Thursday, May 26, 2011

Weird Little Wendy

Dinner gets cold on our plates these days because Wendy has been insisting on a long petting session with my husband as soon as we sit down. She jumps on the radiator next to our table, flops herself down, and stares imperiously until he pays attention. She squeaks, purrs, and rolls around with pleasure, and gets upset whenever he stops to eat. 

Of course, as soon we get up to clear the table, she dashes away and avoids us like we're predators. Until my husband sits in his armchair to do some work. Then she jumps up and demands more petting. Should he shift slightly in his chair, off she'll go at a run.

When we ask her why she's so jumpy and weird, she sometimes does provide an explanation, with a lot of plaintive mewing and squeaking in a language we can't understand. I'm not sure she understands. Our vet's latest Theory of Wendy is that some feline behavior is purely genetic, and can't be changed — such as the eternal skittishness of some feral cats. So, while Wendy has learned that she enjoys attention and petting, she still has an instinct telling her to run from danger. 

Wendy looking rather baffled, and who wouldn't be?

It's got to be a confusing problem for her. I see her watching the other cats as they cozy up to us and let us touch them as we please. She looks on intently, like a fluffy anthropologist observing an alien culture. She would never follow their behavior or allow us to pet her as we're petting another cat. She can't make the leap to trusting us no matter how many safe, pleasant encounters she's seen and experienced.

Hang in there, kitten. We adore you even though you act like we're about to destroy you most of the time. And for a few minutes a day, on your own private schedule, you have the loudest purrs and the silkiest fur ever.  You're well worth waiting for.

4 comments:

  1. Been there. It's a puzzle all around. But she's making extraordinary progress, APB!

    To refresh your psych101 behavior mod: intermittent reinforcement is the strongest. So if you and DH can stand it, don't give in right away to Wendy's hands on demands. Incrementally make her wait a little longer for the hands on (even if it kills you, and I know it does). If you can anticipate her ending contact, that's even better - YOU initiate stopping contact an instant before she does. That will surprise her and let her figure out that you are never a threat.

    If she's come this far, she'll continue on her path. It's only that the destination may always be, "just around the corner and out of sight".

    Your cats are so lucky to have you!

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  2. Thanks so much for this advice! You're so right: it will be tough not to obey when Wendy's finally ready for some attention, but we'll do our best — and keep you posted on new developments.

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  3. I forgot to ask: by any chance does she like catnip? If so, sprinkling it on a rug slightly farther away in the dining room may help her "delay gratification" in the petting department. Alternatively, you could set a place for her at table and just give in to the dinner guest faux paw (sorry - that is really odiferous, isn't it?)

    I bought a catnip plant (which kills me since it grew wild all over the farm) and am hoping to be able to let it go to seed and multiple by the end of the summer - but there are so many neighborhood strays that it may become nothing but a nubbin. At any rate, the fosters and wandering visitors will have the high test fresh stuff in the immediate future.

    Best-

    aek

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  4. Lovely photo with all the books and colors...a very library kind of cat. It would make a pretty painting.

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