This article first appeared on iCatCare here.
Find out about those pet cats that never quite seem to fit in – do we try to turn them into the perfect pets or do we embrace them for what they are?
Within the spectrum of lifestyle for the species, the inbetweener is an additional category. They are often brought into homing centres as pet cats but subsequently identified as cats with very particular needs.
Inbetweeners are cats that:
- Have lived unsuccessfully as pets, because they are uncomfortable to varying degrees with the close proximity of people. This could be because:
- They have not had sufficient or the right quality of interaction with people as young kittens
- They have a temperament trait that means they can become very frustrated with people and see their behavior as unpredictable or unwelcome
- Are not able to live successfully as street cats because they require some support from people
- May only feel comfortable if completely in control of the amount and type of contact they have with people
Many inbetweeners would do well living a free-roaming lifestyle where they have food and shelter and a person to care for them from a distance. This can be done in many different environments, for example hotels, stables, farms and even in spacious gardens.
Other inbetweeners need to be near people, even living in their homes, but don’t want the constant contact or focus that is typical of a more normal owner/cat relationship.
Smokey is an example of this kind of inbetweener, here is her story.
To say Smokey’s early life was hard would be an understatement.
Smokey was purchased by a young woman with three small children, all of whom had learning difficulties. They were inadvertently quite cruel to Smokey and their mother made the decision to keep Smokey away from the children by confining her in a wire cage in the living room. This continued for eighteen months until one day a relative visited and was alarmed to see Smokey’s incarceration. She immediately contacted her local homing centre and told them the story. The staff at this particular centre had been learning about Cat Friendly Homing, so listened with concern but without judgement to ensure that the details were not censored and they obtained as much information as possible. They arranged to visit the woman to see how they might help. After a tearful discussion, Smokey’s owner agreed to give the cat up for adoption to find a home that would enable her to run freely again.
Smokey, as a result of her treatment, was very suspicious and scared of people and proved extremely challenging to care for in the homing centre. She hid and if anyone came near, she launched an attack. The staff knew that Smokey needed a different environment within which to heal and for them to fully understand the long-term implications of her experiences in her last home. They decided to put her into the foster care of someone with experience, skill and the necessary training, to give Smokey the kind of hands-off care she needed. They had to be sure that Smokey was capable of adjusting to be a happy and safe family pet. If this wasn’t going to be the case, foster care would at least establish more accurately what could be done for her.
The foster carer, Kim, wanted to give Smokey the time to dictate her own pace of adjusting to her new life without confinement, and hopefully to rebuild her trust in people. Kim made no attempts to interact with Smokey, allowing her to explore one room and then, in her own time, the rest of the house. Smokey ambushed Kim and her husband frequently, often with fearsome facial expressions and accompanying hisses and growls. With great compassion and understanding, they carried on with the day to day business of living.
Smokey was full of explosive excitement one minute and acute fear the next. It soon became clear that she was dependent on people but just didn’t feel safe around them. She wasn’t suitable to live outdoors with a distant carer, so what would become of her?
Time went on and Kim, together with the homing centre staff, searched for that special kind of permanent owner who would give Smokey the space and understanding she needed. Nobody was forthcoming at the time and the team were crestfallen. Smokey continued to thrive in her new temporary home and her life transformed when she discovered the delights of Kim’s beautiful garden. The day that Kim saw Smokey rolling around in the grass and sniffing the air with a look of blissful contentment on her face, she decided that Smokey didn’t need to look any further. She was home. Smokey continues to flourish to this day, becoming more and more trusting and loving towards Kim and her husband and even staying in the same room when strangers come to visit. However she still needs the same hands-off approach and, if she does decide to become a lap cat, it will be on her own terms and in her own time!
For more information about inbetweeners and the different needs of domestic cats, visit our section here