By Monica Roy, Foster Mom & Marketing Committee Member
I’ve always told my kids that my “cat limit” was 3. My kids and I had fostered once before and we saw how a safe home, love and patience can transform a scared and skinny cat into a perfect family member. When we were all home together in the Spring of 2020, we decided to foster again as we had just lost our oldest boy, Sterling, at the age of 18.
We brought Gracie and her 3 kittens, Gia, Gio, and Gatsby home from the Meriden Humane Society in May of 2020. They were trapped on the streets of Hartford and we were told that Gracie might be feral – she hissed a lot and wouldn't let anyone near her. The kittens were easy and a joy, but Gracie would barely come out from under the bed. It took Gracie over 6 weeks to feel comfortable enough to play and I wasn’t sure if we would ever be able to touch her. But this is what I did know about her: Gracie was a great mom who made the sweetest noises – and she deserved a home.
We had already decided to adopt one of her kittens, but it was my decision to keep Gracie. My kids chose Gio and I chose Gracie. I broke my own rule and we became a 4 cat home. I did it because I figured it wouldn’t be a big deal to have a cat who hid and I knew I was Gracie’s best chance at a forever home. What I didn’t count on was adding a cat to our home who would steal my heart.
As with many rescued cats, medication was in order and we had to trap Gracie in the bathroom whenever we had to give her medication which was daily during some periods. The poor girl would freeze in fear, but we could administer her meds and I took advantage of this time to give her pets. Gracie was never defensive, but was a scared young girl. One day I noticed she was purring while I gave her a few pets in the bathroom, but I chalked it up to stress or anxiety and not to happy purrs. Soon after, it happened. I had to give her medication and she let me do it while she was lying on an ottoman – she didn’t run from me and I was still able to give her a couple of pets! That’s when I started setting “Gracie Goals.” I saw the opening and committed myself to it. My first Gracie goal was to pet her every day which sounds easier than it was. I would often tell Gracie, “You and I are going to be friends!” especially when she hissed at me.
Over time, Gracie developed “safe spots” where we could pet her, which was usually when she was in a cat bed. I was careful to sit down next to Gracie before petting her so she would know my intention. If she was on the floor and I sat down next to her, she would often get up and walk away; but sometimes she’d move to a cat bed – where she would allow me to pet her. My Gracie Goals progressed from petting her outside of a cat bed to having her “ask” for pets. One day, she was on the couch with me and Gio then walked toward me and accepted a scritch before jumping to the floor. I counted that as asking for pets. Another Gracie goal achieved!
This past February, I was petting Gracie in one of her safe spots and we discovered belly rubs! It took over 2.5 years, but I think we were both equally surprised at how much Gracie loves belly rubs. This was a game changer and I took advantage. Gracie would regularly jump up on the ottoman when she saw me for belly rubs – the ottoman was her “safe spot” for belly rubs. I would stop in the middle and wouldn’t start again until she initiated contact and that’s how I started getting her to rub against me – something none of us ever thought she would do. She also started walking around the ottoman while I continued to pet her.
It’s been over 3 years since we welcomed Gracie into our home and we are all amazed that not only can we pet her just about anywhere and at any time but she also loves the attention, hangs out in our main living areas and talks to us. I still have Gracie goals and probably always will. It all started with the most important goal of all, gaining Gracie’s trust. It took commitment, love and most of all patience with a willingness to push Gracie’s boundaries while allowing her to decide when it was OK for her to open them up. The reward has been greater than I ever imagined. My heart warms whenever I think of where Gracie was when she first came to our house 3 years ago and where she is today – a sweet kitty who looks at me with such love in her eyes that it melts my heart.
When you come to the shelter looking for your next family members, please think of Gracie and remember to ask about the cats who are shy or too scared to come out. Some volunteers have befriended these cats and know something about how they may likely adjust in a new home. These are the cats who need you the most. They will let you know who they truly are once they know the safety and love of a real home. You’ll know when a shy cat starts to trust you because you will begin to feel all the love they have to give. It will likely take time and their love may not look the way you want it to, but when you earn their trust, I promise you that it will feel at least as good as having a crazy kitten fall asleep in your arms . . . and possibly even better!