Earlier this year, I adopted a pair of cats from the local shelter. I knew they were skittish, but the information card indicated they were tightly bonded and really wanted them to go home together. I needed some cats for the farm and decided to take a chance.
I got them home and settled and tried to give them space. I named them Rye (black cat, not pictured) and Walter (orange cat, pictured above). Rye would warm up to me, but Walter was miserable and terrified, and it wasn’t getting better.
After a week, there was negative progress. Rye showed glimpses of being comfortable, but Walter was a nervous wreck. He started hissing and lashing out seriously enough that I genuinely thought there was no hope he would come around. His anxiety was reflecting in Rye’s behavior, I was mildly scared he would attack me, and I considered the options.
Ultimately, we decided to move him into the barn. The cats were going to end up there eventually, but I usually try to ease them in to it. Walter couldn’t stand being in the same house as me, even if we were in different rooms. I set him up and left him alone, thinking I would never see him again.
He was still around a few days later. He was near the house, meow-screaming at Rye, who was living comfortably (and noticeably happier) without Walter. Walter let me pick up him and bring him indoors again, but once he was indoors he was worse than ever. I picked him up and took him outside.
A week or so later, he was still hanging around. Previous attempts at bribing him with wet food had failed miserably, but this time he was enthusiastic. I would pet him while he ate and otherwise I left him alone. A couple of weeks after that, I moved Rye to the garage. Walter still kept his distance, but he was starting to relax.
It took a few months, but Walter eventually warmed up. He is still a little skittish and probably always be, but provided I am sitting in the correct chair and things are relatively quiet, he will eventually settle on to my lap and cuddle.
Once he turned from foe to friend, we changed his name to Ned Yost. Partially because having a dog named Watson and a cat named Walter was confusing for us and Watson, but also because it makes me laugh to have a cat named after the Royals manager.
It has been (another) lesson in relaxing and giving space. Even though I live on a farm, I hesitate to admit the animals live outdoors. They all have their own buildings – a huge coop for the ducks and chickens, a brick 1.5 car garage for the dogs, the barn for the cats – and we make sure they are fed, watered, and warm. But having grown up in the city, all of my friends are from that environment. I frequently feel a sense of judgment for letting the cats live outdoors, but in this case Ned Yost is much happier.