Most of our Sanctuary cats are ferals, semi-ferals, owner-surrenders and health problems.
The third category – the owner-surrenders – are often surrendered for their bad bathroom habits (which are sometimes a result of human-caused stress), but we also have several cats who have come to us with an “aggressive” label on them. In fact it’s rare to find a truly aggressive cat – we see it more as “cattitude”, resulting from the owner’s unwillingness to let the cat set the pace in being handled – and many of these quirky felines are very truly loved at the Sanctuary.
We probably all know a person who shies away from much in the way of physical contact, who pulls away from hugs. Cats can be like that – though unfortunately many people tend to expect them to conform to “cute and cuddly” norms of behaviour.
Once a cat has been returned to the Shelter for “aggression”, it is not easily re-adoptable. It comes to the Sanctuary where the staff and volunteers around it know that we need to allow it to move at its own speed in interacting, and where, if there is to be any hope of a final home, we can take our time to make sure that a potential owner is truly cat-savvy and understands the quirks of the cat they’re choosing.
When an “aggressive” cat comes to the Sanctuary, we will give it the time it needs to feel safe – fear is often the primary cause of a cat lashing out. We allow the cat to choose its time to come for petting or to jump up in a lap – and we warn Sunday visitors that picking up a cat is never a good idea.
Jobie is our resident Grouchy cat – she never got the memo about how cats should (theoretically) be cute and cuddly, and her initial time with us was punctuated with growls and swats. We let Jobie know that she could have time alone, or she could be near humans, as she pleased; she has discovered that she has favourite people who let her sit with them, and let her go with no pressure; when she’s in a good mood she will reach out for petting, and when she isn’t, she’ll go and hide somewhere until she’s ready to cuddle again.
Eli was surrendered for aggression – like Jobie, he is very beautiful, and it’s easy to see that people might have reached out to pet him or pick him up when he wasn’t ready for it. He lounges around elegantly, with a “you will worship me” attitude, and he’s not afraid to let other cats know that he’s boss. We’ve actually seen very little real aggression from him.
Puffin is a cat that we always have to warn Sunday visitors about. In fact, in the right mood, he can be very affectionate (especially if the cat-fan is a female teen!) but when he hasn’t asked for petting, he’s not slow to say “Stop! Now!” He is exactly the sort of cat that is behind our closing the gates to under-six children and requiring careful supervision of older ones – he’s not nasty, but he’s quick to react when he’s not ready for contact. Like many of our reactive cats, he actually has quite a fan-club!
The same is true for pretty Cher, who loves attention, and then gets overwhelmed by it. Cher’s favourite people know that to allow her to sit on a lap, with moderate touch, also requires an awareness of her body language, so that you know when she’s about to be overcome by sensation and has to react.
In recognition of her extreme cattitude, Sophie wears a collar. She is another girl who will be affectionate with her chosen people, but can suddenly feel she’s had too much. Gentle petting around the head and ears is often appreciated, and she will leap into laps when she’s in the mood, but you will also sometimes encounter Sophie in serious grumble mode.
Grey Gizmo has kept the attack aspects of his feral origins. We tend to think about Gizmo as a brattish teen, because he’s so small, but he is actually a mature adult, and just likes acting the brat – both with humans and with other cats. He has recently come up against another cat as sparky as he is –Jasper has been moved from the front courtyard into the back, where he has more room to roam, and more cats that will stand up to his bullying ways. He’s discovering that he is no longer the big fish in a small pool. Jasper likes human attention and has his fan-club – but we all know that teeth and claws are only a whisker away.
These are all cats who would not show well at the Shelter, and who would need someone who was very cat-savvy, and ready to make them The Only Cat. Sadly, most of our experienced adopters have established cat-families already, and these furry over-reactors just have to learn to make their own space at the Sanctuary. Most of them are so full of purr-sonality that their cattitude only endears them to us even more!