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Norwich Bulletin - 1/6/2008

Scaredy Cats

What happens when you take in a cat that is such a scaredy cat, he wonít come near you Ė in fact he cringes in absolute fear when you approach him? You canít hold and cuddle him to give him reassurance, so how can you chase away those fears?

If the fear is caused strictly by transitional events and the cat is generally not scared, then the fear will be overcome in a short time because it was caused by transitional events. Joining a new family, staying at a cat kennel while the family is away, or moving into a new home, can be scarey but for a cat who is normally confident, the problems will last a short time and be miniscule.

However, for a cat that has experienced long term fear resulting from abuse of neglect, especially as a kitten, it will take much longer to find relief. But they do respond. Think about it like this Ė long term fear will take some long term healing in order for them to be able to trust or love a human again.

The number one attribute the new caretaker must have is patience. Trying too much too soon can overwhelm a scaredy cat as they do not know you are trying to give them a safe and comfortable new home. They just know that they are in another foreign situation that they cannot control.

So simply initiate contact and then let them make the next move. When you are with the cat, just go about your everyday life and basically ignore him. As he observes your routine and figures out that you are safe, he will start to fit in.

If you have another friendly cat, you can demonstrate how nice it is to be given affection by showing love to your other cat while the newcomer looks on and realizes just how much he is missing! Soon he will tentatively come nearer and nearer to you, seeking out a pet here and a pet there, until he is totally sure he can trust you.

Itís like our newest outside cat rescue at our house. Tank just showed up one dat Ė a big tabby tomcat who would cautiously come and eat from the dry food bowl when no-one was around. If we so much as opened the blinds, he would dash off.

This went on for weeks until he figured out that we were the ones leaving food out for him. His next step was to stand under the bushes, out of our reach, and watch us fill up the food bowl. As soon as we went inside, he was there, eating his fill. We knew we were making headway when my husband walked by him while he was eating and he did not move a muscle.

Tank would not go near the garage though. When the other three outside cats would go in for the night, Tank would take off for parts unknown. We worried about him because of the coyotes and foxes in our woods, not to mention the cars that drive way to fast down our street. One day, out of the blue, Tank followed my husband into the garage and started rubbing across his legs! He flopped down to have his belly rubbed and let Clint pick him up!

After months and months of tiptoeing around him, he just decided to become a pet. It took a little longer for him to warm up to me since I wasnít the one who brought the food most of the time, but he has come full circle with both of us. We donít know Tankís story or why he was so scared of us, but once he knew he was in a safe place, he stopped hiding.

If you are willing to give a home to a cat who is less than perfect because of being scared, then try these few helpful hints to go from fright to friendship. Soothe slowly and donít rush it. Plan some bonding sessions and make them a short five minutes to start with.

Touch, brush, massage and talk softly to give your rescue a sense of peace and security. Next, find the safe spots. Your scaredy cat will find places where he feels secure, whether it is in a pet bed, a perch, a bed or on top of the refrigerator.

Touch the right places: under the chin and around the cheeks, shoulders and chest. Do not approach from the top of the head because this can be seen as intimidating. Use slow motion, caressing softly to carry your message of gentle affection. And once you find the right stroke, keep at it because the repetition will further soothe the catís fear. Sitting on a couch with just having your arm alongside the cat or letting him rest against you, also works wonders.

Find the right brush because that gives you a way to make an enjoyable connection without actually touching the cat. And talking to your scaredy cat with soft voice Ė even singing to your cat and using his name in the song, will get the cat used to your tones. Enjoy the experience of bringing new life into a cat who perhaps has forgotten what it means to be a pet and connect with a human. It is well worth it!

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