Monday, 4 January 2010

The Rocky Road to Success

As a rehoming charity, we generally only see cats for a relatively short period of time. Most cats who come into our Centre need only basic medical treatment, such as neutering and dental work, and are then ready for new homes.

Sometimes, however, we have cats who need a lot more attention and care. One such cat is Rocky.

Rocky is a black and white tom cat who came into our Centre some months ago. His owner no longer wanted him and two other cats due to changes in the household, and asked us to rehome them all. As he left, Rocky's previous owner mentioned that he could be a bit bad-tempered at times.

That proved to be an understatement! Rocky was so traumatised that he would leap at the heads of any of our volunteers who approached him. This behaviour is extremely rare in cats, most frightened cats flee rather than attack. He also sat in a permanently hunched up state, eyes wide, ears flat to the head and his body poised to spring. This was much much more than a bad-tempered cat, this was a very traumatised cat.

Our initial approach was to let Rocky have time to settle and to get used to life at our Centre. He was in a pen on his own and although he could watch people and other cats, he could not be easily approached by them. When - after a few weeks - this didn't seem to be making a difference, we decided to create a completely safe space for Rocky by surrounding his pen with "curtains" and giving him plenty of boxes to hide in. We also limited his contact with humans, allowing only one volunteer to clean his pen and feed him.

This reduced his wariness to an extent, insofar as his ears stopped being flat to his head and he stopped jumping at heads! His progress was much slower than we hoped, however, unlike other cats who had gone through a similar rehabilitation process and had relaxed in a matter of weeks. After three months Rocky was still showing every sign of being traumatised.

At this stage, we felt that the only option to ensure that he had a quality of life was to enclose him indoors in a very small cage and to teach him by association that humans could be his friend. So this is what we did.

It became apparent very soon that he hadn't been neutered and after a trip to the vets to have this operation performed his rehabilitation proceeded in earnest.

At first, the cage was completely covered, but we realised quite soon that he was less stressed if he had some visibility.

At first, we left Rocky to his own devices, but once we noticed that he was looking out and taking an interest, we started talking to him. We noticed that he allowed us to put food into his cage and to remove empty dishes without striking us, so for a few weeks we gave him several small meals each day, which reinforced for him the fact that human hands could be kind.

Along the way our volunteers were quite badly scratched in the process, but we persevered, and gradually Rocky came to welcome attention and started talking back. After a couple of months one of our voluteers, wearing gloves, started to stroke Rocky, and within a couple of days of this, Rocky started responding, looking forward to being stroked and even grabbing the hand as it retreated to try and obtain more strokes!

We are now at the stage where we are considering letting Rocky out of his cage. He has been there for some time now, a situation which is distressing for the volunteers who deal with him, but we can't believe the turnaround in his behaviour. He is really starting to tame up, and we are even thinking that at some point this year we may be able to do what we planned originally to do for him ...find him a loving forever home.