Rosanna Greenstreet gets expert advice on how to handle her not so friendly feline
Vicky Halls, Cat behaviour counsellor with her cat
Our cat has problems. Casita doesn’t like being stroked, picked up or curling up on knees. In fact, since we adopted her from an animal charity in 2011 when she was seven months old, she hasn’t behaved like a cat should. But Vicky Halls, a cat behaviour counsellor who has written six books about felines, would beg to differ.
“Casita doesn’t understand your body language or motivation. You are either safe or threatening, ‘love’ sadly doesn’t come into it. The way we express love is threatening to a cat because we stare, touch and hold; holding can be incredibly uncomfortable for a cat because to escape danger they need all four feet on the ground,” she tells me over Skype.
Prior to our call I have completed, with the help of my daughter, an eight page questionnaire, so Vicky is fully appraised of Casita’s history which, apparently, has a great deal of bearing on what Vicky refers to as her ‘fixed temperament’. Casita was a stray, found alone in a shed in Slough when she was about eight weeks. Crucially, she missed the early socialisation that results in the normal affectionate cat behaviour so beloved of their owners.
“Strays have domestic cat genes but, if they don’t have contact with humans within 2-7 weeks of their eyes opening, they remain unsocialised, and you can’t play catch-up,” says Vicky.
This is a sobering thought, given the hundreds of strays on charity websites which are billed as just needing a loving home. Love, it seems, is not always enough. So, are we to resign ourselves to a pet which constantly nips and scratches our hands, feet and, given the chance, our faces? Vicky is amused that in answer to the question “How does the victim respond?” my daughter has put “more kisses” and concludes that it is our behaviour that needs to change rather than the cat’s!
“You are going give her a Harry Potter-esque ‘cloak of invisibility’,” she explains. “So, from this day forward, Casita has the magical power to move about without you knowing she’s there. Don’t initiate contact and, if she pushes against you, stroke her around the throat, chin, cheeks and forehead but keep it brief. A cat who hasn’t learnt how intense humans can be, will prefer contact to be low intensity.”
Armed with Vicky’s advice, I go downstairs and throw the ‘cloak’ over the cat. Casita looks a little surprised when I walk straight past her and don’t address her in my ‘cat voice’ but it works. Within hours she jumps on my knee and relaxes – just look at the pictures below!
Before - grumpy cat
After - relaxed cat
- Vicky charges £395 for a home consultation (only on veterinary referral), which includes 12 weeks supportive therapy: vickyhalls.net or try the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors: apbc.org.uk
Check out another one of the pet-tacular pieces from our special March Pet Issue
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