How To Befriend A Cat: Chronicle of A Noob Cat Volunteer

SO LEGIT. No I didn’t get to choose which cat photo but I’m glad I have this one.

(A “noob” is a derivation from the gamer elite/l33t speak term “N00b” which means newbie with a negative connotation. To find out why and how I started volunteering, please read entry “My Happiness Project: Cats.”)

Not to sound cocky or anything, but I really thought I knew how to get any domesticated cat to warm up to me before attending the “Intro Into Cat Socializing” training session at the SF SPCA. So wrong!

I was privy to being able to enter two cats’ chambers this weekend. One immediately came to nudge me and we had some quality petting, playing, and being adorable time, so I thought “’Aight- I got this. No prob.” It was completely the opposite with the next cat.

The interactions I had with this certain orange feline dude can be best described as the most awkward and pathetic blind first date ever. I went in while he was chilling on his sofa bed in a lounging pose that looked effortless, yet somehow was showing off all his assets.  He gave me a nonchalant look then directed his gaze elsewhere. I followed the instructions that I was just taught, sat down and started talking to him gently: “Um hey, how’s it going?” No answer, no movement. “Looks like you’re kind of tired, eh?” Slight turn of head then nothing. I even tried my secret weapon of meowing, hoping that it will solicit some sort of response. Nope. This silent cold treatment went on for 10 minutes, after which I ran out of monologue material and said “Well, guess I’ll see you later” in a fake cheerful tone and slipped out.

Like human beings, individual cats have different personalities. Some are shy, some are friendly, while some are hardened and jaded. Here are some tips about befriending them:

  • Remember that you are a lot bigger than they are, so try to come down on their level by sitting down. Just like how I always feel a bit trapped in a crowd of tall people, cats don’t like your towering over them either.
  • Let them come to you. Do not grab them. Approach from 2-3 feet away.
  • Don’t stare at them because  it might be perceived as a threatening gesture
  • No sudden movements or loud sounds.
  • Reach your hand out and wait to see if they come and sniff you or rub against your hand. Or another trick I learned is to hold a fist out because that vaguely resembles a cat’s head to them, and if they do a forehead bump with it, you’re progressing.
  • Pet face first. Cats are actually more sensitive about their body being pet than their faces because they like to see what you’re doing. Whisker beds are supposed to be the golden spots, so try touching that, or chin, and cheeks first.
  • If a cat lies down and shows you their belly, thank the gods for this opportunity because that means they trust you and like you enough to expose their most vulnerable part to you. Lightly and slowly stroke their underside.
  • If you’re using a toy to play with them, move it like it’s a rodent and try to really let the cat attack it to fully satisfy them. Make sure to let them “cool down” too by slowing it down before; otherwise they might be still really wound up and find some other outlet to let out their aggression.

As a person who got jabbed in the eye by a cat once (I’m sorry, Jenna, but your cat Georgia is a bitch), I also think it’s important to point out signs that a cat might be getting irritated:

  • Hissing or growling
  • Tensing of the body or running away to hide
  • Flinching or jerking away when you try to pet it
  • Lowering or pulling down of ears
  • “Sudden cranky meow” (this one’s my favorite)
  • Swishing their tail (this looks like they’re doing the sassy “OH NO YOU DIDN’T” movement with their tail)
  • Looking away and then quickly snapping to look at you
  • Don’t use your own hands or feet as toys for cats because they might get really into it and scratch or bite you

The class really made me realize that I have so much left to learn about my favorite animal, but in a good way.  I took copious notes despite the fact that there was a handout. Once an A student, always an A student, I guess. I’m excited to put my knowledge into good use next Saturday and to learn more! I think one of the next courses is all about KITTENS ZOHMAHGAWD SO KEWT!

Happy befriending cats!



One response

  1. Pingback: Au Revoir, Mes Chats…Kind Of: The End of My Six-Month Experience As A Cat Volunteer at the SPCA | Daily Chin Ups by Chin Lu

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