A year ago an abandoned cat decided to move in with us. Here’s how she settled in…
On a Sunday in mid-December last year, we were returning in the dark from a long afternoon walk in the forest. As we neared the house we heard a regular plaintive meow, and in a few moments a small tabby cat was weaving around our legs. She was shaking, clearly very stressed, and meowing non stop. She trotted along beside us, all the way to the front door, and we decided to let her in until she calmed down.
She’s still here, one year on.
The story of how we found her, tracked down her owners with the help of the vet and ended up fostering her is something I wrote about before in The Cat That Came For Christmas. If you’ve not read that, I recommend starting there, before continuing with this instalment.
This time I’m going to write about her settling in, and us getting used to having a new housemate.
WARNING: Contains cat photos.
When she arrived with us, the vet estimated she was around 3 years old, but she was still very kitten-like in her manner.
It was also clear that she’d been a city-flat indoors cat all her life. She was terrified of the outdoors — and even got terrified, when sitting on windowsills, at seeing birds fly past outside. She’d suddenly duck down as low as she could, trying to press herself into the wood of the windowsill, and simultaneously be poised to run. When people just walked past outside the front door she’d be on instant high alert.
While we were fostering her, we had to keep her indoors anyway. That meant we played with her lots so she got enough exercise. It seemed to take her a while to get used to this play, and she got tired very quickly at first — but then she loved it. She became better at running, rolling and jumping to hunt and catch toys on a string, and random cat toys we’d throw around the house.
When not playing, she was generally asleep, and tended to like being close by. I work from home, so it meant she’d often sleep next to, or in front of, my laptop as I worked. She still makes it clear that she’d rather be actually on the keyboard.
She’s also a very chatty cat. She has a series of different meows that we’ve gradually come to understand. There’s a greeting meow, a hungry meow, a can-you-clean-the-litter-tray-someone’s-made-a-mess-in-there meow, an I-can-hear-you-arriving-home-hurry-up-and-open-the-door meow, a there’s-a-bird-meow and more. In return we use a couple of different whistles to communicate with her — it’s feeding time, and where are you/come here.
And she’s very sociable with visitors. Even when a neighbour’s one-year old daughter is here, the cat is very chilled and remarkably patient about some enthusiastic but clumsy stroking.
Over the next few months, it gradually became clear that the arrangement had become more permanent than fostering, and that this cat had officially moved in.
She’s a great housemate, causing no mess or trouble. In a year she’s not damaged anything, always been good with the litter tray, and 99% of the time she doesn’t disturb our sleep — coming home in time for bed, and waiting patiently in the morning until one of us wakes up and feeds her.
In those first few months she became much more confident, and much more curious. She seemed to start being interested by what was outside rather than just terrified of it.
So, one day in spring, we put on a collar with an address tag (she’s chipped as well) and started letting her out.
At first, we walked with her and she stayed very close. She would run back inside as soon as a bird flew past or there were any noises. We’d go out like this for about half an hour a day, and her confidence gradually grew until she started being able to go out on her own.
Luckily we’re away from roads, and right next to the forest, so there’s plenty of space for a cat to roam safe from the traffic.
She’s now made her territory around the house, and likes to patrol it straight after breakfast for an hour or so, and then she’s out again from late afternoon until bedtime.
At first she used to come back to the house every twenty minutes or so just to check on us, meow, have a stroke and then go out again. Now, she’s super confident and strides out for hours at a time.
Then, when autumn came, we found the cat would often tag along when we went out for walks in the forest. We’d set off, hear a meow coming from the bushes, and then the cat would leap out and walk along with us at heel.
On these walks she’d keep up an occasional conversation of meows, stop regularly to smell things —then come bounding up the path to catch up with us again and weave round our legs.
Other people walking on the path would stop and stare at this cat being walked like a dog, and would want to stroke her, which made the walks fairly slow going.
After a while exploring the forest it’d be time to turn for home again, and sleep off the adventure.
So she made the most of the summer and autumn. Now, winter is here, and while she often goes out a lot, there are some particularly cold days where she pokes her nose out the door and turns straight back, wisely deciding to spend the day stretched out on the radiator instead.
And that brings us back round to a full year since this cat found us. It’s snowing and the cat is warm inside, stretched out on the back of the sofa — watching the artistic creation of a snow cat.
The story started with a scared abandoned cat. One year later the story ends with a happy cat in a safe home, with new confidence and curiosity — and free to roam the forest.
If you’re thinking of getting a cat, therefore, we’d urge you — rather than going to a pet shop, or answering an advert in a newspaper or online to buy one — to contact your local cat shelter charities and enquire about fostering or adopting an abandoned cat. That’ll need to be in the new year, as the charities quite rightly don’t want to support the idea of pets as Christmas presents.
Because, as we found out, a cat is not just for Christmas.