I have never been a cat person, having cohabited with a dog for most of my life; I’ve always been on #TeamDog. However, recently, I adopted three stray cats; two boys and a little girl. The two boys are brothers and came first, with the girl coming a couple of months later.
I never thought I would adopt a cat, much less end up with three of these furry monsters and yet, here we are. The two boys, Smokey and Bandit, came to us because Bandit decided it was his home and that was the end of it.
As young babies, the two boy strays would seek shelter on our back porch. At the time, my dog Libby was getting older, growing ever more sick; ultimately she would die. I wrote about that journey and the aftermath – I didn’t really need anything else on my plate.
The boys kept showing up and looking hungry, so of course I fed them. Bandit does not know a stranger and would beg to be held. Smokey is more wary around people, but he and Bandit are mostly inseparable. One day, I left the back door open without realizing it and we have been a family since then.
Bandit naturally always fit in. He would socialize with visitors and would not stop until he got the requisite amount of petting and belly rubs. Smokey, not so much. My shy boy at first would not naturally come to me except when he wanted food. He did not want to be petted, and snuggling was absolutely out of the question. Socializing with strangers was also absolutely out of the question.
It took time and a multitude of snuggles for our bond to become natural. Now he loves to be petted and snuggled and generally makes an appearance when company is around. On occasion, he deigns to allow strangers to pet him and/or rub his belly; treats are always welcomed.
My little baby Iggy came to us in a similar, but yet remarkably different fashion. Momma cat brought the runt of her litter to our back porch, and stayed with her until I came outside and found her. Here was this little grey ball of fur, mostly skin and bones, incredibly malnourished, and on the verge of death. I took her in immediately, nourished her to health and then released her after a couple of weeks to Momma who regularly came to check for her.
About two weeks later, she was back, once again malnourished and on the brink of death. Nursing her back to health this time was oddly different and took longer. It no longer seemed practical or humane to release her so she joined our family.
Her early days in the family were tumultuous, and she got lost a bit in the messiness. We went through the end of Libby’s life, a flea infestation that almost drove us nuts, and a multitude of health issues including a cancer scare.
It was only later that I realized how this affected Iggy. She bonded early and easily with the boys, and they love each other. They also want her food and toys even when they have their own, and being bigger and part of a duo, they are successful in getting it unless supervised.
Iggy was the most withdrawn, and the hardest to bond with of all my fur babies, ever. As recognition dawned, so did guilt over my complicity in her lack of socialization. She didn’t know or understand these big people who fed her. She was fascinated, yet scared of us. She ran from me at sight, yet not far enough not to see where I was going or what I was doing.
It became a mission to bond with her, yet I did not want to unduly intrude upon her need for space and privacy. The first thing I did was separate her food from the boys and place it in a separate room so she could feel safe and secure while eating. We began to spend time alone together in my writing room where I could talk to her while I wrote.
Early on, she squeaked at the sound of my voice. She would not come to me when I called her name. She still hid, but gradually things began to change. We were making progress, but they were baby steps.
At first, she would circle around my feet rubbing herself against my ankles. Any attempt to pick her up would be met with a swift departure. We found common ground in letting her set the pace and in conversation.
I talked to her while I wrote, and she gradually became used to my voice. Soon, she would start joining me on the couch while I relaxed watching Netflix or gaming. As her comfort level grew, her desire to hide became less and less.
As our comfort level grew, her personality began to shine. She grew more comfortable around “big people”, and instead of hiding, began to hang around, and watch our antics. There are still times when she craves peace and solitude, but those are now few and far between.
While I finish this piece, Iggy has assumed the position of guardian angel over my shoulder. A relationship once fraught with a fearful fascination has now grown into one of companionship and acceptance. While she has learned a lot about me, I have learned valuable lessons of my own; we all need nurturing, and so do our relationships.