Lessons From My Nervous Cat

Meet Flynn. He’s 2 years old, weighs 15 pounds, and lost his previous home (not sure of the exact circumstances). I brought him home from a local humane society a couple weeks ago. I’d asked them if they had a sweet, cuddly cat that would do well in a single-cat home. They recommended Dorito (I’d originally planned to keep his name, but he doesn’t respond to it at all and it just didn’t “feel right” to me. Hence the name change, after Flynn Carsen from The Librarians).

Lessons From My Nervous Cat | marissabaker.wordpress.com
Flynn Carsen and Flynn the Cat

My new kitty cried for the entire car ride home. Once I released him from the cat carrier he promptly hid under the couch for the next six hours. Poor little thing’s been through a lot. But we’re starting to settle in and get used to each other. And after two weeks together I’ve learned that

  • He loves meat and will beg in the kitchen for beef, poultry, and fish
  • Catnip mice are his favorite thing. He just lays on the floor while hugging and chewing on them
  • My fleece mermaid blanket must have a texture he likes, since he danced around with a look of wonder on his face the first time he touched it. It’s our favorite blanket
  • His purr is furniture-rattling in volume and intensity
  • He likes sleeping with people. Usually he picks my bed and spends the night curled up near my feet or legs

But I’ve also learned some other things:

  • He’s terrified of people in motion. If you stand up or walk into a room his eyes get big and he runs away
  • If you reach out toward him he flinches, like he expects you to hit him. But he’s sweet and affectionate if you’re sitting down and he comes up to you
  • He doesn’t like being picked up
  • The slightest noise is enough to make him startle awake, leap in the air, and/or flee the room
  • He spends most of the day hiding, only coming out to spend time with us in the morning and evenings
Lessons From My Nervous Cat | marissabaker.wordpress.com
hiding under the bed

I don’t know what happened in Flynn’s past as Dorito. Being a storyteller, I have a completely theoretical narrative that goes like this: Dorito’s owner was a sweet, elderly person who was confined to a wheelchair. They fed Dorito in the kitchen, invited him to sleep in the bed, and showered him with love. But this person had a caretaker that came in during the days and wasn’t kind to the cat. So Dorito learned that people walking toward him meant he’d be kicked or grabbed or chased out of the room. And then when their elderly person passed away, Dorito was dumped off at the Humane Society.

Of course I have no idea if that’s anywhere near the truth. What I do know is that I’ve adopted a very nervous cat. He startles at the slightest noise. He flinches if you touch him. He doesn’t do “normal cat” things like lay around all day and nap (at least not out in the open). And he’s taking a very long time to relax around us, especially my 6′ 3″ younger brother.

After a few days of this, someone in my family described Flynn as a “useless cat” because he won’t cuddle. And then someone asked if I could return a defective cat. I was behind the couch at this point trying to convince Flynn to come out and raised my voice just enough to say, “He’s scared and he needs our love and understanding!” After that the (mostly) joking suggestions that Flynn wasn’t the cat we were looking for stopped. He also started becoming more friendly, which helped with that.

Lessons From My Nervous Cat | marissabaker.wordpress.com
Flynn’s favorite blanket

I don’t know what in Flynn’s past made him so scared. But I know that right now he’s easily startled, worried, and only wants touched on his terms. So I decided to love him where he’s at and work with him. It’s not going to help if I lecture him, saying he’s got it so good now that he should just suck it up and move forward with his life. He needs patience. He needs someone not to push his boundaries because that will only prove we can’t be trusted not to go too far. He needs someone there for him when he does want held and petted.

And then I started thinking, isn’t that what hurting people need too? Love, understanding, acceptance, and someone to be there for them on their terms. But how many times do we meet someone who’s going through something we don’t understand and yet we treat them as if they’re “lesser than” because they’re still showing signs of their past trauma? Why are we so much more willing to extend grace and compassion to a nervous cat than to an anxious, depressed, or hurting human?

Then I had another realization. The way I’m treating my cat is the way I want to be treated when I’m anxious, nervous, or on the edge of panic. I want patience, understanding, and someone who will ask what I need instead of pushing me to just get over it. And it’s also the way I should treat myself (I’ve recently started seeing a counselor to get help working through my anxiety and she was delighted with this realization). We must give ourselves the same compassion, love, and permission to be ourselves that we long for from other people and should extend to others who are going through similar things.

So that’s what I’ve been learning from my nervous cat. I think he’s turning out to be a pretty good teacher.

Lessons From My Nervous Cat | marissabaker.wordpress.com

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7 thoughts on “Lessons From My Nervous Cat

  • Hey, in 2006 we got a 1 year old cat that sounds very similar to yours. We did not know the cats background, but the cat was similar behaving as yours. Poor kitty! How exactly did the previous owners treat him? Slowly, very slowly, the cat adapted to our home. Especially to me. I seemed the special person, and the cat avoided my husband…for several years. After several years, the cat became buddies with my husband!
    The cat was originally scared of any visitors in the house, but has even adapted with that over the years. Slow change! Now he is cautious with visitors but does not usually hide, and may even be friendly with them.
    Anyhow, in 2018 he is a different cat than 2006. A sweet cat that is an important part of our home.
    Ours LOVES meat too and will beg terribly in kitchen! And oddly, for a nervous and easily frightened cat, the cat is best buds with our 150 pound dog! Yes! We got the 150 pound dog as a 15 pound puppy, and the cat immediately liked her!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I’m glad to hear your cat is buddies with you now 🙂 And that’s adorable about him and your dog being best friends!

      Also, thanks for sharing that it took your cat years to warm up to your husband. I’m hoping Flynn will learn to like everyone here sooner than that, but thinking about your cat will remind me not to give up on him becoming friends with all of us even if it takes longer than a few months.

      Liked by 1 person

  • Excellent post! I love how animals teach us about ourselves … sometimes NOT the things I want to learn! LOL! … Flynn seems to be pretty big … I wonder if he’s a Norwegian Forest Cat … he’s abeautiful animal. Blessings!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think his fur is too short for him to be a Norwegian Forest Cat, at least a pure-bread one. But you’re right — he is a big cat. The first thing my sister said when she saw him was, “I think you have a type” (since my last cat was also tiger-striped and at his peak weighed 18 pounds).

      Like

  • Couldn’t agree with you more Marissa! In fact, just I recently I was trying to come up with a metaphor that would help me explain to my husband how I had determined to relate to a person in the particular way I was. Then the idea of how similar it was to caring for a shelter animal, so I used it and it made sense to him. But the more I thought about it, I also had the same greater realizations that you did and even (ouch!) the one about ourselves.

    Liked by 1 person

  • Thank you Marissa, I really appreciate your writing and your thoughts. To remember to approach people with patience, a gentle manner and loving heart, receptive and aware enough to read their responses, rather than being caught up in our own agenda, is really deep spiritual practice, and it means to much to me to pray and be mindful so that we can all become more and more gentle with each other each day.

    Liked by 1 person

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