Dear Most Esteemed and Knowledgeable Kitties:
I’m the new babysitter of a young boy. There are three cats in the household, two of whom are pretty social. On the other hand, Simon has to wear a bell around his neck because it’s usually the only way he can be found. So, imagine my surprise one recent night when I stayed over to babysit the boy and Simon jumped up on the bed next to me, purring away. He stayed there the entire time, circling me, looking for new places to sleep, then followed me to the bathroom. He came back to bed with me, and then would become jealous as I typed on my computer, eventually he reached out, pawed at my hand, then very very gently wrapped his claws around my finger and held it close to him. He generally sleeps with some part of his body touching me and purrs even before he’s on the bed with me. I’ve only known this cat for three days! I have been told by his owners that I’m the only person he’s ever done this with and that it’s rare for him to even show himself. What does this mean?
~ AJ the Curious Cat-lover
Siouxsie: Well, AJ, it looks like you’ve won a very special thing: Simon’s friendship and trust.
Thomas: Just like people, we cats can be very selective about the people we choose as friends.
Bella: Cats can also be very shy and insecure.
Siouxsie: Mama once told us a story about Maddy Gold, a cat her human mother brought home to live with her family. Maddy was very shy — in fact, she hid under a couch for days when she first came into Mama’s home.
Thomas: Then one quiet afternoon, Mama took a can of cat food into the living room and sat down on the floor. Over the course of an hour or so, Mama coaxed Maddy out from under the couch and ever closer to her by moving the cat food.
Bella: Then Mama reached out to pet Maddy. Maddy was startled and almost ran away again, but Mama started whispering kind words to her and Maddy let Mama pet her.
Siouxsie: Then, the next moment, Maddy curled up in her lap and started purring her little head off!
Thomas: Until the day Maddy died (which was sadly all too soon because she got a bad case of cancer), Mama was the only person she trusted.
Bella: *sniffle* Isn’t that sweet?
Siouxsie: The reason we tell you this story, AJ, is that some cats have a hard time trusting people. In your case, Simon has opened his heart to you!
Thomas: Part of this may be due to the fact that as a new person in the household, you’re not already “owned” by the other two cats in the household.
Bella: The other two cats may be very territorial, or Simon may just be one of those especially insecure kitties that needs a friend of his own to boost his confidence. And you came along at just the right time. *sniffle* Oh, goodness, I’ve got the weepies today!
Siouxsie: It’s about time you cried about something besides your dramas, Bella.
Bella: That’s mean! Why are you always so mean to me? *weep*
Siouxsie: Why do you always chase me around the house when all I want to do is enjoy some lap time with Mama? I mean, come on! I’m really old and I haven’t got a whole lot more time here! Why can’t you leave me in peace? *sniffle*
Bella: But Siouxsie, I just want to play. *sniffle*
Siouxsie: Oh, Bella, I know. But I just don’t have the energy to play with you like that.
Thomas: Oh, ladies, come on over here. I’ll give you both some snuggles.
Siouxsie: I’d be glad to snuggle once we’re done writing, Thomas. And will you clean my ears for me, too?
Thomas: Of course! I’d be glad to!
Siouxsie: Okay, AJ, so what it comes down to is that first of all, you must be a super-awesome cat person who’s super lucky to find a cat in need who feels safe with you.
Thomas: Part of that is that you haven’t been a member of the household long enough to be occupied by the other two cats that live there.
Bella: If the bed where you sleep when you do your overnight babysitting gigs is a guest room that isn’t open to the rest of the house when nobody’s sleeping there, it could be that Simon also feels safe in that room because he can claim it as his territory.
Siouxsie: Because of your special status, you may be able to help Simon gain some confidence and take his place as a regular family member. If you have the time, consider playing with him using some interactive “thing on a string” toys to boost his confidence.
Thomas: And as you hang out with him and bring his scent into the rest of the house, he’ll probably start feeling more confident in exploring and showing himself to the other family members.
Bella: Congratulations, AJ. Not only are you making a difference in the life of the little boy you’re taking care of, but you’re changing Simon’s life, too. Purrs to you!
Siouxsie: If you have updates about Simon later on after you’ve worked there longer, we’d love to hear them.
Thomas: What about you, awesome readers? Have you been lucky enough to win the trust of a shy cat? If so, were there some things you did to boost that kitty’s confidence? Please share them in the comments so we can all help AJ to help her new friend feel like a part of the family.