Not every animal that needs help is visibly hurt. Some are just afraid. They take time to trust us. In sheltering, time is life. But at traditional shelters, shy cats don’t even get to start the clock.
So today, we celebrate the victories that took time and the story of one of the adopters who made a series of remarkable connections possible.
Gink gets seen
Gink was one of the shyest cats ever to enter our program. She was easily “invisible” to most people who walked into the room. And that was just how Gink wanted it. After a long time of shying away from humans and “blending in” in shelter life, she landed in Tosca’s room — our cozy space for shy cats.
When Matt Sullivan was ready to adopt a cat he came to Friends For Life several times. Again and again, he found himself in Tosca’s Room – spending quiet time among the introverted cats who carefully watched him.
And then it happened. Matt saw Gink. Why did Gink make herself visible to Matt? He visited often, and never forced affection on Gink. Was it his patience? His demeanor? He let her come to him on her terms, in her own time. It became clear to Matt that he found his match. And Gink, one of the shyest cats, was going to have a home. At home with Matt, Gink has decided that this company of humans thing might actually be worth exploring. She has grown comfortable with Matt and now thinks that pets and laps are good things. But still, of course, on her terms.
Gink and Virgil
Matt understood Gink on many levels. He knew that shy cats prefer the company of cats over people. So as Matt was ready to adopt two cats, he chose Virgil, another shy cat from Tosca’s room.
Gink loved Virgil. She followed him everywhere, sat next to him, snuggled with him and even followed him up the cat tree. Virgil was older and a dignified guy. He looked after Gink and made her feel safe.
Matt gave Gink and Virgil their ideal home. It was always about them, not Matt. He “saw” these cats and they were delighted to been seen. He allowed them to have their relationship and was content to not have center stage. He became a part of their pride.
Then, one day, Virgil got sick. Veterinary diagnostics showed that he had little time left. When Virgil passed, Matt knew Gink was sad.
So Matt returned to Tosca’s room and decided to open his home to another very shy cat – Gizmo.
Gizmo joins the pride
Matt knows it will be a slow process for Gizmo to settle in. But Matt is the kind of adopter who has that patience. There is room in his heart for these little furry introverts to find each other – and to find him.
We honor Matt and the people like him who choose to relate to animals as the complex beings they are.
“At the end of the day, it isn’t where I came from. Maybe home is somewhere I’m going and never have been before.”
Anything of value takes time
It is no secret that we bet on the long shots at Friend For Life. And in the animal world, just like the human world, it is so much easier to rally people around a victory that we can mark with easy signposts: this bone healed and this wound closed and this fever is over. Harder to describe is the victory of the shy animal.
In the human world, we tend to want to “fix” introverts.
In the world of animal sheltering, we tend to kill them. In both cases, we miss tremendous opportunities for love and understanding.
At our shelter, Tosca’s Room is a cozy pink room that is a waystation for shy cats to grow more comfortable around people.
We do not see them as “broken.” We see them, just like shy people, as needing to negotiate interaction on their terms—at their speed.
We have volunteers who come to sit with them, read to them and simply be quietly present. The room is sunlit with perches and “hidey holes.” Eventually, most cats who begin their stay in this room will grow comfortable enough with group interaction to move into one of our large cat rooms. But sometimes, the cats are the most comfortable in their room for their entire stay at Friends For Life. Many are adopted directly from that room.
Mini panthers in our living room
These wondrous creatures are relatively new additions to our lives as humans. Dogs have been in our lives as companions for 40,000 years. The oldest record of wild cats staying close to human encampments happened about 9500 years ago in the Near East and Asia. Per the New York Times article, Are Cats Domesticated? “Dogs are dependent upon us to the point of being obsequious but cats seem to be constantly re-evaluating the merits of our relationship, as well as their role in domestic life.”
It takes a special kind of human to deal with that. You pretty much have to figure out how to get your affirmation somewhere else. That’s the bargain.Cats are tiny miracles of self sufficiency and can even adapt remarkably well to surviving without humans at all. It is as if they don’t so much need us and choose us. Cat people are already predisposed to understand that as William Burroughs wrote, “The cat does not offer services. It offers itself.” And it is the “diamond run” cat adopters who are willing to exact no toll of cuddling from a cat to share their home. Shelters are organized as if these people don’t exist. But we know they are out there. There are people who can appreciate that these “mini panthers” allow us a window into a world that is older, more complex and (this author’s opinion) more mysterious than our own.