Saturday, April 27, 2013

Nadia: A Gentle, Multi-Sided Approach to a Fearful Cat

Nadia was dumped at BARC Shelter, squished into a carrier with another cat.  The two cats were friends, if not related, so they were put together in a cage.  Nadia’s friend was extremely outgoing so was adopted pretty quickly.  I am sure Nadia missed and probably still misses her friend, but she is adjusting.
Nadia was very much more fearful than her friend, sometimes nipping or scratching.  I have shown other volunteers at the shelter how to connect with cats who are scared by using a tool with a handle, such as a paintbrush or back scratcher, as that feels a lot safer for most fearful cats, as it gives them more space.  It is also safer for the human, in case the cat gets frightened and reacts by biting or scratching.   When working with a tool, I approach the cat from a diagonal, so you are not sticking it in their face or straight towards them, as that can be scary for an animal. 
It can take experimentation with different tools to find out which surface is most comfortable for the animal.  In this case, Nadia seems most comfortable with a paintbrush with rather firm but flexible bristles about an inch or so wide. 

In working with the paintbrush, I usually will start out by doing little circles and strokes alongside the mouth and under the chin.  You can see below, I let her sniff the brush first, then I will stroke her with it.  


Many cats will accept touches in this area, but it can take some experimentation to find the area of their body where they feel the most comfortable being touched.  Once I figure that out, I will start there, and then slowly move to other parts of the body, just a little at a time, then return to the area that is most comfortable.

When she is more comfortable, then I work my hand down the paintbrush and start to do a few TTouches directly with my hand.  If she seems comfortable, I continue that way but if she shows any signs of discomfort then I will go back to using the paintbrush.




I have found that working very gently this way gives the cat time and space to become used to touch in a very non-threatening way.  I will ask other volunteers to only use the paintbrush or other tool until a cat becomes more comfortable, so that the cat can get used to being touched by other people in a non-threatening way as well.

Nadia is often at the back of her cage, or curled up inside a tent-like cat bed.  Sometimes I take the bed out while I am working with her, as it is easier to work with her, and it gives her a chance to experience the TTouches outside of the bed and realize that everything is OK.
Because she stays at the back of the cage so much, I decided to also incorporate baby food (use all-meat baby food with no onions, Gerber’s Turkey in Turkey gravy works really well) into my process of working with her.  And it has turned out that feeding baby food off my finger to Nadia has been really helpful in connecting with her.  Often, I can gradually lure her to come to the front of the cage. 
However, please be very careful if you plan to use baby food.  I would suggest putting some baby food on a spoon or something else with a handle first if you are in any danger of being bitten.  I took a risk by directly using my finger, but I had worked with Nadia using the paintbrush, and later connecting with TTouches directly with my hands as well, for at least a couple of months, so I had built up a lot of trust with her.  I would not do that if it was a cat that I didn’t know. 
Anyway, when feeding off the finger, I don’t stick my finger right in her face but kind of come to her in a diagonal path, keeping my finger somewhat off to the side, and a few inches away.  She starts to sniff the baby food and then very gently starts to lick it.  Her eyes start to close and I can feel a whole softening in her personality.  Sometimes she goes to eat her regular cat food out of her dish after this, which she is usually afraid to do with a person in such close proximity.
At first, I let her experience the baby food without the further challenge of moving forward, but once she got used to it, I started to put my finger a little closer to the front of the cage each time, and pretty soon she was right at the front of the cage.  This process can take a number of sessions, as it really is best to go at a leisurely pace with a fearful cat.
After working with the baby food, I do TTouches with her.  I always start out by using the paintbrush, as hands can still startle her initially.  As I have continued to work with Nadia, I have been more and more able to transition from TTouches on her head to TTouches on her body, and most recently she has started lifting her back to push into the TTouches on her body, which is so lovely to see. 
Sometimes if she looks very cozy in the tent bed, I don’t remove the bed, but just connect with TTouches with the paintbrush and she remains in the bed.  This is valuable to do, to vary up the method of working.  The last couple of times I have worked with her I have let her remain in the bed, and she has rolled over on her side as I stroke her with the paintbrush.  It is a joy to see her so comfortable!
Most recently, as she has become more used to coming to the front of the cage for the baby food, she has started to use this without the baby food.  I still start out by touching her with the paintbrush, and have found that in addition to doing the TTouch circles with the paintbrush, doing zigzags with the paintbrush really helps her to become "unfrozen" and often now she will start to walk right towards me once I begin to do this.  Once she gets closer to the front of the cage, I then transition to touching her directly with my hands, and by that time she is very comfortable with that.
In this picture, you see her stretch as she gets ready to come forward in the cage :)
Nadia's general look on her face and body language has started to change, as well.  Instead of looking tight, pulled in and afraid, you can now more often see a more open expression on her face, and start to see the truly beautiful being that she really is, which has been hidden beneath her fear. 
I can't stress enough how important it is with a scared cat to be very patient and take the time to let them become comfortable with you, instead of rushing to try to give them a lot of direct contact.  It will make such a difference in their relationship with you and with anyone else who comes in contact with them, as they will not always be afraid someone is going to try to grab them or stroke them before they are ready.
Look forward to working with you again soon, Nadia!! And I know one day the right person will arrive to adopt you, someone who is patient enough to give you the time to get comfortable and let the beauty of your personality come through.  xo

Monday, April 22, 2013

From Fearful Feral to Comfortable and Friendly: The Transformation of Berry


Berry is a feral cat who was rescued from the same back yard as my two cats, Natalia and Emmylou, and brought to BARC shelter, as they were.  I am sure that both her feralness and the fact she seems to be related to my two has helped me to feel such a special connection with her.
She has come such a long way!  When she arrived at the shelter, just before Hurricane Sandy, she was absolutely terrified.  She would hide at the back of her cage and hiss, swat, and sometimes try to bite when approached. 
I began to work with her VERY gradually.  My first few sessions with her were extremely short.  I would send her Reiki from outside the cage, then open the cage and stroke her a couple of times with the back scratcher, then close the cage again.  I would try several sessions a day of this.  I would always talk to her, too, in a quiet, friendly voice, expressing how happy I was to see her. 

After a while, I was able to do TTouches with her with the back scratcher for longer and longer periods of time.  She began leaning into the back scratcher and over time, when I would approach her cage and say hello, she came forward in her cage to greet me.   She would often start eating her food in my presence, as I continued to TTouch her with the back scratcher.  I found that while she ate, she seemed to be very comfortable as I did little circular TTouches and zigzag motions with the back scratcher along one side of her back, then the other, sometimes crisscrossing from one side to the other..

At this point, sometimes she would get confused between play energy and affection, sometimes starting to swat at the back scratcher.  I tried to keep the sessions short, giving her breaks, to hopefully avoid getting to the swatting point.  And, over time, this has really paid off as well.  I do advise people not to stick their hand straight towards her (generally a good tip, as that can be too scary, especially for rescue animals), but to kind of approach her more from a diagonal, touching her first on the back of her head or side of her body.. 

Now other volunteers can approach her and pet her with the back scratcher as well, and she is extremely responsive to it, rubbing into it.  When she sees the back scratcher, she knows that something that feels good is about to happen, so she will often come forward in her cage even with a less familiar person.  Last week one of the shelter people who had not seen her in a while didn’t recognize her because she was calmly sitting at the front of her cage.

And, over time, I have also been able to have more and more direct contact with her, which has been an incredible experience.  I have found that by incorporating the calming energy of Reiki and the TTouches, it has helped to calm her energy.  So sometimes I still will start out by touching her with the back scratcher with TTouch circles and strokes, but then very quickly am able to transition to using my hands.  But the past week or so I am more often comfortable with approaching her directly with my hands.   She still is having some issues with upper respiratory (being treated with medication and nutritional supplements), so she has been especially responsive to raccoon TTouches on the center of her forehead, which seems to help relieve her sinuses, and the TTouch ear strokes (there are acupressure points in the ear that affect the respiratory and digestive systems).  TTouch does not replace veterinary care but it can help the body to be in optimum balance so that it is able to heal more effectively.

Often in the process of doing the TTouches she will just lay down with her head resting at the edge of her cage, as you see here.  She also probably would come out on my lap, but we aren't doing that, at least not yet, because we don't want her to get frightened and get loose in the shelter.

I still will give her breaks when I think she needs them, during which I may just sit and continue to send her Reiki, and I can see her relaxing into the waves of energy.  Or sometimes I will really give her a break, walking away for a bit, then returning for more. 

It warms my heart so much to see her respond to me calling to her by coming right to the front of the cage, kneading her paws in anticipation.  And I am honored to feel such a loving, trusting connection with her - that she feels comfortable enough with me to trust that she is safe with me.  It feels like energy waves of love that pass back and forth between us as I work with her.
Thank you Berry, I am so grateful to be on this very interesting journey with you and it is beautiful to see you so much more at ease and getting so much enjoyment out of contact with people (and she seems to be interested, rather than fearful, of the other animals at BARC as well).  And thank you to the staff and volunteers at BARC Shelter, thanks so much for all you do for the animals, and thanks for being so kind to Berry and to all the animals there. xo