Brigid posted a blog about this time last year called “From Swatty to Sweetie”, in which she described several Sanctuary cats who made the transition from being swatty ferals to sweet friendlies. Even if new arrival Chimo had been around then, he probably wouldn’t have made that list because he’s been doing a lot more than just swatting, and is still not quite sweet, but getting close. He was, and sometimes still is a swatter/spitter/lunger/biter/clawer and a very scary cat! Trapped on the streets, Chimo made it quite clear when he first arrived that he wasn’t in the mood to be loved. Being neutered may have improved his disposition but it was also soon obvious that he wasn’t feral. Instead of hiding fearfully as feral cats do, he was keenly interested in what was going on outside his cage door and would happily play with a string toy or bat a ball around– not behaviour for a feral cat!
Clearly, Chimo had human contact before but perhaps not of the most positive kind. From a very early age, kittens learn survival skills by having mock battles with their littermates, chasing each other and chewing on ears, paws and tails to subdue their “prey”. To mature into a people-friendly cat, they need gentle handling from humans to recognize the difference between a well-meaning hand and one that has to be attacked. Encouraging rough play with a kitten allows them to keep that “attack everything and try to kill it” behaviour that Chimo has (had?). Chimo’s lunging, hissing and spitting at anyone who entered his cage is not uncommon behaviour for a cat who’s upset by being in strange surroundings but I believe that his grabbing hands or legs and chomping on them is at least partly the result of being allowed, even encouraged, to continue the rough way that he played as a kitten – it was all fun and games to him!
I’ve always had a soft spot for orange cats, especially ones like Chimo with pink noses and a bit of “cattitude”, so I couldn’t resist trying to get close to this little charmer. I started out by waving a string toy in front of him – he loved attacking it and I was able to use it to fend him off when he tried to attack me. We would do a little circus lion and lion tamer dance inside his cage. After many scratches and bites in response to my attempts to get him to “play nice”, I resorted to wearing an old pair of soft, thick suede gloves to get closer to him without any blood loss. Of course, he’d grab my hand and chew and kick at it but, in between his attempts to kill it, that hand was able to sneak in a few head and ear rubs. He loved that and it was amazing how quickly he learned not to chew on the hand that delivers ear rubs and doesn’t fight back. After a few sessions with me wearing the gloves, he became calm enough for me to pet him with bare hands at least for a little while. As long as I kept my hands out of reach of those claws and teeth, all was well.
I’m happy to report that Chimo’s growing up and getting over his juvenile delinquent ways. Day by day, he’s becoming more gentle and less scary. He still frequently forgets that he’s supposed to behave and will do the “grab and kill” thing so I’m still keeping the gloves nearby but I hope to put them away for good soon. Is Chimo lovable yet? No, but he’s not a lunger anymore!