As is often the case with the feral cats living at the RAPS sanctuary, I had the opportunity to meet Bessie when she was brought into a cage in the doublewide so the med staff could treat her. Bessie was not overly delighted to meet me, though, and for a long time would hide and/or hiss whenever I had to invade her cage to give her dinner or refresh her water.
Gradually, I started to notice that she'd let me get a lot closer before she hissed, and that she was spending a bit more time watching my movements with interest rather than straight fear. And then this week she surprised me by looking up at me and giving me a little meow when I opened the cage door with her dinner in hand. I looked at the sign on her door and saw that "feral" had been crossed out and "shy - loves tummy rubs and being petted" had been written below it. Under that was another line in a different colour with an added advisory to start slowly.
So I did what the sign said. And before I knew, it Bessie was dancing around with her tail in the air, kneading her blanket and rubbing her head against the sides of the cage. The rubbing made me wince sometimes, as the growth in her ear that staff have been treating still looked pretty sore, but she managed not to get too carried away. And then, seemingly because I was no longer stroking her in the correct manner, she gave me a couple of good smacks to set me straight. I didn't take it too personally -- my now great buddy Colin used to do much the same.
I asked staff what had brought on Bessie's change in attitude and learned that Marianne had been working with her. So of course I had to ask the cat whisperer herself about her experience!
Marianne had previously known Bessie as one of the many barn cats that came to RAPS a few years ago. The tame ones were sent to the No. 5 Rd. shelter for adoption, while the less tame youngsters stayed on at the sanctuary. She remembers how "the youngsters used to all hide out inside their shed, with very few sightings, at least not in daylight. Then, a few braver ones started venturing outside and now most of them, including Bessie, hang out around the gate looking for attention and/or treats." A few of these became tame over time thanks to the efforts of "kitty comforters" such as Judy Watson, but Marianne doesn't remember Bessie being one of them.
What inspired Marianne to do some kitty comforting herself with Bessie? "She looked so cute and 'peeped' at me as I passed her cage so I thought I’d try to make contact. It was love at first touch, at least for me!"
When I told her than Bessie had given me a few smacks to go with my cuddles, Marianne admitted she's had a few smacks from Bessie lately too. And it was Marianne who added the extra text (both the invitation to cuddle and the warning to take it slow) to the sign. She thinks the swats could be a sign that Bessie is starting to take her visits for granted, or perhaps that Bessie's just starting to feel better and therefore a bit more feisty, which is all good as far as Marianne's concerned.
"I still think she’s just the cutest little thing," she says "And sincerely hope that she’ll continue to allow at least some friendly contact once she’s back outside."
RAPS is short for Richmond Animal Protection Society, a registered charity and operator of a sanctuary which houses and cares for nearly 500 homeless or abandoned cats in Richmond, BC, Canada. The Neko Files is a celebration of the sanctuary and all those who live and work there.