Saturday, May 14, 2016

Noticing Behavior Triggers (New Cat #2)

Cat bites are not really this cute. via Kawaii
Job one for us this week is to start learning the trigger cues for our new cat, Sherbet. 

We were informed when we adopted her that she is a biting cat; she gets over-stimulated and Wham! Here come the teeth. (We saw a little of this behavior with Eva, one of the shelter staff, during our introduction.) The kitty wears an orange collar, which shelter staff use to signal volunteers that a cat bites. We were early adopters of the Kitty Convict initiative. Indoor kitties, our cats all have worn orange collars. So we found it ironic that Sherbet was returned from a previous adoption because she wouldn't stay indoors, yet still wound up in an orange collar anyway!

At our house, we had the back room, a guest room-slash-lumber room, set up for our new kitty. This room has served to stage cat introductions before. Years ago, when we brought home a shelter cat with three legs into an existing two-cat household, Pounce stayed for a week in this back area, gradually getting used to the smells of the other cats.

The door of the room has a good inch of clearance, as well, so cats can play patty-cake on either side of a solid barrier before meeting face-to-face. But that's for the future. Today, the crucial factor is the presence of a futon-bed sofa and two papa-san chairs, a cat tower, floor-to-ceiling windows, and lots of play area and spooky shadows to explore.

We sit on the sofa or one of the chairs, reading (or in the case of my spouse, doing needlepoint), and let her explore around us. The plan is to allow her to do "self-petting" only, stropping under hands or against shins, until she is a bit more comfortable. Even so, she was in the room only 2 hours before I received a bite.

It's obviously a warning nip: it barely breaks the skin. I wasn't petting her, but I was reaching down to pick something up from the floor. 

This morning, playing with Sherbet in the crepuscular light cats prefer for hunts, she eventually tires enough to recline on the sofa next to me, purring steadily as I read my Kindle. Encouraged, I lay my hand, palm down, on the sofa near her head. I get a quick warning lip-nip (no teeth), and she's on the floor, tail twitching.

She pounces on a shoelace cat-toy coiled there, claws at it and chews for a bit, then strolls back to strop against my shin. I get the message.

Sherbet has a thing about hands. In fact, I deduce it is fingers that set her off; a fist next to her face is an invitation to rub her chin and jowls. But uncoil even a pinky from the fist, and her tail begins twitching again.

Next up: A stroll outside? For an outdoor kitty to be safe in our wild-adjacent neighborhood, she needs an escort. And a harness.