Friday, 12 February 2016

My First Mistakes

This blog is full of mistakes.

Not entirely my fault and definitely not Gracie's fault. Every cat is different. One thing I did get right was correctly setting my expectation for a long journey ahead.

Some rescue cats settle into their new environment right away. One of my other cats, Smudge, span in circles of joy when released from the carry basket into his new home.

Remembering how well Smudge had done being restricted to the large lounge in my former home (in Abbots Langley, Herts) I decided to do the same with Gracie. At that time I lived alone in a 3-bedroom, semi-detached house with Derek (my other cat). It was a quiet home with lots of space and I assumed Gracie would benefit from this.

This was mistake number one.

I opened the door to Gracie's carry box and left the room so that she could spend some time alone getting used to the sights, sounds and smells of her new home. On returning to the room a few minutes later I was pleased to see the carry box was empty. This was a good sign. Gracie had taken her first, tentative steps into her new life.

Unfortunately, she wasn't investigating her new home with quite as much enthusiasm as I'd hoped. Instead, she'd wedged herself under the sofa.

This is to be expected. Cats like to be under things, ideally in a spot where they can observe what else is going on while feeling safe.

However, I hadn't reckoned for just how scared Gracie would be. While I knew that I meant Gracie no harm, Gracie didn't know this.

Her new home under the sofa soon became her prison.

Gracie under the sofa
The new arrival wedged under the sofa

A few days later still under the sofa
(These pictures are enlarged. I was not this close to her!)

When I looked under the sofa, with the aid of a torch (shone to the side of her, not directly at her face), all I could see was a flash of white and two large, mistrustful eyes.

Everything I felt Gracie needed was in easy reach of her: fresh water, fresh cat food (wet and dry), litter tray, scratching post. Over the next nine days, these items gave me the only indications that Gracie was moving out from under the sofa at all.

When I was in the room (not too often because I wanted to give her peace and quiet) she stayed stock still. Only when she knew for sure that I wasn't around did she venture out into the room to eat, drink and answer the call of nature (that's one of the wonderful things about cats, no matter what their psychological state they still tend to respect litter tray etiquette).

Concerned about her weight and wanting to create a bond between us, I decided to try feeding Gracie some cat food using a fish slice that I slid under the sofa towards her. This worked to an extent. She took the food, but I believe this was because she was extremely hungry - my presence was merely tolerated. Even after days of patiently feeding her this way (it's not easy for me to lie flat on the floor these days!) there was no real progress. She never asked for food, and never moved closer to take it when offered. But at least she was eating.

So, if she's eating, drinking and using the litter tray how did I know I'd made a mistake? Because after nine days she should have begun to explore her surroundings a little more out of sheer curiosity. And the reason she didn't?

LESSON ONE: The room was too big

If you have a nervous, anxious or frightened cat, you can help them to feel more secure by placing them in a smaller room with lots of places to hide.

By putting Gracie in a large room I now realise I extended her anxiety a few days longer than necessary. The size of the room was just too overwhelming for her. Hence she only felt safe when she was wedged under the sofa out of reach.

After nine days, and concerned for her weight and wellbeing, I decided that this arrangement wasn't working and moved her to a much smaller room. However, there would be a few more mishaps before that...

Gracie under the sofa
"Ask all you like, I'm not coming out"

Please support Wood Green, The Animals Charity by sponsoring my Fire Walk (16th April 2016). Even if you can only spare £1. Wood Green will make your money go a long way towards helping the unwanted animals in their care.

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