Small Steps

Allegedly, we are cat owners again. I say “allegedly” because we have not seen much of our cat since he arrived last Saturday. If Lord Voldemort is “he who shall not be named”, our new feline is “he who shall not be seen”. Well, at least not very much.

These are some of the hazards of adopting a cat who was likely abused earlier in life. If instead we had adopted kittens, it is unlikely they would be so reticent about showing themselves. So far, our new cat, which came to us by the name of Papa, has spent daylight hours studiously in hiding under our couch.

Picture of our new cat, named Papa in the cattery

After we unfortunately had to evict him from under our bed the first night, he spent the first couple of days and nights under the loveseat in our entertainment room. We slipped a litter box behind it, which he quickly found. We could hear him use it occasionally. Now he prefers to spend the day under our living room sofa. This is a bit of a problem since there is no way to put a litter box behind it. He eats, drinks, and defecates at night. In the morning, there are signs that a feline has been around. There are little clumps of grey dander on the floor and carpet. Generally, his food is gone too.

We know it is important to be patient. This new cat will eventually fully emerge from his shell. He is already making small steps. Sometime after eleven o’clock at night when my wife is the only one still awake, he quietly emerges. She may hear the litter box in use. After two nights, she looked down the stairwell to see the cat looking up at her, fear in his eyes. The next night, he made it up a couple more steps and waited there for a while before returning to under the couch. Three nights ago was a breakthrough. He came into the computer room where my wife spends most of her free hours and sat warily under the desk. My wife avoided any major movements, but slowly put her hand down by her side. It took about ten minutes, but he warily approached her. She gently scratched his head. He stood up on his rear legs, put his front paws on her legs, and purred outrageously. This went off and on for half an hour before he slowly ambled downstairs and returned to his spot under the couch.

Since that time, he has visited my wife every evening, when it is quiet, around eleven o’clock. I dutifully fill his food bowl and change his water dish in the morning, but otherwise I do not see him. It is not easy for me to give him space. I want to peek under the couch, as my daughter does when she comes home from school, and say hello. However, he does not seem to like this attention right now. Eventually he turns around so he is not facing her. He will fully emerge in time, but on his own terms, and only when he feels it is safe.

I have to respect that. Still, I find it hard. After six months without a cat on my lap, the absence of a feline has made their lure that much stronger. Now, I am practically aching for a feline on my lap. I am not sure this cat will even be a lap sitter. Nevertheless, it would be nice just to pet him. I would like to give him a scratch under his chin, as I did with my last cat Sprite. I must be patient.

I did see him briefly this morning when I stumbled out of bed around 6:15 a.m. I usually elect to wake up our daughter and send her to school. I am now careful to open our bedroom door slowly in case he is out there; I do not want to startle him. So far, that has not been a problem because he is elsewhere. This morning though when I did glance down into our living room, I saw him on the carpet, just next to the living room couch. He looked up at me warily. I doubt cats are schooled in reading human emotions, but I smiled and said nice things to him. “There you are,” I said. “There is no reason to hide. We love cats around here.” That was enough for him: fifteen seconds or so of cautious staring, then a quick dash back under the couch. That is where he had remained utterly silent all day. I sent a toy ball under the couch this evening in the hopes that he might play with it. However, it must make too much noise for him. Right now, he is still anxious not to be seen.

It is human nature to anthropomorphosize pets. It takes deliberate effort to remember that he is a cat, not a human being. Animal scientists assert that the emotional part of animal brains is much larger than their rational parts. They are believed to live mostly in the present, but to carry powerful emotional impressions of their past. Found outside a gas station in Lovettsville, Virginia and rescued by Friends of Homeless Animals, this three-year-old cat has likely been abused before. Trust will have to be earned slowly, on his terms, in small paw steps.

Meanwhile, I avoid upsetting his delicate balance. I want him to heal and to trust. It is probably not a good idea to run the vacuum cleaner today. Since his cat box is in the entertainment room and he may need to use it, I have avoided television. Fortunately, this is no sacrifice, since I have largely given up television anyhow.

Perhaps tonight will be the night we become a little better acquainted. Since I do not have to go to work tomorrow, I plan to stay up late. I am hoping that if I sit quietly here on the computer he will gently head up the stairs around eleven o’clock, as he has the last several nights. The question is whether he will keep coming up the stairs when he sees me, or will head back under the couch. Maybe, just maybe, I will get to pet him.

This is of course quite a change from the cat we met in the cattery. There you simply sat down and he was one of a half dozen cats all over you. There were cuter cats than him, but arguably, he was one of the most affectionate. The message to us seemed clear: he liked us and he wanted a new home. The reality of a new home though will take some getting used to. He may smell evidence of cats past, wonder where they are, and whether they are going to attack him. Therefore, he remains very wary and very cautious. Cats for the most part do not deal well with change. Relocation is one of their biggest traumatic events. Yet he must settle down eventually. In time this new world with us will becomes routine and the old memory of the cattery where he spent about a year will fade. He will understand he is in a place where he will be loved and doted on. It will be a special place that will be all his and we will be his special humans with whom he has chosen to spend the rest of his life. When the weather is temperate, he can sit out on the screened porch and enjoy nature. Otherwise, he can roam the house as he pleases, watch birds, humans and automobiles pass by on the street through the window, sleep in his new bed that he has not tried out yet, and generally be spoiled rotten with as much attention as he can hold.

For now, we just wait for him to emerge. It must be done on his terms though, not ours.

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