The inspiration for writing this article followed my encounter on the Internet with Sally; a delightful and charming woman. Sarah had recently adopted a 13 year-old tabby from a no-kill shelter. Although she adored this feline addition to her household; at the same she was at her wit’s end concerning the cat’s aggressive behavior. In fact, she was right on the edge of returning the kitty to the shelter. Fortunately we “met” in an internet support group, with our friendship cemented by exchanging email.
She said she fell deeply in love the instant she set eyes on this kitty. The cat’s gentle demeanor and trusting, big brown eyes touched her heart. This cat had been living in the facility for several months and had been made an adoption ambassador. Her “job” description included hanging out in the reception room to welcome visitors and to enjoy the company of the other shelter cats.
Sally explained that she had been longing to get another cat following the recent loss of her “soul” kitty. Although the kittens appealed to her, she decided to adopt a senior cat since they were generally passed over, and she wanted to give an older cat a chance for a permanent loving family. After she met 13 year-old “Precious”, and spent some time with her, she quickly filled out adoption papers and took Precious home.
At first Precious seemed to be doing quite well in her new environment. Sally had “catified” her home, providing Precious with an electric water fountain, high quality cat food, a double decker condo, interactive toys, a scratching post, a cat tree and a window perch. To help keep Precious calm, she strategically placed Feliway diffusers around the apartment. So you can only imagine how shocked and dismayed she was when just a few weeks later Precious suddenly turned into a hellion.
Sally recalled that just a few weeks following Precious’ adoption, a delivery man dropped off some packages which badly frightened the cat. In fact, Precious became unglued when the uniformed “stranger” entered the apartment. She was so terrified that she tried to hide under the bed and she accidentally got her claw stuck in the carpet, snapping it off. This accident caused Precious excruciating pain. Sally immediately rushed Precious to the vet; but all he could do was to give the cat antibiotics and a few days’-worth of pain medication.
Sally figured out that whenever she approached Precious, the cat was associating Sally with her fear and pain, causing the cat to viciously lash out; growling, hissing and trying to bite her. Even when Precious seemed calm and Sally tried to comfort her, she would suddenly turn on her with a vengeance.
Sally called the shelter to find out more about Precious’ background. The staff told her that Precious only had one previous home with a man who adored her. Sadly, he developed a terminal illness and was unable to care for her. His family refused to adopt the kitty, so Precious ended up at the no-kill shelter.
Sally tried everything to regain the cat’s confidence. She desperately wanted to keep her but the aggressive attacks were becoming dangerous. That’s when she decided to take her back to the shelter. And then the miracle occurred. Precious began giving Sally slow eye blinks; the equivalent of kitty kisses, demonstrating her trust. This was a HUGE step forward which reassured Sally. But when she was getting ready for work every morning, Precious became aggressive. Then she realized that Precious might be worried that she might be abandoned again by someone she loved.
Before leaving for work Sally turned on a radio station playing soft, soothing music. When she came home she played interactively with her and then fed her. Slowly, Precious started sitting on her lap and followed her around the apartment; openly demonstrating trust. Sally’s patience and compassionate persistence greatly payed off and all thoughts of returning Precious to the shelter have disappeared.
A solid commitment to a pet can truly make an adoption work. Sally’s patience has assured Precious a permanent home. Even though Precious has occasional lapses and angry outbursts; Sally understands that her kitty’s rehabilitation will take time. But she can wait; neither of them is going anywhere.
When a cat gets adopted and promised a forever loving home, that kitty just “hit the jackpot”. As cat lovers know all-too-well, there are countless numbers of beautiful cats languishing in shelters, caged for long periods of time longing for affection and who yearn for adoption.
There are absolutely no guarantees that an adoption will always be an immediate, smooth transition for the cat or even for the adopter. Shelters or rescue groups may not be fully familiar with the cat’s history or the circumstances under which the kitty was surrendered. Therefore the adopter’s patience and determination is required for a cat to adjust fully to a new home.
Giving a cat or a kitten as a holiday gift may be tempting, but the holidays can be very hectic. With the crazy schedules, preparing for company, cooking and baking, and getting decorations ready, most people are extremely busy with insufficient time to devote to a new feline friend with the attention they require. A better alternative is to alert the “giftee” that a kitty will be waiting for them. Then take them out shopping for those necessary cat supplies and a few great books on how to take care of a cat.
We are wishing you all a PURRfect Holiday Season.
By: Jo Singer, MSW, CSW, LCSW (Ret.)