Wednesday, 28 May 2008

Stand down Red Alert

You may remember our recent blog about Tia, our little nervous chintz lady.

Shortly after we told you about her, we began working with a pet behaviourist to see if we could improve her confidence.

We started off by making Tia's pen completely "safe". We put towels around the lower half, like curtains, so that she could sit on the floor and not be seen by anyone or any other cats. We placed a table in one corner of her run so that if she chose she could sit on it and watch what was going on, or she could hide underneath it on a soft bed. We also provided several cardboard boxes for her to sit/hide/play in, and we kept her door shut, so people couldn't peer into her shelter, though she could access the outside run by her cat flap should she choose to do so.

All volunteers were instructed not to approach her or look at her and not to talk to her. One volunteer only attended her needs, feeding, cleaning etc, and spent a few minutes each day sitting with her (reading usually) but not talking to her or looking at her.

It was incredibly hard for our volunteers, and many felt that they were abandoning her, and that
Tia would think she had done something wrong if we didn't talk to her.

In fact, the reverse occurred. Tia started off being a constantly alert cat, we never saw her sleep, eat, groom herself or play and we never heard her miouw or purr. We rarely saw her move. The behaviourist described it as a "frozen watching stance".

Within a few days of our new regime Tia was relaxed enough to eat when our volunteer was in her pen reading, and shortly after that she began grooming herself and moving around her pen.

A great breakthrough came after a week or so when Tia sat with her back to our volunteer looking out of her window, and later dozed off when our volunteer was there.

She also began to take an interest in what was happening outside her pen. She often sat on her table looking over the "curtains" particularly at meal times, and quite often she "shouted" at the volunteers when they walked past her with other cats' food.

After a couple of months we decided to allow the other volunteers to go into her pen, and all volunteers were instructed to talk, not at her, but around her. Gradually we allowed some of the more regular volunteers to stroke her if she seemed comfortable, and Tia seemed to enjoy this and occasionally started to purr.

Ten weeks after the behaviourist's first visit, Tia followed one of our volunteers out into the safety run whilst her pen was being cleaned out. That night, we left the door of her pen open so that she had access to the safety passage thinking that Tia would probably be intimidated by it, but to our delight she explored the run completely and settled down to relax in a sunny position.

Now our objective is to find a home for Tia. She has, in just over three months, come on in leaps and bounds and has gone from being a cat constantly on watch, to a cat who although still lacking some confidence, has started to take an interest in what is going on around her. We used to call her stance "Red Alert" - now it is only a pale pink alert.