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Diary of a Cat Walker, #37

It's been a while. A long while. But just because I haven't updated this diary in months, it's not because I haven't been walking my cats, because I have. Most days, both Gloria Vanderbilt and Anderson Cooper get separate walks. Since we last "spoke", Gloria has continued to advance, but it's much slower and less noticeable at this point. Which is fine but doesn't warrant a regular "Diary" post. That said, it will result in some non-series blog entries, so watch for those. Over time, she's become a better hunter and she's losing her anxiousness when people approach. She's always been fine once they arrive and talk to me -- the anxiousness vanishes like it was never there -- but their approach unnerved her. Not so much anymore.

And then there's Anderson Cooper. A couple of weeks ago I began telling everyone that I figured she'd be a decent walker by the end of the summer. But change was slow, and I felt, in some ways, she'd regressed. She began to whine in the car on the way to the park. The whining is insistent for the first five minutes or so, and then she falls silent, cocks her head, and gives me a strange, penetrating look. It's like she's trying to figure out why I'm not listening to her. I really think she believes I understand her meows, or should, and that I have a vexing habit of ignoring her.

So, the progress has been slow. Until yesterday that is. Yesterday she walked quite a bit. Generally, I get her to walk for about 5-10 minutes, and then we find a spot to sit and she climbs in my arms. She won't eat her beloved Temptations treats, but she can't resist her Inaba Churu creamy treats, so she's been eating them since day one.

So, let's switch to today. We were sitting on a bench, half in and half out of the summer sun. It was comfortable and the air was filled with the smell of roses from the garden behind us. After sitting for a few minutes, she got up and began to walk away from the bench...and began to explore. She was looking for lizards among the brush, the tree stumps, and the grasses. She immediately found one and she was off! When it scurried under and around and across a stump standing on its exposed roots, I had to coax her to return to my side. Along the way she continued her search, but with a few gentle tugs, I got her to continue to move toward me. When she arrived at my side, I put her on top of a picnic table and offered her a Temptations treat. She ignored it, so I dropped it on the table in front of her. After a few seconds, she ate it! This was a MAJOR turning point. Treat-taking is a HUGE turning point in the walking journey. It was time to celebrate because when this happens, your cat is telling you that it no longer feels like it should be on constant can drop its guard long enough to eat a treat. Or two. Or three. Or seven!

So, if that were all that happened today, it would have been more than enough. But she continued to walk, and explore, and hunt. We walked for 45 minutes! We'd stop and sit at every bench/table we encountered, and I'd reward her with a couple treats, but we didn't stay long. Within a few minutes of looking around, she was ready to go again. And finally, to cap off an already amazing day, she seemed much less anxious about the approach of others; even when a couple with their two dogs stopped to chat.

So, to recap, she made three big changes in one day! I'm a bit astounded still, as I've never experienced this many change at once. Now, this is very situational, as I don't believe she'll exhibit these characteristics elsewhere -- this park is a cat magnet. But that's okay, as other places will follow in time. In summary, this is the progress she made today.

  1. She ate treats she wouldn't eat before. This is typical of most cats in the early stages as eating treats is a very major deal. It has taken more than three months of daily outings to get here.

  2. She chose to walk more...much more than normal. Because you never force a cat, instead you wait until your cat feels comfortable enough to explore and walk around. She's been doing a little walking for a couple of months, but never this much. Not only did she walk for 45 minutes or so, when I led her back to the car, she kept turning back and away, not ready to end our outing.

  3. She's begun losing the anxiety of strangers. Because I'm always in this park, I now know a few regulars and they stopped to chat. While she wasn't ready to greet them, she also wasn't as anxious as she's been in the past. In fact, she was calm. At one point, as I was feeding her the Inaba Churu treat, a couple walked up behind me and said "Hello". I didn't hear them coming and jumped! I then returned the greeting and realized that while I jumped, Anderson Cooper didn't seem fazed. She was still happily lapping at her treat and paid them absolutely no mind.

Yep, a magical day in the journey and now more than ever, I think she'll be well on her way by the end of summer. Maybe even earlier. Either way, I earmark a year as my goal for getting a cat comfortable with the walk. It never takes that long, but psychologically, it's a healthy amount of time and allows for the more fearful among them to have ample time.

Oh wait, I was about to close when I realized I'd forgotten the MOST important change I saw today. Seriously, there were actually four turning points!!!!

4. Her tail. Until today, her tail was kept low, dragging through the dirt as she walked. But today, about five minutes into the walk, her tail came up! All the way. Straight up. It only lasted a second or two, but when it went back down, it didn't go all the way back to the ground. She held it, for most of the walk, about halfway up. This is major, as tail position is a sure sign of how confident a cat is feeling.

I really can't wait for tomorrow's walk to see if all of these turning points remain. I'd actually be surprised if they do as cat walking isn't a consistent path. I expect some backtracking, but that's a very temporary condition. Once you see a change, it may regress for a walk or two, but it will be back stronger than ever the next time.

Four turning points in a single day...amazing.

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