Monday, September 24, 2012

The Hard to Adopt Cat

This is story of my cat, Pumpkin.              

Pumpkin, post domestication
I was working for a different animal shelter (which shall remain un-named) when I met him. He'd been living in the shelter for almost a year and was clearly suffering from the stress of shelter life. Once upon a time, he must have displayed some endearing traits; otherwise he never would have made the cut to be taken into our care at all. But by the time I met him, he was depressed and angry. He'd hiss and swat at anybody that got too close - human or feline. He was what we called a 'red dot' cat - only staff were allowed to socialize him because he was too dangerous for anyone else to handle.

At this point, he was a hard to adopt cat, but still adoptable. He just needed to find the right person with the right amount of cat-smarts and a whole bunch of patience.

One day, a volunteer got too close and Pumpkin lashed out, biting the volunteer. This was the worst possible thing he could have done at this time. He was already on consideration for the unadoptable list (aka euthanasia list) because of his aggressive behaviors. By biting a volunteer, he sealed his fate; he was headed for the euthanasia table.

Up to this point I hadn't had any overtly positive interactions with Pumpkin. He was just one more cat on my daily task list. I'd warily go into his enclosure, making sure not to get too close, to care for him. My time socializing him was spent with a very long wand toy, which he would take an occasional and half-hearted swat at. He never purred or asked for pets, and when I would try he'd shy away and only let me scratch his ears.

But when I heard that he was 'unadoptable' I just couldn't stomach it. I knew that despite his aggression, there was a nice cat inside.

I made the decision to adopt Pumpkin, despite the fact that I had a two year old baby plus two other cats at home.

On Pumpkin's first night at home, I sat in his room with my daughter in my lap, unsure about how much attention he would want. To my surprise, he came right up to me, head butting my head and rubbing up against my daughter's eagerly outstretch palms. He rewarded our tentative efforts with a deep, rumbling purr. It was as if he was saying 'thank you for rescuing me'.

Since that first night in my home, I have never had cause to fear a bite from Pumpkin. He's great with my daughter and eventually learned how to co-exist with my other two cats. I have never regretted the decision to adopt him and am filled with a warm fuzzy feeling when I think of the journey he's been on. He was angry and depressed, languishing in the shelter. Now he's a happy and well-adjusted pet.

The moral of Pumpkin's story is that the behavior you see in the shelter isn't necessarily what you'll see at home. I remind myself of this daily, especially when I'm faced with shy, withdrawn, or aggressive cats. These cats all have a history that's affecting their behavior in the moment. As that history evolves, so does their behavior. They just need the right person to come along, with the right amount of cat-smarts, and a good measure of patience.

1 comment:

  1. I love this post. Such a great reminder about how contextual animal behavior is. And your vision for who Pumpkin was underneath all that is inspiring to me... as I know it was for him!