Bring Your Scaredy-Cat Out Of Her Shell.

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This post is about how to support a pariah and is a bit of a long read, but definitely worth it.

Mia Bella (aka Bellissima)

My little Mia Bella is about 13 years old – I’ve had her since she was a baby. Mia Bella is a lovely lovely kitty, sweet and unassuming. Unfortunately, Mia Bella is also a “pariah” – the outcast of the family – the scaredy-cat — the one other cats pick on for reasons no one knows. Which means she spent most of her young life, day in and day out, in hiding for fear of being bullied. Mia Bella has seen many rescue dogs and cats come through our home over the years, and the dynamic in the home changes with every coming and going. Unfortunately, Mia Bella continued to be the pariah regardless who else was in the house – that was just her personality. It has been a huge challenge reprogramming her. But, through trial and error and intuition and perseverance, and unwaivering love and devotion, I’ve had great success encouraging her. And, based on our very happy outcome, I can share with you what I’ve discovered.

Reprogramming The Pariah Kitty’s Owner.

Before we can make any progress bringing a pariah kitty out of her shell, we need to reprogram you – the scaredy-cat’s owner. It’s on you to “even the playing field,” so to speak. As long as the owner doesn’t intervene and create new boundaries, the other kitties (let’s call them the bully kitties for grins) will continue to intimidate your pariah kitty with impunity. And your pariah kitty will never entirely trust you because, for all she can tell, you’re aligned with the bully kitties, make sense? So, see, your part is two-fold and very very critical to her wellbeing.

First Things First ~ Stop The Bullying.

First, you need to step in and begin to pro-actively disallow the bully kitties their intimidation tactics. This is best done with body language. Nothing verbal is needed–very important you understand this point. Even when they just sit and stare at your pariah–that’s total intimidation, believe it. So you need to be very focused on even the most subtle nuances and step in right then and there when it happens and cut it short. For your pariah to trust you, she needs you to advocate for her. You step in their line of vision and use your energy to break their stare or make them back away from her. Start “speaking” to the bully kitties through body language to demonstrate your disapproval of their behavior. It will take awhile for them to give in. After all, they’ve been doing it their way for some time now. But be persistent and consistent with them. And every time you correct the bully kitties, let them see you put your pariah kitty on your shoulder. This gives her a place of safety and status, so to speak. Unlike dogs, cats identify their territory vertically – the higher they are, the safer they feel and the more power they have. That will speak volumes to all of the kitties about the new and approved hierarchy in your home. It also will tell them that you’re the one in charge from now on.

Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are!

Second, draw your pariah out of her shell. This is best done by letting her see you constrain the other bully kitties AND making her part of the correction, from a safe distance on your shoulder. Start putting your pariah on your shoulder as if burping a baby. I know it sounds odd, but it’s not threatening like being face-to-face with you in your lap. To ensure she doesn’t try to jump if fear overcomes her, secure her on your shoulder by holding the very base of her tail. Where it attaches to her body, not too tight, just firm. This is a cat’s point of leverage and will help her to feel grounded and stable. I handle all my cats this way. It’s VERY effective and reassuring for them. Then walk slowly and casually throughout the house, without talking to her at all. Take your time, linger in every room, turn slowly so she can see everything.

This is Her Moment To Re-Discover Her Home.

She’ll learn very quickly that your shoulder is a “safe place” and no one can hurt her there. You’re building trust now. Let her see and feel the rhythm of your home from this new “safe place.” That’s why it’s very important that you don’t talk to her during this exercise. You can rub her with your forehead now and then, but no other input from you. This is her time to let her senses run free to discover and absorb and create a new relationship with her home from a safe place. She’s never had that sensory freedom because she’s always been in a fear-driven flight mode. Being safely up on your shoulder will also help her begin trusting you more. Up to now, you’ve been part of the problem because you weren’t part of the solution. Does that make sense? Do this every day as often as your schedule allows, and you’ll eventually feel her body start to relax. When she finally exhales and starts to purr, you’ll know she’s beginning to trust and you’ve made great headway.

A New, Balanced Hierarchy.

Now, back to the bully kitties. They need time out at least once every day so that your pariah can have free run of the house on her terms. A crate, or a bedroom, whatever, is fine. BUT – your pariah needs to be up on your shoulder and participating when you put the bully kitties away. She needs to see with her own eyes, from her safe place, that they cannot reach her or intimidate her. When you put the bully kitties in a room or crate and close the door behind you, be sure to have your pariah on your shoulder so she can see clearly what you’re doing as you leave the room. She needs to know with her own eyes that they’re behind that door now. If not, she’ll remain convinced they’re hiding in wait somewhere else to pounce on her. She won’t feel free to get down and explore the house during this free time you’ve given her.

You’ve Got Her Back ~ Always.

This is a process that will need to become a way of life, by the way. Doubtful there is an actual graduation day. You probably will need to maintain these practices always to keep the peace. Good news is, once you start “speaking” their language, it comes naturally and won’t seem like a chore anyway. In fact, I’m sure you already realize it feels very empowering to get that break-through and be able to communicate with another species on its own level. I get pretty excited myself. Another great result I’ve seen is that, with each new day that your pariah feels protected, she also now feels emboldened. She’s coming out of her shell finally, because she knows that you’ve got her back now.

The Rewards Are Heartwarming.

My Mia Bella still battles fears occasionally, but they’re greatly diminished. She’s had a taste of freedom from intimidation and has enjoyed glorious moments without fear. Her desire to continue that encourages her to be braver on her own. She’s blossoming. I see her venture out and explore on her own and play with some of the friendly kitties. She would not have dreamed to try it before. She’s making friends and building a very happy new life. And the difference is–she knows I’ve got her back now.

I figured this all out on my own. Didn’t read it in a manual or see it in a how-to video. And still I can say with all confidence that this process works. Give it a shot. The payoff is transcendent! In fact, Mia Bella herself confirms our success every day. Because, whenever she has a moment of feeling threatened, or if she just doesn’t want me to comb her or give her any medicine, instead of running behind the couch or under a bed, she comes running to me for my shoulder. Because, once on my shoulder, she knows, always a safe place – always. Now that’s a happy ending. I get teary-eyed just talking about it. Give it a try – be patient, good luck, and happy pet parenting!

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God Bless and Happy Pet Parenting!

With love and good wishes,
jeannie.   ?

About jeannie:  I’ve been pro-actively involved in pet rescue all of my life. I founded Milagro Senior Pet Refuge© (Phoenix) in 1998, and BareFootPets (TM) in 2008.  Animal welfare has always been and will always be my heart’s work. If my only legacy is that I save a handful of precious souls that would not survive otherwise, I’m good with that.