Tuesday, January 7, 2014
The Adventures of Emmylou (Lulu) and Natalia - Further and Further
Emmylou and Natalia (Emmylou's name actually has now morphed into Lulu!) are my two cats who came into BARC Shelter two years ago as completely feral cats. Right away I could tell they were extremely fearful, but very gentle, sweet souls underneath their fear. They have been in our home for about a year and a half now, and I am so pleased to say that they are doing so well. Our relationship with them continues to grow every day, and nearly every week there is something new that we can do with them that we never thought possible before.
We are so grateful to have them in our lives, and they help us to begin each day with joy in our hearts - the minute we get up, they come running to us for affection, excited to start the new day.
In speaking about our journey with them, it is hard to know where to begin! I think with this post I will do a bit of a recap about our acclimation process and then I will do a second post about what is happening now with them.
Some months after they had been in the shelter (they were still quite shy and were never officially put up for adoption), my dear cat Garbanzo passed away, and it seemed meant to be for me to bring these dear girls home. I was admittedly terrified at first, not knowing what would happen, but in my heart of hearts I felt it would all be fine.
We quickly realized that they would need to be in a cage for a good amount of time, as it was a whole new experience getting used to our apartment. Thus began a VERY gradual acclimation process, with the use of a cat condo (multilevel cat cage with wheels), TTouch, Reiki, treats, various other tools, and of course a huge amount of TLC. Each new thing we did with them, we broke down into baby steps, so that the changes would be so gradual that they would feel natural. For example, to get them used to the idea that the cage moved, we initially just moved it a few inches, then back to where it was. When we began to let them out of the cage, it was for very short amounts of time, luring them back into the cage with treats. (Initially, being out of the cage was rather overwhelming for them, even though we did it within the confines of a small bedroom.)
Important to remember is how big those tiny steps can feel to a fearful cat. At first, even moving the cage a few inches was a lot for them to handle. And sometimes we would do something that was too big of a step, so we would have to take a little step back, then go forward again.
The cage with wheels was great (thanks so much to our dear friends Alexie and Bim for lending the cage to us and giving us great advice!) because it allowed us to move cages to different parts of the bedroom and, eventually, different parts of the apartment, so that they could see the whole apartment first while still being in the safety zone of the cage. It also allowed us to walk near them and sit near them while they were in their safe space. And I was able to do TTouches, Reiki etc with them in the cage pretty easily, as the doors were big enough to be able to really reach in. We worked with them with baby food, too, having them lick it off our fingers, then gradually petting them while they did this. We had string toys that we could dangle into the cage with them, to get them used to the idea of play.
The result of all of this was that when we did start letting them out of the cage, they didn't immediately try and hide under things. They really didn't hide at all. I did block off some little spaces that would lead to places where they could burrow in, and I did some cat-proofing measures similar to baby-proofing in that I got cord covers for most of the electrical cords, even boxes for the surge protectors. Some cats like to chew electrical cords, or can inadvertently step on the switches on surge protectors, and I didn't want to take that chance!
When we started letting them out of the cage, that was also in baby steps. We let them out for short amounts of time and would play with them with string toys and the like, and/or offer baby food to them to lick off our fingers. So coming out of the cage became a fun time for them. And we would lure them back into the cage with food or treats. Once they became comfortable with the bedroom, finally we left the cage door open, keeping the cage there as their safe space, keeping the litter and food and a few toys in there.
Each day they explored more and more territory in the bedroom. We have a platform bed with some stairs leading up to it. At first they were scared of the stairs. But then one day, they started going up and down the stairs to the bed, first more slowly, then running up and down, making it into a game. It was a joy starting to see them become more active and playful, and to see them exploring.
And then, little by little, we started opening the door to the living room and letting the cats come in there for short spurts. We had taken them in there within the cage, but being in the space out of the cage was a whole new experience. One thing that was so interesting to see was how Lulu reacted to television. She was both obsessed with and terrified it - staring at it as though the people there were alive. So when we realized this, I decided that I would change the TV to a music channel for our first adventures into the living room, then later get her gradually used to the TV. I do recommend the Soundscapes TV channel as being one that generally plays very soothing music, so I have become accustomed to leaving that channel on for much of the day.
We got a simple cat tree to put by the window in the bedroom. At first they seemed a bit daunted by it, but within about a week or so, they began to get up and sit on the platform that is level with the window to watch the birds outside the window. And now that is one of their favorite things to do - usually one will get on the windowsill and one on the cat tree, but occasionally they will both get in the cat tree. They adore each other, which is also a joy to experience!
We have a large screen door between the bedroom and living room/kitchen, so that has been very useful. They can see what is going on in the living room even if they are closed in the bedroom.
Once they became used to the living room/kitchen area, we finally took the plunge and they were able to explore the whole apartment. As time went on, they developed their own routines of things they like to do, and we developed a whole routine with their food as well. They were used to eating their food in the bedroom, so I decided to keep it that way. The bedroom was kind of their retreat. And, when we had the cage there, they would eat in the cage in the bedroom. So I would get the food ready in the kitchen, then say "OK girls go get ready! Go on!" and they go running, parallel to each other, into the bedroom and wait for me (initially they would go back into the cage and wait). Then I sit down on a low stool while they eat their food. While I sit with them, I send them calming Reiki energy. This is still our routine.
We kept the cage in the bedroom with the door open for a few months after they were out of the cage, so that would remain their safe space. And finally when our friends needed the cage back, it was perfect timing because they really weren't going in the cage any more except to use the litter box.
And during this whole time, each day we could feel these sweet cats becoming more and more comfortable with us, as they started seeking out our attention more and more - Lulu rubbing her face against my foot, Natalia walking in front of me so I would sit down with her for TTouch. Each day we felt more of a connection with them, and would see new signs of how at ease they were.
There really is so much to say about this whole experience that I think I could write a book about it. But the primary feeling that keeps coming back to me is the that with the combination of tools (TTouch, Reiki, treats, toys, Bach flower remedies, calm music, etc), positive intent and unconditional love, so much is possible, more than you could dream of. It is when you can let go of preconceived notions and expectations, that the most beautiful miracles can happen.
And to have these two sweet, loving, beings in our home, who have become so much a part of us, is one of those beautiful miracles.