RAPS is short for Regional 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.

Friday, September 22, 2017

Moody, but Cute - CHER

Cher - guard-cat at the gate - BC
Visitors to the Sanctuary are quickly accosted in the front courtyard by a very pretty little grey tabby. Cher came to the City Shelter a few months ago, stuffed in a bag with her friend, and surrendered by someone who said they’d been hanging around his home.  Both Cher and Christina were transferred to us when it was obvious that they were not socialized, and they lived in adjacent cages in the Connor building.
Cher loves to play - MD
For the first while there were warning signs over both cages, and a fair amount of growling and swatting.  In Cher’s case, the growling eased off as the curiosity increased, and she spent more and more time at the front of the cage.  Christina still prefers the safety of her cage, even though it’s open now; Cher took very little time to venture out and explore the big wide world.
A first encounter with bubbles - MW
Cher’s mood swings are pretty marked – she’s obviously prone to over-stimulation, and she transitions from cuddle-kitty to killer without much warning. We’re used to warning visitors about Puffin, who also has mood swings – now we need alarm bells for Cher!
Where did it go? - MW
Puffin typically sidles up to people and demand petting – he is particularly susceptible to young women! But you have to watch his body language carefully – he’s nice till suddenly he isn’t, and the twitching tail doesn’t give much warning.  Similarly with Cher – she will launch herself at a male visitor and demand attention, and then suddenly turn on him.
Who's the next victim? - BC
Part of it may just be her age and upbringing (or lack thereof) – we see similar behaviour from grey Gizmo in the back, who can be a very brattish teenager when he chooses.  Part of it may just be that she has never learned how to interact with humans – when Chimo came to us it was because his usual mode of interaction was attack - especially when human hands and feet were within reach. With a lot of patience from the Kitty Comforters, he's now a pretty mellow fellow.
Chimo at his most cute! - MW
But I suspect that it’s a bit more than that with Cher; she’s more in the Lumi mode. For a long time we had white Lumi wear a collar as a warning that this cat was cute but would bite. And as with Cher and Puffin, there’s little or no warning.  Orange Buster-Baby, who we lost a couple of years ago, used to have to be caged when visitors were around because something in his brain just made him attack for no reason.
Such a pretty face - but not to be trusted! - MW
Visitors very often forget that cats are carnivores who are hardwired to hunt, and moving fingers are irresistible. It’s up to us to provide cats like Cher and Gizmo with interactive toys to exercise their hunting instincts, and not offer them fingers to practice on.  And we hope that as they mature, they do so, not into the Baby/Lumi mode, but into the Chimo one of being lovable and loved.

Blog by Brigid Coult
Photos by Brigid Coult, Melanie Draper, Michele Wright


  1. Cher is so pretty! She's always so friendly and attention/lap seeking, but either she doesn't want my pets at all or I just don't know how to pet her. I've tried all kinds of petting with her but it seems she just wants to sit on my lap without being pet! While she tolerates head and head scratches, anything past the neck and she growls at me. Oh well! I'd say she's unlike Lumi in that she never hurts me without warning, whereas Lumi and Emily and other cats like them are a lot less predictable.

  2. I suggest that Cher's aggression is actually learned behavior. In her pre-sanctuary life, her humans probably ignored her signals of displeasure until she lashed out. Over time, she learned that using more subtle signals is a waste of her time and that most humans don't understand anything but violence. She's just doing what she thinks she has to do to communicate with people and isn't being malicious or random.

    If this is true, it explains why she merely growls when she doesn't like what I'm doing. I'm careful to stop petting when she starts waving her tail. After a few visits, she learned that I can understand more subtle signals and doesn't feel compelled to use violence toward me.

    If visitors and volunteers are given strong directions to stop petting when she waves her tail, she might unlearn her violent tendencies over time. Consistency would be very important.

  3. Here are some tips for enjoying Cher's company in 2020:

    (1) She is tame and her behavior is quite predictable. Since this post was written, she has relaxed a lot and has learned to give more and clearer warnings to people. In fact, I consider her to be as safe for visitors to interact with as most of the other tame cats are. As easily over-stimulated as she is, I haven't seen her bite or scratch without giving clear warnings first.

    (2) Pay careful attention for tail-flicking, ear-flicking, and growling. These are usually her first signals of discontent, but please remember that they're *not* threats to hurt you. Her typical threats are a long, low-pitched meow, swatting, and pretending to bite.

    (3) The easiest way to make friends with her is to let her sit on your lap without petting her; this avoids any chance of over-stimulating her. However, when she's in the right mood and on the right lap, she can sometimes enjoy a lot of petting.

    In my experience, she is most likely to enjoy petting on the back of her neck and under her chin. The top of her head can also be a good place.

    (4) She is anxious. You can reassure her by making slow blinks; she understands what they mean and likes to exchange them with trusted humans. Try not to surprise her when you reach out to pet her.

    (5) Expect her to complain if she isn't ready to leave when you are. She will jump off if you stand up fully, though.

    (6) She does *not* like to be picked up.

    (7) She might growl while she stands up to reposition herself on your lap. This is more common when your lap isn't fully horizontal or your knees aren't locked together. If this happens to you, rest assured that you probably haven't done anything wrong. She knows that people tend to stay still when they're growled at, so she growls to ensure that you won't move while she repositions herself.

    This behavior can be surprising even for cat-savvy people because it defies our expectations of what cat growling means. I think it's endearingly creative, though. <3