This wonderful pair of eyes belongs to a cat who’s still not quite sure that he belongs here.
When new cats come in, they are caged for a while so that first the staff, and then the Kitty Comforters, can have a chance to make contact with them. For the first while the cage bears a DO NOT ENTER – Med Staff Only warning, so that regular volunteers know that they do not need to clean or feed in a cage with an angry cat ready to lunge. Once we’re more certain of a cat’s reaction, then they can be approached with gentleness – sometimes with a volunteer just sitting in the cage and talking, and then progressing to touch with a wand or a scratcher, and then with a hand.
For a long time this was all we would see of Ruff, if he was not actually hiding behind his drape. Having a hiding place is important to a new and frightened cat – but gradually we try to wean them of the need to hide all the time, and help them to understand that humans are not there to hurt them.
Ruff came to us from a woman in Surrey who had been feeding ferals for 5 years. She said “I always had a soft spot for him. He was my first feral. I came home from a trip to China in 2014 and saw this cat eating the fallen fruit from my plum tree and I thought, “that’s weird!” I started feeding him & giving him water in the back part of my yard & eventually called VOKRA to help trap him. Once trapped they said he was 7 years old, had been trapped in a horse farm not far from my house, fixed & released”. She had to move, and knew that the necessary renovations would mean noise and disturbance; before she left, she wanted to know that the cats would be all right, and she contacted us.
Ruff arrived at the Sanctuary early this year, along with his “buddy” Hamlet. In actual fact, there was not a great deal of buddying going on; the two did not get along, and Ruff – probably the older of the two at around 12 years old, usually got the short end of the stick. Often when cats come in together, we cage them together – this was not advisable this time, and the two of them were housed at opposite ends of the Double-Wide.
When the med staff felt that both were ready for release, the cage doors were opened, and Hamlet made his way onto the back deck of the Double-Wide – the favoured space for many of the ferals. There’s enough open space, and cat-runs for wary ferals to stay out of reach. Ruff, in contrast, hunkered down, as if to say “You can’t make me move!” An open cage is an irresistible draw to some cats, so he had to tolerate visitors, but they showed him no aggression, and he ignored them (as only a cat can!)
Humans, on the other hand, were The Enemy, and were greeted with aggressive lunging and spitting. It took our resident cat-whisperer to see past the facade to the pussycat behind the tiger. Working slowly and carefully, she first got him to accept petting (and belly-rubs) and then persuaded him to allow her to groom him. The enormous cloud of floofy fur she got off him made us realize how appropriate his name was – most of his grey body-fur came out, and his magnificent black coat is now offset by his grey ruff encircling his neck.
Ruff has continued his lunge-and-spit greeting with strangers, but it’s noticeable that it’s only an initial warning, and that he doesn’t make contact. Visitors who approach him gently are now able to reinforce his understanding that we don’t want to hurt him, and increasingly he is ready to relax and accept attention.
There is still some anxiety in his eyes, and too quick a move can produce another lunge-and-spit, but his body language is telling us that he knows he’s safe in his corner. He’s happier to come down and use his litter-box when there’s nobody around, but he’s already using his floor-level bed rather than insisting on being up on the shelf, and we hope that he will start exploring soon. Probably, like Ringo, it’ll be late night or early morning, with few people around. But there’s no hurry – he can take as long as it takes to know that he’s safe, and that a Ruff life at RAPS is not a bad thing.
one photo by Wendy Roberts