Many of the cats at the Sanctuary are here for behavioural reasons. For the most part, that means that they have been surrendered because they pee and poop in the wrong places; the third common behavioural category is aggression.
I’m not including ferals in this category; ferals are by nature fearful, and frequently believe that attack is the best defence. For the most part their “attack” consists of hissing, and trying to look as fearsome as they can. You can’t walk into Pen 8 without a display of teeth from Smithy – but it’s interesting that he hangs around while I scoop the back litter-box, and listens while I talk to him. As long as I don’t make eye contact and don’t make obvious moves towards him, he’s ready to listen (though not to be touched).
When I think of aggressive cats, I’m thinking more of the ones who have been surrendered to us because their aggression has been unmanageable in a home. And it’s interesting that very often those same aggressive cats calm down at the Sanctuary and show little sign of the reason they were surrendered.
Handsome Eli was apparently adopted out twice, and returned because of his behaviour. With us, he appears pretty calm – he’s not always friendly with other cats, but with humans he shows no signs of aggression (other than assertively wanting to get into the med cage!). I think it’s likely that he was mis-handled in some way; as cat-people know, some cats just don’t like being picked up, or are over-sensitive to petting, and it becomes very important to read their body-language.
Big black Cole was very aggressive in his home, and when he first came to us, his cage was labelled “med staff only” because he was an angry boy. Since being released, he has calmly made himself at home in the front courtyard, and solicits attention from people. Like Leland and Tigger, he will occasionally ask to be picked up, and his only fault is that he really wants to be on the other side of every door.
For a good while we’ve had Puffin labelled as a dangerous cat for visitors; he asks for petting and then suddenly changes his mind – probably when the petting over-stimulates him. Though we still warn new visitors, Puffin has his fan-club; he is particularly fond of attention from young women, and absolutely adores Anne’s daughter Selena, who lets him cuddle with no sign of aggression. Selena’s a very calm person, and Puffin obviously relaxes and feels at ease with her.
But on the flip side, we have our share of cats who have not settled in like this. Gray Gizmo persists in being erratically aggressive with both cats and humans; for the most part, he’s The Cat Who Walks By Himself, but occasionally he will allow a little petting. It’s rather like living with some teenagers – a perfectly nice person suddenly has a mood swing, and Dr Jekyll becomes Mr Hyde. Gizmo is young, so hormones may still be at play. That’s also true of his lookalike in the SingleWide – gray Jax (Jackie) will sit quietly with Marty for ten minutes of petting, and then suddenly attack. I suspect that with both Jax and Gizmo, the sensation of petting builds up to the point where it is no longer calming; we all need to be really aware of tensions and twitches.
ge and hormones are no longer a factor for Lumi – this pretty girl has her mood swings just for the sake of it. For a while she wore a red collar as a warning for people around; she’s a little calmer these days, but we all have to be aware that she may not be in a petting space.
Tubby Sophie is one of the cats that has come out of Pen 2. While the pen was closed, Sophie was often the greeter at the gate, and visitors quickly discovered that it was necessary to restrict petting to Sophie’s head, and not touch her back at all. Now that she’s out and about we’ve found it necessary to put a collar on her to distinguish her from all the other tabbies. She has become even more sensitive about being touched – and yet she’s often the first to leap onto someone’s lap in the tea-room. And with Sophie, it’s not just claws, it’s also teeth. The collar alone may not be enough – she may need a warning bell as well!
The cat who wins the prize for mood swings is pretty Cher in the front courtyard. She is anxious for attention, weaving around legs and quick to jump into laps. With male visitors in particular she is very affectionate – until with no warning, she suddenly swats. The presence of other cats doesn’t help, but anything can set Cher off!
These are all cats that under other circumstances would probably be “euthanized” (a term I object to, in this context). I am so thankful that here at the Sanctuary they are allowed to have their mood swings, just like humans sometimes do, and that, other than the occasional “time out for bad behaviour”, they can just get on with the business of living with a bunch of other cats.