Cats have always been a part of my life, that is, until my precious grandson developed a serious allergy to them. After that the only way I could have a relationship with my favorite animal is if they stayed outside. But that just didn’t seem possible. I needed a cat more comfortable outside than inside. One that knew how to survive in the wild and in all kinds of weather. You don’t find that in your typical house cat.
A couple of months ago, while my husband and I spent a quiet evening on our front porch, a stray cat came to visit. We shared our snack with the friendly feline. And, as you have already guessed, her visits became quite regular. We called her the kitty who comes for dinner.
One day we got quite a surprise when she hauled her four kittens to our deck. Two were black, one a tabby like its mother, and the last one was gray. She almost had them weaned. The problem was they were feral and would have nothing to do with us.
Then just as suddenly as the momma cat drifted into our lives, she disappeared. So did all of the kittens except for the gray one. She stayed behind but hid from me every time I came outside.
Then it hit me. This kitty fit all the requirements for my perfect outside pet. The problem? She was as wild as they came and even the door opening sent her sailing off the deck. But I decided to try and tame her anyway.
I named her Willa, after Willa Cather. Cat–her, get it?
The long process of training began. I used canned mackerel as my bribe. But as hungry as she was, she just did not trust me. I spoke to her in my most endearing, quiet coo.
What to do? An idea came to me. Years ago I raised Shaded Silver Persians. I remembered how the mother cat used to call her kittens, so I tried it. Willa’s ears perked up and she made a beeline toward me. However, she stopped about four feet away because while I sounded like momma, I sure didn’t look like momma. I tossed a piece of fish to her and she devoured it. As long as I meowed, she stayed put. If I spoke in English she scurried away. Over the following days I continued speaking her language and feeding her. However, she never got close enough for me to touch her.
The next week Willa began to trust me more. She came closer and ate from my hand. And I could mix in my English with my cat-speak and she wouldn’t run. The week after that, while she ate, I could reach behind her and stroke her back. Two days later I could also scratch behind her ears.
Last week I picked her up and held her close, cooing in English and barely meowing at all. Now when I come out with her food, she runs up to me. And as long as I sit down, she will get into my lap, give me a few nose-bumps and knead me with her paws. The process is slow and ongoing. She still will not let me walk over and pick her up. But she will.
You know? The same process I used to earn Willa’s trust can be used to promote trust and communication between people. The key is to help them in their time of need and be willing to speak their emotional language instead of expecting them to speak ours. Over time as trust is built we can use both their language and ours. Then the day will come when they trust us and understand our language. All it takes is patience and the willingness to enter their world.