For the last eight months, the centre cage in the Single-Wide has been occupied by a Grump.
To be fair, Pandora has her reasons for being a Grump. She was surrendered to us for aggression after her owner went into assisted care; she was a one-person cat, and change was very hard on her. She is a SuperSenior – a phrase that applies to cats over 15 years old, who are more likely to have problems like hyperthyroid, kidney disease, UTIs and other problems. At nearly 18 years old, Pandora has all the above, and possibly others, and our job is to make what time she has left as comfortable as possible.
She’s a bit overweight, probably arthritic, and came to us with such heavy matting in her fur that it must have been been very painful for her. She actually had to have much of it shaved initially – a process she didn’t appreciate. The staff have been medicating her, but her skin looked worse for awhile before it dried out a bit, and her fur is beginning to grow back in a wispy way. The centre cage gives her lots of room to move about, but in classic old-lady-cat style, she prefers to spend her time sleeping, either hidden behind a drape or curled in a cat-tree nest. “Up” is key; she does not choose to spend much time at floor level, other than for bathroom breaks, and she has claimed that upper level for her own.
The cage has actually been open for some time, but Pandora has left the other cats in no doubt that this is Her territory. Warm and fuzzy are not terms to apply to Pandora; another cat approaching her, and the growl leaves both intruder and observer in no doubt that she “Vants to Be Alone” – a classic Garbo Cat! Noelle and Marie occasionally occupy the lower level, but are more comfortable being away from their irritable neighbour, and prefer to room with Little Cat and Menjosie.
The stairway of cat-trees that makes it possible to access the upper level without discomfort unfortunately works both ways, and the warning rumble is often heard as she discourages visitors. This usually includes humans, though we’re not hated quite as much as other felines – unless we bear medications. She reminds me of an elderly lady who’s been moved into a seniors’ home after a life of independence. She doesn’t want to admit that she’s more comfortable than she used to be; she thinks the staff are busy-bodies who should leave her alone, and she has no time for the other residents.
And yet when I visited last week with chicken tidbits, I was astonished to see Pandora emerge and come and join the chicken crowd. I use the word “join” loosely – she sat at a distance, and when offered a tidbit, was very unfriendly with Paylan, who has no boundaries when it comes to getting chicken! But as the supplies vanished and the other cats drifted away, Pandora came closer and closer to me, allowing me to pet her. Initially, I applied the “reactive cat” technique – stay above collar level: head, ears, cheeks, throat – nut as she remained relaxed, I was able to stroke further down her body, including the bald patches. When she decided she’d had enough, she wandered off without any fuss.
Visiting her again this week, the goodwill was gone: “don’t bother me!” was the strong message. Part of it may be position; Jazz, for instance, who had many similar old-lady problems in settling in, now loves to be petted on her shelf, but obviously feels less safe on the floor. Other cats similarly – we do loom over them, after all, and eye-level contact may be preferred. Pandora, however, chose to come to me at floor level, and that may be her comfort-place when it comes to petting. And we need to let her make the decisions about when and where contact feels safe; reactivity often has its root in fear, and only time and good experiences will let her know that she no longer needs to be fearful and quite so grumpy.
Blog by Brigid Coult
Photos by Brigid Coult & Karen Nicholson