I spent a good part of Sunday at my shelter. A recent outbreak of upper respiratory infections had finally calmed down and the cats really needed some TLC. There were two overweight scared-looking cats who had come in together. One, Cloud Fluff, looked like Toby if he were 10 pounds heavier and my heart just about burst. All homeless kitties affect me, but these cats were overweight, scared, and had been surrendered by their owner. I pulled up a chair and started talking to them. Cloud Fluff came right to my hand and started head butting it and rubbing and purring up a storm. When his sister finally came out and walked right onto my lap, one of the staff people looked at me in amazement. "I've never seen those cats be affectionate with anyone. You've got a touch," he said and I felt more pride than any A+ in school ever caused.
I'm an editor, a writer, and an assistant. None of those bring me more pride than helping a nervous cat open up and purr.
5 Tips for Dealing with Anxious Animals:
DISCLAIMER: please have someone knowledgeable with you if the animal hasn't been screened for aggression and never approach a strange animal. They may bite or be infected. In that case, call someone with training. Do not put yourself in harm's way. If you feel worried, don't push yourself into a situation you may regret.
Otherwise, if it's a rescue dog or your friend's pet who is frightened, or yours just got upset, please try the following.
1. Be calm yourself.
2. Approach the animal like you would a terrified teenager. Children can't run far so don't pretend it's a two-year old. Think of how you would approach a teen who might run away or hurt herself.
3. Use happy tones at a quiet volume.
4. Don't push too hard. Cloud Fluff loved snuggling my hand and being petted. He did not want to come out of his cage. I gave him the option, he refused, and I continued to show him affection. Eventually, if I do this often, he'll become comfortable enough to let me take him out of his cage. Watch their body language and respond appropriately. If the cat bats at you with his claws, back off and try again later.
5. Use treats. Treats are a useful training aid. They provide positive associations. If the animal learns to associate your company with treats, he'll see that you provide good things, not bad, and become more comfortable with you.
Overall, have empathy with the animal. Love the shy animals because they need that love and attention to come out of their shells. Just love.