When she came to us via the Humane Society, she was a terrified nine year old weighing a mere seven pounds. Her body was tense, her eyes owl-wide and staring, afraid that if she let down her guard for an instant something terrible would happen to her.
Maybe something terrible already had.
We don’t know much of her history. Based on her demeanor, I imagine she belonged to an older person, maybe someone who died or ended up having to go into a nursing home. Or maybe she belonged to someone who lived alone, lost their job, and was forced to give her up. At any rate, she was in the shelter for quite a long while before someone adopted her the week before we showed up. Apparently, the jamoke in question kept her overnight and returned her the very next day because, “She won’t come out from under the bed.”
The word ‘stupid’ comes to mind.
Can you imagine her confusion and fear? Taken from her home into the noise and chaos of an animal shelter. Taken from there into another strange place, one with (perhaps) loud kids or other animals, maybe both, she does the smart thing and seeks shelter until she can work out what’s happened to her. And what occurs? The very next morning, she’s dragged out of her hiding place, stuffed back into a cat carrier, and returned to the shelter. No wonder she spent her days crammed at the back of her cage, wild-eyed, puffed up as huge as she could get, not eating, hissing at anyone who approached. Those people had absolutely no patience. They never even gave her a chance.
When we came in looking to adopt, three months after losing our beloved Curie, Gypsy (who was then called Mitzi) was not our first choice. How could she be? But there was something about her, something that drew us back to her cage again and again.
It turned out that the way to her heart was through her stomach and I have a shelter volunteer to thank for that. She had figured out that Gypsy liked a particular cat treat they use. When she saw me looking at her, she pressed a handful of treats into my palm and urged me to push them, one at a time, through the wire mesh. Gypsy ate each one. At the end, when I opened her cage, she retreated to the back, but never hissed or struck out at me as I lifted her out. (That’s when I realized she wasn’t big; it was all hair.)
We brought her home (along with Tuna; something she’ll never forgive us for) and sequestered them in an upstairs bedroom with the door open (mostly for Tuna’s benefit — that cat is bomb-proof). For the first two days, Gypsy stayed beneath the bed, venturing out at night to use the litterbox and have something to eat or drink. After 48 hours, she climbed onto the bed. She would dart back under the minute anyone came into the room, but we never forced her to “be” anywhere, just spoke to her (even if we couldn’t see her), and left her alone. Soon, she was spending most of her time out of her hiding place (although not leaving the bedroom). Little by little, her scope of exploration increased. Sure we encouraged her (sometimes by carrying her downstairs only to have her immediately flee back to her aerie), but it really didn’t take long for her to understand that this was a safe place, that the dogs had no interest in her beyond a good sniff (and maybe a cuddle, in Bella’s case), that she didn’t need to be afraid.
That was two years ago. The dogs are gone now and it’s just her and Tuna. She still has her days when fear sends her darting behind a piece of furniture, but for the most part she’s a calm and stable cat. She spends her days on the office rug (or more often the chair) or the back of the couch. She greets us when we come home. She comes looking for affection and dispenses it in liberal doses. I believe that she is content and happy.
This is not to pat ourselves on the back. The work was Gypsy’s. We just gave her the space in which to do it. But it makes me wonder. How content and happy would we all be if someone were patient with us, if they gave us the space to grow our confidence and encouraged us to take risks? We are all walking wounded, in our way. We have things that have impacted us adversely. What joy to come back from that, to turn that troubled time around and realize that it’s safe to trust, that there are those who care. What bliss to rediscover love.