Here are some tips on how to approach and help to improve some of the difficult cats.
1. Go slowly! These types of cats probably have limited, if any, experience with humans and the experience may not have been positive. Their feet have never left the ground except their own volition, so they probably won’t be receptive to being picked up for awhile.
2. If hissing, spitting or lunging occurs when you open the cage, you may be at risk for a nasty bite or scratch if you reach in. Try using a long bird feather (many are in the Cat Room or can be purchased at a pet supply store) to gently stroke the top and sides of the cat’s head and talk softly. This helps handling difficult cats and they learn how to accept touching.
3. When you feel that the cat is ready to go a little further, open the cage slowly, stand or sit in front of the cage for a few minutes until the cat adjusts to your presence. Move one hand into the cage slowly and extend one finger toward the cat’s nose. She will want to smell it; if she retreats, further extend your hand. She may cover, but you can probably brush the top of her head with your finger, between her ears. The goal is to maximize the cat’s ability to accept socialization while minimizing your chances of giving blood. If you try to pet the side of her head or under her chin before she’s ready, you are at greater risk of getting bitten because she’ll have a better aim for tasty fingers.
4. If you are attempting to handle a difficult cat, try during a quiet time. Positive reinforcement during your visit is crucial.
5. Once the cat has become accustomed to touch (realize that this may require several visits over several weeks), you may want to try taking the cat out of its cage IN ITS BED. The round beds are the easiest to work with because you can nearly fold it in half, holding it “closed” so that kitty doesn’t escape.
6. Cats with little human contact may be leery of having their backs petted because they feel vulnerable, so it’s best not to rush into anything. If the cat seems too antsy to be out of the cage, keep petting her inside the cage. Rushing the cat into a situation for which she’s not ready may cause a set-back.
In my experience, but with exceptions, male cats are easier to socialize. Females seem to be a bit more uptight and harder nuts to crack.
Most difficult cats that come into the Shelter — but again with some exceptions — are more scared than outright aggressive. Biting, swatting, and scratching are merely defensive mechanisms used to combat fear.
7. Seek out a cat volunteer if you’d like to work with the difficult cats but are feeling a little shy about it.
8. Try not to let the cat see your fear. Show her that you are kind and gentle, but confident about who’s in control. It is important to forgive. A small tabby kitten about six months old named Jigsaw bit my index finger nearly to the bone. She had escaped from her cage, and I was trying to coax her back in. I caught her off guard and, in a panic, she quickly flipped around, gouging me with her kitten teeth. I forgave her for the bite and persevered through her fearfulness of people (she lived in a cat colony and hadn’t seen much in the way of people in her short life). Now I can hold her outside of her bed in the Cat Room and she purrs as soon as the cage door opens. She truly enjoys the attention and has become quite playful.
In the long run, the difficult cats truly appreciate your efforts, as do the owners who provide loving homes to felines who once had no chance of having one.