This is another entry about Kuno, my cat, whom I wrote about a few days ago. I thought that it might be good to talk a bit about how we worked through her fear of people. I suppose that I should mention that I am not a cat behaviorist, so this does not constitute professional advice, although it lines up with the research that I have done on the topic.
Anyway, Kuno was terrified of us when we brought her home. At least, it was pretty intense after she got back from the vet and her respiratory infection and ear mites cleared up. (She had a rough kittenhood.) So, at that point, Kuno pretty much only came around when we fed her, but even then, she came after we left the area around her dish. She was scared, and I knew that she didn’t trust us.
I was going through a dark season myself, and I also had trust issues, so I understood that results wouldn’t be fast. On the first day, I picked her up and held her to my chest, supporting her weight and scratching her ears while she hissed in my ear. I only kept her there for a few seconds- maybe 20 or 30- before releasing her and giving her treats as a reward. The next day, I did it again for a few more seconds and with more treats. I increased like this, bit by bit, for maybe two more days, and then I held her for a solid minute. I knew that I was asking her for a lot, so I gave her a full can of tuna after I let her go, and she got the next day or two off.
We started again the next week and just kind of worked our way up to 3 minutes or so, but by then, Kuno wasn’t running away any more. She wasn’t coming to us for attention, but she wasn’t hiding either, so I stopped. She had been learning from her experiences, starting to trust humans a little more each time that we approached her with affection. She knew that she was safe with us, and that was enough for me.
Over the years, she has become more social, and now, she will climb on laps to be petted for whatever duration of time she pleases (but not a second more). It’s really good progress, and I am proud of her for making it.
But the best part of these therapeutic sessions with my cat isn’t really her growth; it’s mine. As I reach out to her and meet her where she is, without expecting more than she can give, I learn to treat myself with the same gentle patience. And that- that is worth the cat scratches and the pain.
Note: The pictured cat isn’t Kuno, because she isn’t really cooperating with me.