A Misunderstood Beauty
When we adopt out an animal we always hope it will be for life, whether they are a hamster, cat, dog, horse, etc. Unfortunately, while we do have a 96% success rate with our adoptions on the first try, some of our animals do need to come back to us again in their lives. Echo is one of those animals.
Echo first came to us as an owner surrender with two other cats who came from a loving home that could no longer care for them. She was clearly anxious and uncomfortable in our free roam cat room, sitting atop her cat tree and swatting any cats/kittens who came near her. She stayed with us for about two months and in that time she slowly began to come out of her shell. She started to wander down from her cat tree to meet volunteers and play with toys. We had high hopes that in a home environment she would relax even more and were thrilled when a wonderful family came to adopt her.
For several weeks everything went smoothly in her adoptive home but after about two months she began to have incidents. Once she was given catnip and became overstimulated and bit and scratched her owner. Another time one of the owners fell in the shower and shouted out and she ran to and scratched and bit the other owner in response. This continued to happen if loud noises, like the driveway being plowed or her owner shouting after cutting her finger cooking, startled Echo. In a home with an older couple, the risk of a cat bite becoming infected is a risk they just could not take and the only option really was for Echo to return to us.
Within a week of her return to us, now in our cat room alone, she had a similar incident with one of our staff members when she was startled by their opening of the cat food container. This was again, clearly not an issue that was caused by her adopters or anything they did incorrectly. Rather, this is likely a part of her personality that had been suppressed by the stress of being in a communal cat room and only was able to come out when she felt comfortable and safe in her adoptive home, and now alone in the cat room.
After consulting our vet and a behavioralist, it seems that Echo has a case of aggression secondary to arousal, which can also be described as redirected aggression. This happens when something that overstimulates a cat, such as cat nip, seeing something outside, or hearing a loud noise can make a cat over-aroused and cause them to express that energy as aggression directed towards the person or cat closest to them. This can be a very difficult thing to manage in a home environment, but in a typical home, triggers can eventually be determined to be predictable and you can work through counter conditioning and desensitizing a cat to what triggers them and diminish the effects of those triggers over time.
In a rescue environment however, there are so many more factors to consider. We have multiple staff members, volunteers, and visitors and we must be sure to protect them and protect Echo from having more incidents. We also cannot offer her a traditional home environment so there are triggers she may have in a home that we simply cannot acclimate her to in a communal cat room environment to prepare her for a safe adoption. There are often cats coming and going from the room making it a less stable environment, and a cat like Echo is more likely to simply shut down in that environment than make progress.
Even though it is more complicated, there are things we can do to manage Echo’s behavior and help make her feel more comfortable during her stay with us, such as halting cat/kitten intake until we create a management plan for her, allowing her to remain alone in the cat room. First and foremost is anxiety medication to help her feel calmer and more relaxed in her own skin. The nest step is to work to start identifying her triggers and creating plans to work with them. We already know that cat nip and loud noises trigger her, so we are all very careful to avoid those two stimulants. We are also actively observing her room and her interactions with humans using cameras so if she has another incident we can retrace the steps, identify what the trigger was, and work out a plan to manage that behavior. Finally the third part of this plan is to work her mind and enrich her with toys, play, and training. A working brain is often a less stressed brain so giving her positive outlets for her energy may have a positive impact on her behavior.
Echo may have her difficult moments, but on a whole is an incredible cat. She is sweet, affectionate, vocal, and loves the attention of humans. She runs up to the door to the cat room to call out to any visitors we have demanding they come and pay their respects to her beauty. Truly, she is a beautiful cat. It must be difficult to be so anxious and stressed in her own skin to be pushed towards redirected aggression, and every moment we see her relax and let her guard down is considered a win in our book!
The big question on the table right now of course is, while Echo ever be considered adoptable again? Right now, honestly we do not know the answer to that. What we do know is we committed to her and giving her the best chance possible at a happy life. We will work hard to make her feel more comfortable, less defensive, and then answer that question down the line when we have more information. The beautiful thing about Wayward Ranch is we do not put time limits on our animals. As long as we can preserve and provide a wonderful quality of life and our animals are happy, pain free, and at peace, we will move at their pace.
Echo is currently without a monthly sponsor, so if you would like to sponsor her care, visit Patreon.com/waywardranch
Executive Director and Founding Board Member
Wayward Ranch Animal Sanctuary, Inc.