. But if you ask Herself, you will get a different answer.

My purrson is used to a two-cat family and her beloved feline companion died recently. While she is still in mourning, she felt Henry needed company and picked me because I am sedate. Her immediate impression (after going to several shelters) was that I seemed sweet and shy. The shelter didn't allow her to hold me, so she never discovered my dislike of handling until I was home with her for awhile.

She is used to cats of the Siamese purrsuasion. As you know, such cats are very vocal, interactive and demanding. They have strong purrsonalities: demonstrative, very curious and attentive.

My nature is so different from almost all of the cats of her past - except for Henry who is on the timid side and does not vocalize. However he does show an interest in everything Herself does, is quite curious and likes to be near her. He demands petting (though he does not like to be picked up). And they enjoy brief periods outdoors together.

Then there is me.

I do not like being approached. I prefurr to keep a safe distance from people. I am more confident with people if they are seated. If I am sitting and a chair and Herself comes over to pet me, I stare at her and jump away to make myself out of reach.

I run and hide when being approached by a purrson with both hands out. Sometimes I run and hide even if someone is a certain distance away or just passing by. If you are going to try to approach me, I prefurr to be briefly contacted with the extended finger of one hand - though not always.

I prefurr to choose when I interact with Herself rather than let Herself call the shots. If she is lying in bed I will come up beside her. If she is sitting in a chair I will draw near. Then I will let her pet me all over - including my tummy and near the back of my tail! In bed she can even move her hand quickly (as only as it is only hand only, please) and I'm fine. But as soon as she gets up, the party is over as far as I'm concerned and I go back to being self-contained.

I do stay in the same room with Herself though not beside or necessarily near her. For example, if she takes a shower I might jump onto the window sill in the bathroom.

All of this makes her puzzled and sad. If I was in school and Herself was the teacher, I'd likely get an F on all counts:
- I don't demonstrate an interest in food preparation.
- I don't remind Herself if food is delivered late.
- I don't respond to being called by name.
- I don't vocalize as a way to interact with Herself.
- I don't enjoy a wide variety of toys.
- I make Herself work hard to interest me in wand games.
- I don't interact a lot with Henry.
- I don't take kindly to strangers.
- I don't like being handled, except in very specific circumstances that are under my control.
Basically Greyce, I don't, I don't, I don't.

Herself thinks I'm a boarder rather than a friend. Henry and I live and let live. And I think things are reasonably okay.

So Greyce, what do you advise? 



Dear Bea,

Your new purrson is confused and understandably so. All of her experience with members of the superior species (felines, of course) is with cats whose purrsonalities are almost diametrically opposite to yours. And so she wonders:
- Is she doing something wrong?
- Do you like her?
- Are you happy?
These are natural questions for a human to ask in such a situation.

From what you have told me, you seem quite content. And you are succeeding in training Herself in your prefurrences regarding eating, playing and handling. The problem is that what is normal for you is not expected from cats by her.

To compound matters, she is in mourning for the loss of a beloved cat whose purrsonality was quite different from yours. And while she knew enough not to try and replace him with another of similar traits, she is vulnerable at this time. Grieving people reach out to members of their feline household; they'd very much appreciate a cuddle, a chirp of hello, or the opportunity for a purr-filled petting session. Obviously you are not able to respond in these ways. If you believe she could use the help of some caring humans, refurr her to your local pet loss support group (just Google "pet loss support" and add your town or city).

Let's return to you. While you are relatively self-contained, you are also skittish. It would be easy for someone such as Herself to think she was at fault - that your running away was an indication of fear or dislike of her. But I doubt that is the case. It is more likely that the combination of your purrsonality and your early socialization was such that you did not have a lot of gentle, human handling. Purrhaps you were only approached by humans when they chased after you (as children often do) or suddenly grabbed at you - and thus you are leery.

A cat who challenges her new purrson's perceptions of the human-feline bond is in a special situation. By offering this opportunity for building a stronger bond, you may be called to teach Herself how to appreciate and value a feline who challenges her very ideals of what constitutes a suitable feline companion. She would have to learn more about how to win the trust of a cat whose social skills are less than optimal (from a human point of view). Her reward: A more satisfying relationship with you.

It will take a great deal of time and understanding to further build rapport with Herself. Yet there are conditions under which you enjoy being handled by Herself. And these are conditions upon which we could build.

IF this is the choice you make, then here is my advice:

1. Build on the positive aspects of the relationship you already have. That is, start working on expanding your repertoire when you go up to her for pets when she is on the bed or seated. These means trying to extend these sessions for longer periods of time (building up slowly by adding a minute or so to start out and then adding an additional minute every few days or to tolerance). Have Herself talk to you in soft, slightly-high tones, saying your name over and over and telling you about her day and about her hopes for the two of you. This can help the both of you relax.

2. Take these sessions to the next level with Tellington T Touch. I'm a great believer in the healing and bonding power of touch as you can tell from the Touch Therapy header at the top of my blog. And this form of touch is one that is easily-learned, easy to implement and gets results. Many of the cats who receive such touch are so skittish that they cannot abide ANY physical contact and so their purrsons start by touching them with a wand. You are fortunate for, in certain circumstances, you are quite comfortable with direct hand contact.

Consult the website (which has all sorts of articles as well as links to relevant videos). There is an online store from which you could purchase the requisite DVD or book, if your local bookstore or library does not have them. The site also lists practitioners but I don't think there is anyone near where you live; besides you would likely prefurr someone who focuses on cats.

In short: Since you already allow Herself to pet you (in certain circumstances) you are in good stead for her to learn the gentle finger circles that could extend your relationship even more.

3. To support you journey, consider investing in one or both of the following:

a) A bottle of the flower remedy, Scaredy Cat . The website FAQs include instructions for administration.

b) A CD called Through a Cat's Ear. It is made especially to calm and relax cats. It comes with instructions and the website has a great deal of relevant information as well. Your purrson could play it as instructed; purrhaps one of the times you could hear it would be during your work on improving your ability to receive pets.

As supplementary matters, I suggest Herself invest in a cat tree (just see my entry, A Cat Tree for Every Cat, in the list that comes up when you search for 'cat tree' on my blog). A good and tall tree, properly placed could extend your territory skyward in ways that are very positive for everyone.

I would also like to suggest how to deal with Henry and his penchant for grabbing you. If she knows he is about to get up to 'no good', encourage her to say 'no Henry' in an I-mean-it voice. Alternatively she might wave the wand toy or throw a toy mouse in another direction to distract him. Distraction, particularly in advance of mischief (so it does not get inadvertently rewarded) is an excellent way to achieve a positive outcome for everyone. I think Henry might just need more of a workout and if she can give him one, he might find that more satisfying than trying to pester you. Tell her to have a look at the header, Play Therapy, at the top of my blog.

Now Bea, I'm going to look at the other side of the coin. Suppose upon thinking the matter through, Herself realizes that she is not or cannot commit to the time required to work with you. Or purrhaps she realizes that even with that commitment, your relationship with her may be more limited than she desires. 

If that is the case, your continued presence in this household will remind Herself of what she truly values in feline companionship by demonstrating what she currently lacks. Under these circumstances it would be best for both of you to part ways. By parting ways, I mean re-homing. IF this is considered, I would urge the two of you to do some very careful work in choosing a suitable home - not just returning you to the shelter from which you came.

If you are headed elsewhere, I would truly want your next home to be your permanent residence and not just another venue through which to pass. That means composing a well-written profile featuring your habits and prefurrences and describing the kind of household in which you would best fit. It also means careful interviews of prospective purrsons. IF this is the choice you make, consult the Riverfront Cats Blog for its entry "Finding a Home for a Rescued Cat or Kitten" (August 4, 2013) for lots of tips.

Whatever option is selected, I wish you the very best Bea. And I'd appreciate hearing from you to know what action you have taken.

With purrs and whisker kisses,