Socialisation at Justina’s – Xena

by Justina

Xena is a really lovely cat. Unfortunately like Lemony Snickett she has had a series of unfortunate cat-human interactions which have left her not afraid of people but rather with a real ‘yuck’ response to the idea of being touched by a human.

However she is not anti-people and actually is very interested in them. I’ve been Xena’s foster mum on and off since she came and feel that if she had been able to have consistent time with me she would by now be curling on my lap. But regrettably I had to go on holidays and so she has been moved between the two houses quite a bit. Also I clicked too late that I should have brought her best friend Luka with her from the start as she LOVES other cats, especially Luka and having him with her gives her someone to cuddle and fuss over. Right now though Luka is here with her and it’s given me a chance to observe just how special Xena is and how important it is for her to have another cat with her.

She is intelligent, inquisitive, confident, very interactive and interested in all that is going on around her. She has a really happy disposition and she plays ALL the time. Her favourite game is ‘mousey’ – whereby she hits the mouse (toy!) to me, I hit it back to her and then she runs around with it in her mouth and plays with it on her own in various favourite places such as up and down the stairs, under chairs and under the sofa. When the mouse goes too far under the couch she come straight over to me looks up and then goes over and looks at the couch and then back at me. I am very well trained and immediately fish it out for her. Likewise the food signal is when she sits up in a very straight posture, slightly puts her head to one side and then fixes her eyes on me until I look at her and then she’ll walk in the direction of the food bowl.

She also plays a lot with Luka, mainly chase and catch. Interestingly she seems to prefer to play the mouse game with me and not Luka. Or maybe he just doesn’t know the rules!! In fact though Luka likes to be stroked he is more timid than Xena and it’s very amusing at times to watch her go after him when he runs away and miaow at him in a frustrated way. When she looks at me after doing this the expression is the human equivalent of rolling the eyes.

Her communications skills are amazing actually and she loves you to talk to her all the time. I find that using her name a lot and speaking very gently to her is what she likes. If she sees something new, rather than back away she will go right over to look at it, but I notice that she will look at me first and if I say “It’s OK Xena” she proceeds to check out whatever it is that she has spotted. I would recommend that her name is not changed by her adoptive parents as she really knows it and so much has changed for her I feel she needs to keep somethings as fixed, unchanging and all hers.

She and I do get on and I feel the key with her is to let her make all the moves. All our interaction right now is vocal and play. She is at the stage where she comes over and I hold my hand out and she comes up and sniffs my fingers. She will also sit on a chair nearby and sometimes comes into the bed at night to check that I’m there. If I’m eating something she likes she is very able to come over and clearly communicate that she wants a taste too. She loves ice-cream! She doesn’t run from me unless I come on her suddenly or unless Luka is there and runs which triggers her to run too.

Funnily enough when this happens it’s almost as if she runs and then stops and wonders why she was running and she comes straight back to me to see what’s going on. I always offer my hand but I never go to pet her as I know that what she needs is space and time and she’ll develop that on her own terms. Unless it’s an emergency I would really urge for no enforced contact or touching of any kind.

She is also very well behaved in the house, calm, not destructive, good manners and very clean. She likes watching TV occasionally.

When she goes first to a new area she may be cross and a bit hissy. She gets over that very quickly with a lot of play and talk. She is very observant and will be looking at her new parent or parents very closely to evaluate how they interact with her. She will establish a training regime very quickly. My advice is just to go with it as she is very strong willed! If you give her space and let her decide to come to you and play with her a lot from the very beginning she will learn that you are safe.

Rather than making a fuss at first contact I would recommend that the new owner or primary carer opens the door of the cat basket and starts playing with the mouse in front of her – not too near, stay a good 2-3 feet from the open door. Just tap the mouse around the floor as if you’re playing with it on your own. Throw it from hand to hand almost as if juggling – not big or sudden movements. Don’t look at her at all while doing this but start saying “Oh Xena look a mousey. Where’s the mousey etc.” When you notice that she is beginning to look interested just throw it gently to her and walk away.

That’s enough at first contact for her to understand that you’re not going to try to grab her and that you play her favourite game. At second interaction if you look at her give her the cat kiss eye blink a lot (closing & opening both eyes slowly while looking at a cat in cat language means I like you and I’m not threatening).

From there on follow her lead and give her time. I’m 100% sure that from seeing her in action that she will become a very loving cat as soon as she’s had time to forget all her bad associations with handling. I would also suggest that she be kept indoors for the first month as you’ll need to be very sure that she has built trust with you before she goes outside.

I also must emphasise that Xena has to either be placed with Luka or to go to a home where there is another cat as she absolutely adores cats and they are a very strong source of security for her.

Please also note that should you find that you can’t handle her or that no one wants her I am very happy to have her back.


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