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In The Company of Cats

A Rocky Road


Hummus Rocky Glass arrived with his owners Brian and Leah at 9am on Friday morning. Hummus is a large,handsome, american (and sadly) declawed, ginger tom. He arrived in a tiny carrier that fitted him like a bodycon dress and erupted into the sitting room with a burst of energy and an instinctive curiosity that lead him by the nose around my front room. As we three humans watched Hummus explore I wondered at the strange combination of personality that had lead this cat to be called both after a vegetarian dip and a world famous boxing movie. It soon became apparent that not only was Hummus curious he was also terrified and he immediately lashed out at Brian when he tried to mollify him. I wasn’t to worried about this or that the couple had mentioned in their emails to me that Hummus had a bit of a habit at hissing at strangers. I wasn’t even worried that he was hissing at me now, and felt sure that once he’d had the chance to settle in he would be fine.

At 5 years old Hummus Rocky Glass is a stay at home cat and apart from a recent spate of trips to the vet after a nasty hind leg and tail injury, he rarely leaves the house. Hummus’s owners were worried about leaving home alone while he’s injured and on medication, and came across my website while trying to find a solution. I agreed to take him for the 4 days of their trip. ‘It’s a short time and would serve as an experiment for Hummus’s owners and would be an adventure for me,’ I said, laughing nervously as Leah picked Hummus up and he hissed loudly at Brian before giving him a combination of paw slaps (left hook, right hook and uppercut) that led to Leah dropping him to the floor as he delivered his final blow to Brians foot then scarpered. I was unsure where Hummus was at this point but Rocky was definitely in the building.

I ushered Brian and Leah out, brushing off their concerns and promising to update them regularly. Hummus (or Rocky) wandered around the periphery of the room and sniffed it out. If I made eye contact he hissed and any sudden noise or move made him jump, so once his food and litter were sorted I settled down to do some design work on my computer and pretended to ignore him. Hissing a stay away warning at me he slipped into the corner and backed himself under the sewing machine cupboard and settled on the floor. I sat a few feet away on the sofa with my laptop in front of me, my shoulders hunched forward in concentration, and I was soon so wrapped up in my work that I completely forgot about Hummus Rocky Glass.

Hours later and Hummus was still hiding in the corner. When I bent down to check he was still there and ok, he would look straight back, draw breath and through bared teeth let out a slow and guttural hiss. I drew back with a shudder, he was clearly petrified and I felt responsible. In the kitchen I prepared a tuna treat and slid it accros the floor towards Hummus, who barely blinked and responded with an imperceptable intake of breath followed by a long and low hiss. I backed off putting a film on and settled back on the sofa to watch it. A late night the night before meant I drifted into a sound sleep almost instantly. I slept soundly for at least an hour before I awoke with a start. I could feel Hummus’s eyes glaring down at me as he growled and hissed at me simultaneously from above. while I had slept Hummus Rocky Glass had slipped from under the sewing machine cabinet to the more dominant position on top of it. As he leaned forward and hissed at me, the stranger sleeping a couple of feet away, I could feel the glare of his eyes and the low growl rumbling through the wooden cabinet before moving through the floorboards making the sofa vibrate gently underneath me. I jumped up suddenly, spooked and Hummus fled in fear. Now we were both frightened.

Still half asleep I moved to the other side of the room dragging my laptop and table across the rug with me. Hummus hunkered down underneath the cabinet, ears flat, pupils dilated and hissed at me across the room. Occasionally he came out and prowled around a bit, sniffing at his bowls of food briefly before rejecting it and moving on. He stuck close to the walls, and slunk under low shelves, his eyes fixed to me and his mouth pulled back in a permanent hiss and I felt the tension in my body rise. He made his way to his water fountain that bubbled away unconcerned by the wall, but he was too nervous to drink and returned quickly to his hiding place. His owners had warned me about hissing and said not to approach him when he was in this state of heightened anxiety and I wasn’t planning to, but I was worried as my fear was now feeding his and we both sat on opposite sides of the room, staring at each other frozen. The situation was untenable and I soon realised that it would have to be me that made the call, although I am pretty sure if Hummus had thumbs on his paws he would have made it himself. To my relief Anita, my lovely friend, cat behaviourist and funny person answered straight away, and immediately took Hummus’s side. ’ You should have known better she said and so should the owner’s.’ she said ‘where is he now?’ Anita came up with a handful of suggestions which mostly involved me approaching the cat , head lowered with a toy or a treat. I shook my head into the phone, my fear level had risen inexplicably and the idea of getting on my knees and facing Hummus was seriously terrifying.’No’ I squeaked staring at Hummus “I dont think thats going to work.’

'What about,' Anita continued 'putting the food on a long spoon and tying it to a stick,' Again I shook my head. ' Toys?' she suggested, I looked around at the feather, mice and catnip toys that lay scattered and abandoned on the rug and sighed. 'Sit tight' Anita said ' I'll be round in thirty minutes.

Anita arrived with some essential toys and treats but quickly realised that Hummus was on high alert and unable to concentrate or enjoy toys, food or affection. She became the calm element in the room while Hummus and I vibed off each others fear. Quickly pointing out what I was doing wrong, any sudden movements, my loud voice and high energy levels (all by products of my fear) were all adding to Hummus’s apprehension so I tried to remain calm. After observing him for a while Anita’s professional advice was to stay away, don’t look at Hummus, don’t try to approach him, give him space and let him settle in. In case of an attack don’t use water spray, throw a blanket over him, and on her way out she helpfully picked up the heavy sheepskin rug in the hallway, and covering her legs said I should use it for protection when going in tomorrow. ‘Oh Lord’ I thought anxiously ‘Tomorrow!!’

That night I hardly slept, I could hear Hummus exploring and jumping and my thoughts were running wild. What if he wrecks the front room, what if I open the door in the morning and he attacks…I formulated a plan. In the morning first thing I would go upstairs to my neighbour and ask him to come in the front room with me, I’ll buy him breakfast and make him lots of cups of teas and basically keep him here until I felt comfortable.

I awoke late, to a quiet flat and before I could scare myself out of it, I wrapped the sheepskin rug around my legs, opened the front room door and peered in. It was eerily quiet, like OK Corral after the gunfight. The sofa cushions where up ended and the doors to the floor to ceiling cupboard where open and swinging gently. Three cupboard doors hung open in the kitchen, but all was quiet. I could see Hummus Rocky Glass’s tail flapping from his hiding place under the cupboard, and while he had eaten his food, he had thrown most of it back up. I quickly and nervously changed Hummus’s food and litter and was met by a barage of hisses from Hummus. I decided to give him and myself space and with my laptop, headed to the bedroom for the day.

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