The girls at the front desk told me ‘he’s not friendly, be careful.’
I worked my way down the list of names before finally reaching him. In the cage was a ‘hide-a-box’ and in the ‘hide-a-box’ was Ricky. Quietly passing another day, perhaps resigned to the idea that this was to be his fate.
I opened the cage door and he leaned further back into the box: his shelter within the shelter. I assured him that I wasn’t going to hurt him; I only wanted to take some photos of him for his adoption profile, so we could find him a loving, forever home. He would not be coaxed out of the box.
When I had my photos, I thanked him and attempted to give him a little fuss. Slowly, I reached toward him, treat in hand. As my arm reached the box, Ricky hissed, and growled. Standing on guard in his tiny cardboard box; he reached out and wildly tore at the flesh of my arm. I looked into his beautiful green, almost yellow eyes and saw fear, anger, and most obvious – pain. Ricky was suffering emotionally. I could not, in good conscience walk away from this cat.
After discussions with the shelter supervisor, and my husband, I took Ricky home and began the process of rehabilitation: working to socialize him and build his trust.
I made Ricky comfortable in our laundry room: a large room with ample space for bed, food and water, and his litter box. The space was hardly an issue, as Ricky chose to spend his time wedged behind the washing machine. Even when it was on, he would not come out from his hiding place. As I folded laundry, I would carry on ‘one-sided’ conversations. At breakfast and dinner times, I would sit by the laundry tub next to the food and talk to him.
After a couple of weeks, I decided it was time to initiate the second phase of rehabilitation: tough love. I put his food down, picked up the broom, and gently manipulated Ricky out from behind the washing machine. I gave him space, sitting more than a few feet from him and I spoke to him over his moaning and groaning, for as long as I could before he ‘high-tailed’ it back to safety. He would not eat his food in front of me.
Another week passed. As soon as he saw the broom, and without needing persuasion, Ricky would give me a look of repugnance and make his way to the side of the washing machine. He would sit, under the laundry tub, biding time until I left him in peace. He had only just stopped moaning at me during this process. That would start again soon enough! This week, I decided to attempt contact. As I spoke with Ricky, I told him of my intention to reach out to him. The forewarning didn’t help. Again, the hissing, moaning, scratching, and even the occasional bite ensued. I powered through, moving away only after successfully imposing the positive version of a ‘scratch’ on top of his head, behind his ear, or under his chin. I ensured that he knew where my hand was, at all times, by keeping it in full view, in front of him. No sudden approach from behind that would frighten him. I believed, establishing this physical connection was vital to gaining Ricky’s trust. This week seemed the most difficult of the process, and although the next couple was not without a few war wounds, I felt I was winning the battle.
Over the following weekend, we were away for five days, and my dad stayed with the furries. My dad accepted the challenge whole-heartedly: he too, a lover of animals had developed a soft spot for Ricky. Success was his! Upon our return, we learned that Ricky was not only eating in front of my dad, he would take the occasional treat from his hand! This was great progress.
I decided to take away his refuge, and moved Ricky into the guest bathroom. I left the door open, and secured a baby-gate across it (to keep Henry and Reese out). He spent most of this week behind the toilet; however, he would come out when we arrived with food and would greet us verbally. Ricky no longer hissed, and rarely did he swat us when contact was made. In fact, he would occasionally purr!
As I wandered downstairs to serve dinner one day, the following week, I caught the ‘tail end’ of Ricky sailing over the gate. I tried to contain my excitement and remain calm. One morning, as I made my way to the coffee-maker, in a zombie-like state, I caught a glimpse of the little lion as he flew back down the stairs. I removed the gate.
The process of integration was not seamless. Although Charlie; our senior feline, had dealt with many additions to the family, and guests, her patience was running thin. Henry and Reese; our small puppy-mill rescues, displayed herding tendencies (thankfully not predatory): they chased Ricky, would scruff him gently, and when he slid from their grasp, the chase would begin again. So, now we needed to work with the dogs as well as continue our work with Ricky.
The next few weeks were a mix of emotions and a continuous test of will and faith. During this time, Ricky found his confidence and learned how much fun can be had with dog toys.
The sound of his purr now fills the room and if the dogs get too frisky, he stands his ground and will give them a little smack. Reese chooses to ignore him and Henry will engage in what is now more ‘play’, than rough-housing between the boys. Often, it is Ricky that initiates the game.
Like so many beautiful beings sitting in their cages, Ricky had a rough start in life. Finding themselves’ homeless and without companionship, some will lose hope, and give up. I have seen that empty look in the eyes of far too many and it breaks my heart.
Let’s not give up on them. We can make a profound difference in their lives: with the dedication of time, patience and a whole lot of love. Please consider fostering or adopting. In my opinion, there is nothing in the world more rewarding than witnessing such transformation.