It took me some time to gain Sheba’s trust. I had missed out on her kitten hood of play and cuddles and she, in her turn, had not been well treated. For some time, she was fearful of everything and everyone.
Winning a cat’s trust takes time, patience and much love. They are self-sufficient and unpredictable, unlike the majority of dogs. They won’t always respond with purrs as we’d hoped. Early on, I learned to stay calm and quiet around Sheba and never to shout if, in my eyes, she had done wrong.
Felines are reserved creatures, they like their litter tray to be in a private place, where there can be no noise or interruptions. It is the same with their meals: they don’t want to be observed while they daintily eat their food. Never sneak up on her or force sudden changes. In common with many cats, Sheba does not like surprises and mistrusts anything that upsets her routine. I never make direct eye contact, knowing that she will see this as a show of defiance. This business of contact is a very sensitive one: don’t force the pace.
I remember the day my cat first approached me. She bumped her head against my legs. I thought it sweet, but what I didn’t know then was she was covering me with pheromones and demonstrating she accepted and trusted me. It was the invitation to stroke her chin and cheeks with soft, gentle movements. And so we had begun our friendship which went on to cuddles on my lap and games with a toy mouse. As the years progressed, our bond strengthened and together as we faced vets’ visits and examinations, she would turn away to push her face into my coat, as if to say: ‘Please, Mum, get me out of this.’
I never forget, however, that cats lead a double life. In the house, Sheba is an overgrown kitten, blinking at me with her emerald eyes, cajoling the next pouch to be opened. Out in the garden, she is a free-living, wild creature. The moment a cat manages to persuade a human being to open a door, she is off and away without a backward glance. While a dog might look back to see if the human pack mate is following, not so the cat. Her mind has floated off into a totally feline world, where two-legged creatures don’t exist. Cats have the dual capacity to evolve into domestic pussycats and revert to the primitive hunter. Win their trust, yes, but you’ll never truly tame them.
Linden Cottage is her forever home and, as we sit on the sofa together, I gently stroke the black paw she has placed in my hand. I ponder, as I often do, whether cats love us as we love them.
Then I remember the words of the Scottish poet, George Macdonald, who wrote: “To be trusted is a greater compliment than being loved.”