Today marks another turning point in my relationship with Teddy. He’s the stray cat who’s adopted us that I talked about last month (Kibbles & Bits of My Morning), and he has moved up in the ranks to become one of my favorites. I know we’re not supposed to have favorites, but…oh wait, that’s our children. Nevermind.
Teddy, who I affectionately call Teddykins, is definitely up there with my other two favorites, Pepperkitty and Tum Tum, my autistic cat. Pepperkitty being number one, of course. And the reasons Teddy wiggled his way into my heart of hearts are many, but mostly because he’s the underdog, the little engine that could, the one at the bottom of the piggy pile who managed to scrabble his way out.
Teddy started showing up at our house sometime late last year. He kept a very safe distance from all of us, the Baker’s Dozen and the family. We shrugged him off, thinking he was some neighbor’s cat just passing through the yard. But there he was, everyday, and pretty soon he started coming up onto the front porch.
You could tell he was hungry, and he was very dirty. The white on him was more like a dingy cream color, and he looked unkempt. About the fifth day after he started coming here, we set a bowl of kibbles out for him on the porch, near the edge since we could see how skittish he was, and he dove at it.
But what he did was run and grab a kibble in his mouth, run off the porch about four feet away, and eat it with his back to us. Then he came back to the porch and grabbed another kibble and did the same. We went about our business and left him to get some food in him. That he was starving was painfully obvious.
This little dance went on for days, until finally Teddy started staying on the porch, right by the edge, while he ate. We put out food and water when we saw him there under the porch swing, and then went into the house to watch him at the storm door. Within a couple of weeks, Teddy was feeling comfortable enough to stay and eat while we were at least four feet away from him, a boundary we respected for the simple joy of seeing a helpless creature wounded in spirit nourish himself and, hopefully, learn to trust.
As the weeks went by, Teddy became more comfortable with us, and it became a challenge of sorts, with me especially, to somehow make this cat know that we wouldn’t hurt him; that we only wanted to care for him. So every time I fed him, I talked to him, and always made sure I moved very slowly. The smallest of movements made too quickly scared him into bolting. But if I was careful, talking to him gently, he was calm. Cautious, but calm.
By this time, I had already named him Teddy, because with the white around his mouth and that black nose of his, he looks like a teddy bear. Teddy was clearly becoming more comfortable with us, and then came that morning last month when, as I talked to him and filled his water and food dishes, he started talking to me, and stood right next to me. I loved hearing his little meow. But what I loved even more was that he actually let me pet him. I was thrilled. Amazed, and so very thrilled.
Since then, I’ve petted Teddy many times, and the past couple weeks it’s been daily now. I’m actually the only one he doesn’t bolt from. He’s still somewhat skittish around the rest of the family, except for Megan, who has taken to using my approach, talking gently to him and moving slowly.
Two weeks ago, Teddy let me pick him up. We put an open-ended cardboard box on the porch by the door, underneath the lawn chair, and laid a towel in it for warmth and comfort. Teddy had started laying in it, and I’d place his food bowl in the box, in front of him. With winter still here, the cement floor of the porch is so cold, and my nurturing instincts just want him to be warm while he eats.
But on that particular day, Teddy had stepped out of it while I was filling his food bowl, and stood next to me to be petted. It was a bitterly cold day, and all I could think of was his wee little jellybean toes on that ice cold cement. So I reached down and gently picked him up and placed him in the box. And wonder of wonders, Teddy let me! He continued eating, and I petted him a little more, then let him be.
I’ve always tried to respect Teddy’s need for space, the protective wall he’s put up between himself and the rest of the world. It’s a wall he’s put up because he had to, simply to survive. He hisses at most any cat who comes near him, not because he’s a nasty little creature, but because he’s learned, up till now, that he is alone on this earth and he only has himself to protect him and make sure he gets what he needs.
I’ve been working towards “un-convincing” him of that. Day by day, little by little, showing him that he can trust me, and that I love him. Up till now, it’s obviously been a one-sided relationship. He comes to me because he knows I have food and water.
But today…today when I saw him sitting on the lawn chair in the cold and got his food, I started petting him before I placed his food dish next to him on the pad of the chair. And he was pushing his little head against my hand, truly wanting my touch. I started scritching him on his neck, and he leaned into it. I took my hand away, wanting to respect his space, but Teddy didn’t eat his food.
Instead, he put his paws up on the arm of the chair and pushed his head into my hand. So I petted him again, doing those full body pets from the top of his head to the tip of his tail. Over and over, talking to him the whole while. After about a full minute, I stopped again, thinking surely now he’ll want to get down to the business of eating.
But I was wrong again. He didn’t want me to stop. He wanted me to touch him, to pet and scritch him. Teddy didn’t just want to eat; he wanted my attention. Teddy came to me for affection!
So I obliged him, delightedly, for a few more minutes, giving him the love and attention he obviously needs and now, apparently, wants. My little “ruff tuff coco-puff” isn’t so tough after all. ;)