Our Marketing Volunteer, Pascale Colonna, kindly let two very scared Mayhew cats into her heart and home three months ago.
When Pascale first took Sasha and Nina (formerly Robbie and Jackie) home they were extremely scared and timid cats who would hide away in her cupboards – but now only a few months down the line her cats are much happier, confident and come to Pascale for attention – success!
Pascale has talked us through her experience in rehoming two timid cats and how she helped them to settle in and come out of their shell. We hope her story will encourage more people to give a cat in need a chance and head to their local rescue for their next furry friend.
“A few weeks ago, I went to the Mayhew Animal Home to adopt cats. This was only two weeks after losing our much loved 19-year-old tabby and I was in a dreadful state. Cato’s absence felt truly horrible: I needed cats to help me recover.
Cato had been terribly shy when we adopted him aged 11 – he had spent four years in a rescue centre because he hid from people – but he had turned out to be the most loving cat I’d ever known. I wanted two cats (I had the impression Cato had been a bit lonely when he got older) and I didn’t want to choose them on looks. Cato had amazing long hair but what we loved most was how gentle, loving and soft he was – as much, or more, than his looks.
I went to the Mayhew and was introduced to a few cats. I remember blurting out how hard it was that I loved all cats, including shy cats. Matthew, The Mayhew’s Cat Adoption Officer, must have picked up on this as he then took me to see Robbie and Jackie, two nine-year-old black and white bundles. Robbie’s head stuck out a little but I couldn’t see Jackie who just hissed at me and tucked her head back in.
There was a sense of urgency that these two very badly needed a home and quickly, and I couldn’t help thinking about them afterwards. I took my partner to meet them a few days later, and he agreed they needed a home more badly than any of the other cats there (they all very much need a home, of course) and we said we wanted them.
And so I started preparing the house for them: I blocked the cat flap, cleared the bottom of one of our bedroom cupboards, put a soft blanket on the floor and wedged the door open so it wouldn’t shut back. I figured they would need a quiet room and a dark space for a bit. My prediction was that he would need a week but that she would need a couple of months. (How wrong was I!) Our house was checked for suitability on the Wednesday and I brought them home on the following day. We renamed them to Sasha and Nina, as there was something soft about them which the names Robbie and Jackie did not capture.
I made a big effort to create a routine right from the start but it was very hard: they were only coming out at night and returning to the cupboard at about 5am. We quickly nicknamed them our ‘little vampires’. It was fine so long as they could roam the house at night, which they did heartily, galloping up and down the stairs all night. I badly wanted to shift their eating habits to a less nocturnal pattern – the only way to introduce them to the garden one day – but for a long time all food put out before 8pm would be left uneaten.
After about a week, I started to go and lie down on the bed in the afternoon, reading Pagnol out to them so they would get used to my voice. I hadn’t read French out loud since I was a child but it did help: one afternoon, Nina emerged from the cupboard and from that point on, she emerged every day from around 2pm to enjoy the nice soft white bed – on the condition that it would be all hers. A few days later, as I sat on the (cold) floor and played on my own, bouncing a rubber ball on the floor, I saw her keen eyes on me. I switched to the homemade ‘string’ toy (some soft paper wrapped at the end of a string attached to a rod) and started to Zorro-it-out in the air until it ‘accidentally’ ended up on the bed. And I caught my fish: my girl was hooked and this became our late afternoon routine. Meanwhile, Sasha remained in hiding.
Over time, meals shifted to an earlier time of the day as I started to put less food out for them. They were hungry for a couple of days but then they started to come out for food during the day. I also hid their favourite biscuits in all kinds of places to get them out of the cupboard as much as possible.
Days went by slowly, but with every day containing small improvements – each one reassuring us a little.
One day I bought two catnip hearts at The Mayhew and forgot them in my bag. The cats found them all right and went ballistic that night. They came out for more the following afternoon, including Sasha who I saw in broad daylight for the very first time. Our “little vampires” were finally shedding their Dracula skin.
Then, on Sunday last week, on my routine afternoon bedroom visit, Nina allowed me to pat her a little and give her a quick kiss on her head. She had a perplexed look in her eyes, as if to say “Oh, you like this too?” This led to what I called ‘turbo kissing’ the following day: a very powerful head-butting greeting. It was as though Nina had crossed a bridge: I was allowed on the bed and could now lie down next to a fully relaxed cat. Very shortly after that, Sasha joined us on the bed for a short while when she called out to him, licking him in a motherly fashion, as if saying “this human is all right, relax”.
The following nights my partner put his hand out to Sasha as he was leaving the bedroom and two nights ago he finally came to him for a cuddle and much needed kisses. And last night he discovered the comfort of all-night cuddles. Sasha seems to have a soft spot for my partner (just like Cato did) and Nina gives me sweet smiles with her eyes all the time. The transformation in just under a week is amazing.
We are so relieved that they are on the road back to happiness. I couldn’t bear the thought of them being so unhappy. It feels great to be able to help them. And they are unknowingly helping us cope with our grieving for Cato.
They still have some way to go: they need to gain a bit more confidence and to spend more time downstairs before they can explore the garden and start enjoying life properly again.”
By Pascale Colonna
If Pascale’s story has inspired you to adopt a cat, then please check out our amazing cats up for adoption.
If you’re not ready for a cat of your own, but still want to help cats in need, then you can donate on our website to support our staff in continuing their hard work rescuing and rehoming neglected or abandoned animals.
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