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

1 comment:

  1. Beautiful post Sarah. I'll try to stop by for the TTouch demo today. Eliza