At Friends For Life, we have a special place called Tosca’s Room. It is a peaceful space where shy cats can take their time to feel safe and comfortable. It is sunlight with lots of perches and safe kitty “hidey holes.” Some cats start out in Tosca’s Room and gradually feel comfortable enough with groups to join our larger rooms. Some cats are adopted directly from Tosca’s Room.
Where did the idea for this room come from?
Years ago we had a senior cat named Tosca left in our care. She was deeply sad about being left with us and had only known her one person as her world for her 17 years. She was not interested in us or treats, or pets, or cooing, or toys, or beds, or anything else we could offer. When we talked to her, she would talk back in yowls that sounded like an angry old woman.
But we just kept talking.
We let her have the run of the place and worked around her. Our staff learned to let her have her space and not impose ourselves on her. We just inhabited the same space. She watched us. She commented on us. But when we entered a room, she’d leave. When we realized that she’d begun to actually peek into the doorway to watch us mop or clean or talk, we were ecstatic. But really quiet about it. There was a lot of, “Be cool, T-o-s-c-a’s looking at us.” Gradually, she came closer. She began to seek us out. Then she let us pet her. She never stopped answering us in the gravely old lady voice when we talked to her. As her health declined, I took her home with me every night and brought her back to the shelter each day. She was far too regal to be in a carrier—no Queen of her stature would be closed into something like that. So she rode on a big fuzzy blanket folded in a laundry basket and gently placed in the passenger seat. She looked out the window and purred. And of course, she rendered judgment on the neighborhood at large each day. At the shelter, staff worked tirelessly to create bigger and fancier beds for her. She was our cranky, heartbroken old Queen and we loved her.
It shows the dignity and strength in this remarkable girl. Something you might not notice on first glance is that Tosca is leaning into the hands of our staffer, comforted by the embrace. You’d never know from this photo that this cat had come into the shelter a reclusive, angry cat who would not look directly at anyone.
This photograph was taken by Isa Leshko, who has devoted her stellar photographic career to truly “seeing” senior animals in all their struggles, beauty and complexity. Isa flew in from NY to capture this image of our girl. http://isaleshko.com
By the time she passed, Tosca seemed not heartbroken at all and had enjoyed chirping, even joyful months with us. We learned she like to be brushed and have her face rubbed. She adored baby food and was a huge fan of watching us do manual labor from the comfort of her bed.
It was never a matter of “fixing” Tosca. It was about learning her. When we moved into our new space, it felt right to name the room for shy cats after her. Next time you visit us, feel free to stop off at Tosca’s Room. Quietly.