violetcheetah: (butler)
Thirty days ago, as I wrote about at the time, I adopted a new cat, Precious; she'd been at the shelter where I volunteer for three years without allowing anyone to pet her, until I started working with her and essentially tricked her into allowing touch.  I am borrowing a kennel-type cage until she's ready to explore, and while I've been leaving it open at times, she's not yet ready to venture into the first actual home she's ever been in.  I'm sure it will come with time.  Until then, I do what I often do with kitties at the shelter, and clamber inside the cage to pet her.  And on that front:

She loves belly rubs, but sometimes she's too antsy to lie still for one.  I'd been occasionally rubbing her belly while she was standing, my other hand rubbing her neck.  Then I started lifting her front half up an inch or so sometimes, just to get her used to the concept.  Then one day, she was on the fleece on the floor of the cage instead of on the hammock-shelf.  And I pressed my luck: I let her turn her back, and then I lifted her slightly and pulled/walked her backwards into my lap.  She didn't stay, but she didn't freak out.  I tried again a couple of minutes later, and she paused longer before leaving.  The third time, she didn't leave immediately, and after 30 seconds or so, she slowly, suspiciously settled in.  She stayed for nearly 5 minutes, partly because I managed to refrain from giggling in shocked, hysterical glee.

Now I put her in my lap every time she's on the floor of the cage instead of on the hammock-shelf.  And she stays, for half an hour or more.  Including, the last couple of times, lying sideways enough that I can rub her belly. She can only enjoy belly rubs lying on her left side, so she ends up facing me, so I could see last night as her eyes got that drunken, half-closed look.  Then, for a solid minute, her eyes closed entirely.  It's the first time I've ever petted her when her eyes were closed.  

I've realized that, in a lot of ways, she reminds me of Butler: the type of caution about anything new, the befuddledness of her face, even the texture of her fur, so soft it's like a plush toy.  Looking at her face with her eyes closed, I could see Butler again, feeling him sitting in my lap, settling into contentment and letting go of vigilance.  I miss him dearly.  I love her dearly, for her own self, but I'm also so grateful that she can bring him back so clearly in my mind.  That will fade, I know, and eventually her face will not remind me of another.  There's a way I'm grieving now for that loss, too, for the day when my memories of him will be memories of memories, not ghosts but just wisps of fog that look a little ghostly.  So for now I treasure the pain of the strength of the memories, smile and cry at the same time, and think, "This is right; this is what I should feel."


Three

Mar. 1st, 2014 09:11 pm
violetcheetah: (Default)
[Written May 22, 2013]

I started volunteering at a small cat shelter in November 2011. Precious had been at the shelter since July 2010. She came in as a mother cat, estimated to be about 2 years old — already too old to ever be socialized — and the reasons why she wasn't just spayed and released have been lost to time, but now she's, well, institutionalized. After nearly 3 years in the shelter, no one can touch her. But: she loves to be brushed. Her brush has been duct-taped to a two-foot-long stick, because that's as close as she'll allow a hand to get to her without freaking out. When she's being brushed, she purrs until she drools, falls over, rolls, lets you brush her belly.

I never really cared for Precious. It's odd, because I'm a sucker for scaredy cats. For the year and a third I've volunteered at the shelter, I've spend countless hours with dozens of unsocialized cats, sometimes doing nothing more for weeks than touching a nose, then learning that one spot on only one side of the neck that makes that one cat push against my hand against his will, or that this girl can't resist having her shoulder blades scratched. And many of them get adopted, and it's bittersweet because I miss them, but it feels so good when the untouchable cat seeks you out, then makes in impression on a stranger and gets to have a whole house, a whole human, to himself. I love it. But for some reason, I never tried with Precious. Maybe it was just that tortoiseshells don't do it for me aesthetically; maybe it was just that there were others who were younger, seemed less settled, seemed like they had a chance. Maybe it was that there were other people who spent time with her, had spent time with her for years, now, and it hadn't mattered.

I had an idea four weeks ago. It was something I'd tried with Caleb, another cat who hadn't let anyone touch him but who liked being brushed. Ages ago, my friend had bought a double-thickness fake-fur mitten from Petco, big as an oven mitt, so that she could wrestle with one of her cats who loved to play-fight but didn't know not to use his claws. Unfortunately, the glove wigged him out and he'd run away, so it sat unused in a drawer for years until I brought it to the shelter. I also bought a pair of cheap, stiff leather work gloves. First with Caleb, now with Precious, I donned a work glove, then put the mitt on over it, so that when she inevitably freaked out and lashed out, as Caleb had, her claws wouldn't penetrate.

I didn't hold a lot of hope. Caleb had only been about 9 months old when I started working with him. Precious was probably 5 years old. The first weekend, I spent fifteen minutes at a stretch with her, several times each night, brushing her with one hand, resting the other one — in the doubled gloves — on the cage shelf. I moved the gloved hand a little occasionally, kept brushing. That Sunday, I had a chance and I took it. Her head was to the left of the brush-on-a-stick that was in my left hand, with the gloves on my right hand. I brushed her neck and cheek, and then rested the gloved hand on her back. She's no dummy, and the glare she gave me and my gloved hand said so. But: brush, cheek, yeah, right there, hey, there's something on my back and it's, wait, ear, yes, ear please, hey, what's on my... oh, fine, whatever.

I only work at the shelter on weekends, so it was six days before I was back. That weekend, we went from the gloved hand simply resting on her back during brushing, to the gloved hand stroking her back in unison with the brush stroking her neck and shoulders. This garnered more dirty looks, but finally resignation. Sunday, I started with the brush stroking her cheek while the glove petted her back, but then after a few minutes I moved the brush aside and rubbed her cheek with the gloved hand. Her eyes burned with the fires of hell, but she couldn't help herself. Even her cheek couldn't help itself; it would push slightly against the glove, and she would glare at me with reproach — perhaps mixed with self-reproach — pull her head back a little, but then slowly relax back to her original position.

The next Saturday, I moved the gloves to my left hand, rubbing her neck and shoulders with the glove. And then rested my bare right hand on her back. Over the course of the night, I stroked her back a little, a little more, always in unison with the gloved hand on her neck. She glared at me, and then — maybe I'm reading too much into it, but still — she seemed to deliberately turn her head away from me, so she couldn't see my bare hand.

Sunday, I started the night with the gloved hand and the bare hand. Then I pulled the gloved hand back. The first couple of sessions, she turned her head away, and I had a pretty strong worry that when she did finally see my bare hand on her back... well, I've never had stitches yet. But by the end of the night, she saw. She wasn't pleased when she saw, and she turned away again to ignore me, but she didn't freak out.

The next Saturday, I didn't even ease into it. Opened the cage, showed her my bare hand, let her glare, set it on her back. Waited. Stroked her back just an inch or so. Did it again. The third time, she turned her head away, and when I moved up to her neck, she leaned into it. She was still glaring at the wall behind her, but she was purring. We did this several times that night, and the next. She was restless, flinching sometimes when I moved abruptly or touched her cheek, but then leaning into my fingers five seconds later. Then she got more restless. Half-standing, meatloafing back down, tucking paws in, reaching out to knead, falling over, immediately standing back up and glaring. Then, late on Sunday, she fell over onto her side and stayed there. Her back was to me. I petted the side of her round belly. She twitched, perhaps mad, perhaps ready to strike, and I tried not to tense up as I thought about stitches. But she didn't stop purring as I kept petting her. And then she stretched, rolled just a little so I could get to her belly itself, still half-turned-away. One paw kneaded the blanket, one paw kneaded the air, and I stood rubbing the belly of a feral cat that no one could touch.

I was floating above my shoulder. My mind seemed to dig its claws into my collarbone to keep from leaving completely, because the joy was so strong it hurt. My eyes stung, and I concentrated on not sobbing, on breathing without whimpering, my mouth open to pull in air silently and let it out. This was real, but it couldn't be real, because nothing this perfect was real, as perfect as my daydreams about it had been, and nothing real is as perfect as the daydream. But in the daydream, my arm wasn't screaming with cramping pain from being held straight out in front of me with no support under it for 15 minutes.

***
[Written Wednesday, February 26]

When I wrote that in May, I did not know I would be starting a job in August that meant working weekends and giving up volunteering. I thought when I wrote that in May that it was the start of months of wonderful work with Precious, socializing her to the point where maybe someone, someday, would adopt her. She'd been destined to spend the rest of her life in the shelter, which is a nice enough place, but I wanted her to want more. But I had to work weekends, and that meant getting to the shelter once every few weeks as a treat. I still petted her when I went, and Michele worked with her when she was in on weekends, and a few others could pet her. But she plateaued socially. It was my biggest regret about leaving: I'd made her start to want, and then left her hanging.

I didn't know that one of my cats would be diagnosed with cancer in October and have to be put to sleep in February. I didn't know another of my cats would have to be put to sleep without warning in December. I went from a four-cat household to two in two months. I have room, physical room in my condo. A dining table that I never use except to stack sewing projects on, just the right size for a kennel-cage for a few weeks until she gets used to a new place. I have room.

She went to the vet's yesterday for her rabies shot. And then she came home. I didn't expect her to want attention for a while, prepared myself to let her be and give her time and not burst into tears when a week went by and she still hated me. She let me rub her neck yesterday afternoon. She purred. Last night, she gave me her belly, and when she raised her head for a minute, a drop of drool plopped on the blanket under her cheek. This morning she'd moved from the small carrier up onto the hammock shelf, which means she's feeling secure enough to be partly in the open, and also means I can climb into the cage and sit and pet her without my neck and shoulders cramping. I still need to steel myself for regression, and steel myself for joy, and the tears that both will bring. The joy even now is dagger-sharp in my ribs, makes me forget to breathe. But she is home. She is where, a year ago, I didn't know she would belong.



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Violet Wilson

October 2016

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