Shy Cats: Diamonds in the Rough and Worth the Investment
by Mary Sper
Adoption day. Two cages. Two cats. CAT#1 is your image of the perfect pet — outgoing, shamelessly playful, a lap kitty, incessantly purring. “Great!” you say to yourself. “This cat certainly will love and appreciate me!” In the other cage sits CAT#2 — equally stunning but shy and fearful…looking as if its one wish in the world is to make you disappear if only it had the power to do so. “Hmm. This one doesn’t seem to like let alone need me.” Sure, CAT #1 seems the obvious choice but there is no guarantee it will be the better companion in the long run. The fact is most people don’t naturally gravitate to the shy cats, but if they’d scratch the surface they might be pleasantly surprised at the gem that lies beneath. Even the shyest cat can be a playful, loving companion given enough time and patience to adjust and trust…perhaps for the first time. Although they may not know how to show it, the shy ones DO need us and the special bond that develops can be mutually rewarding for cat and human alike.
We should appreciate and respect shy cats for what they are. So, what IS a “shy” cat? Unfortunately, rescue cats come from a myriad of grim situations and the traumas they endure often are known only to them. Regardless of the circumstances bringing them to us there is commonality among shy cats, i.e., something happened whereby they lack or lose trust in people and they need our help to make a turnaround. SHY CATS ARE NOT FERAL. They are tame and genuinely enjoy the presence of people in calm, familiar settings, but tend to be skittish and lukewarm about being handled unless done on their own terms. Instant lap cats they’re not and may never be, but time and effort invested by even one kind person can help “scaredy cats” blossom. Sounds hard to believe but it’s true.
China was rescued as a small kitten with her siblings from an abandoned car. She and her sister Chanel, both mild mannered but very shy, were in ICRA foster care for roughly two years before being adopted. Although both progressed gradually in the foster home, they never let their comical personalities shine through on adoption days. Week after week they dreaded being put on display as much as we dreaded seeing two wonderful cats passed by without a second glance. But perseverance paid off. China and Chanel now enjoy the security of new families who were willing to cater to the needs of shy cats. Progress reports on China over a period of a few months exceeded even our expectations. It seems China knew she was finally home.
“This is sort of like watching a mystery unfold in slow motion, with lots of surprises. Yesterday when I was petting China, she suddenly flopped over on her side! She jumped back up like she had just realized what she’d done, but then she did it twice more and let me pet her side briefly… But the funniest stuff has been the last two nights. Until this point, I never really saw her doing full play… Now she’s playing with me in the room, seemingly oblivious to my presence. Or maybe showing off?” [27 July 2001]
“China continues to make progress. She approaches me on her own now, and in the mornings actually seems more interested in pets than treats. She has the cutest little ‘mew.'” She also appears to be a lot more relaxed now, and as a result I’m seeing a lot more of her goofiness. Also I find her curled up luxuriously on the couch when I come home more often!” [4 August 2001]
Shy cats aren’t for everyone, particularly first time cat owners, chaotic or loud homes with small children and dogs, or those expecting instant gratification with a new pet. Just like people, cats — even the well-adjusted ones — are complex and sensitive. Bonding isn’t automatic and goes best with cat savvy people who give them time to get their bearings and just let them BE. In the case of shy cats, the cliché “good things come to those who wait” certainly applies. Through careful introduction and taking cues from the cat – subtle leg rubs, come hither meows, curious stares, probing encroachments while you’re sitting on the couch – you can gradually move the goalposts as the cat reaches each plateau of trust. Like any friendship worth having, the time invested will pale in comparison to the special bond that can last 15-20 years.
ICRA has several sweet, shy cats. See our Adoptable Cats page to read through cat bios or email us and we can tell you about many others waiting for adoption. Open your heart and give them a chance.
“Saving just one [cat] won’t change the world… but, surely, the world will change for that one [cat]…” – Unknown author