Monday, 5 August 2013

Meet Gypsy

This is my cat.  Her name is Gypsy.  She is black and white and very very furry.
It's really hard to talk about your pets without sounding like a 7-year old recounting a school lesson in front of the class.

Gypsy is our rescue cat.  We have had her for about 3 years now and originally got her from Kingsdown Cat Sanctuary.  I've grown up with cats and have had them for as long as I can remember (apart from when I was at University) so when Steve and I got our own place in our early 20's I nagged him for years about getting one.  He is much more of a dog person, and a "big dog" lover at that but our work schedules and the size of our house and garden at the moment would mean that a dog just wouldn't get the space it needed and would be left alone for a large proportion of the day which is just unfair.  When we get a bigger place and more time....

Anyway for my birthday one year Steve was really struggling with what to get me so I opened up the Kingsdown Cat Sanctuary website, pointed at the cats and went 'one of them'.  I know this sounds like an impulse purchase but having had cats before and having nagged about this for years I knew exactly what I was getting myself in for and I was ready.
We called and booked the appointment to go and have a look around the Sanctuary.  I had seen Gypsy on their website and she reminded me of our old cat, Moses, so I was smitten already.  I asked to meet her, was let into her cage and she immediately wrapped herself around my legs and purred at me.
I was hooked.

It would be another couple of weeks before she was homed with us as she had an eye infection that the sanctuary wanted to keep an eye on before releasing her and we also had to complete the paperwork and checks on us to make sure we were suitable for re-homing Gypsy with.
We know she was a rescue and we have made some educated guesses about what she may have been subjected to before she came to live with us by her behaviour over the first 9 months to a year.  She was terrified (and still is a bit wary) of brooms and would bolt whenever I needed to sweep the floor.

Every time she coughed up a hairball indoors she would scuttle under the bed and hide for hours, only coming out with treats and extensive coaxing (these days she sits next to a hairball with a smug look on her face as if to say 'I made that').  Anytime she used her litter-box she would hide.

She hates her back and tail being touched and will swipe and bite if you go for that (now it's more of a gentle nip followed by an apologetic lick but my hands are covered in scars from the early weeks).  She used to wolf her food in seconds as if she was afraid it would be taken away from her.  She was very, very scared of both Steve and I when she first arrived and would sleep downstairs away from us.

She had stress related diarrhea for the first two weeks and I had to force her hydration medication down her throat (she just dodged it in her food bowl) which didn't help her bond to me at first but we got there!  The picture below was taken days after we adopted her.  You can tell from her eyes and her body language just how wary and nervous she was around us.
It took a year of consistent love, attention and reassurance to build her trust up.   I did a lot of on-line research about cat body language and reciprocated as much as I could to her in 'cat language' such as kitten kisses (slow blinking at her until she returns the slow blink), nose-to nose rubs and cheek to cheek rubs (basically rubbing her scent onto my face and vice-versa), lying near her with my eyes nearly completely closed and big yawns, gently holding the tip of her ear in my mouth for a couple of seconds and releasing it (followed by mouthwash!) and short tickle sessions, letting her dictate how long she wanted to be petted for to build her trust.  I would sit on the sofa or the bed in whichever room she was in and read out loud without looking at her to get her used to the sound of my voice and my scent.  We also had to train her not to bite (as painfully as she was) and she now knows the words 'No' 'Dinner' and 'Bedtime'.

18 months in she started sleeping on the bed with us (after upgrading from inside the plastic laundry basket to the top of the dirty linen basket).

It was all so worth it.  She is happy, healthy and cheeky and has such a vibrant personality.  She now headbutts me to wake me up when she wants her breakfast or thinks I have been sleeping too long (which could mean a headbutt at 3am).  I have also opened my eyes before now to find her face in mine, just staring at me.  It's fairly startling!  She lies down next to me whenever she hears thunder for comfort.  She follows me from room to room until I feed her.  The first time she quivered her tail at us in greeting I was so happy.

She will never be a lap cat and tolerates being picked up and cuddled (by Steve a lot more than me it has to be said; if I pick her up I'm liable to get clawed whereas she will lie docilely in Steve's arms for a few minutes) but the difference in her over the last three years is truly remarkable.
I will always go for rescue animals first.  They are often scared and damaged both physically and psychologically but with love, care and attention they become the most remarkable and affectionate pets.

If you have been thinking about adoption I would say go for it but please think about the following first, for your benefit and that of your new pet.

As nice as it is to have a pet around the house, you should always consider the commitment very, very carefully before adopting or purchasing.  Cats can live for up to 20 years (my old cat was 18 when she died) and dogs (breed dependent) for 15.  Can you commit to caring for another life for this length of time?  Can you walk them, play with them, feed them, train them, clean up their poo and their vomit, care for them when they are sick, groom them and put up with pet hair all over your house and your clothes?  Can you afford them in terms of time and money?  Pets are not toys, to be discarded when you get bored of them or decide you want a new fashion accessory.

If you do decide to go for it, here are some of the tips I have picked up since we started first looking into animal adoption that may make it a little easier for you.  I'm not claiming to be an expert so do your own research as well!
  • Consider adopting an older animal.  Gypsy was nearly 2 we think when we got her which meant I only had to take a day off work to look after her when she first arrived.  The next couple of days I popped home at lunchtime to check on her and then I could leave her alone during the working day, something I could not have done with a kitten.  Older animals make wonderful (and less energetic and stressful pets than having toddlers everywhere) and are often harder to re-home for the shelters.  
  • Look at the 'less pretty' animals.  A funny looking exterior can hide the best personality.  Black cats are apparently the hardest to home.
  • Disabled pets or pets with medical conditions aren't as hard work as you may think - don't immediately discount them without asking the shelter practical questions.
  • If you have other animals, young children or a busy lifestyle speak to the shelter about your circumstances and they will find a good match for you.  I'm still a bit nervous as to how Gypsy will deal with babies when we have them but after seeing her around our friends' babies and toddlers I'm hoping she will be less stressed about it than I originally thought!
  • Make sure the animal is spayed or neutered. 
  • Get your pet micro-chipped.  If your pet wanders off and ends up at a vet's or a shelter it is the easiest way for them to get back to you.  If they are stolen it is the best insurance you can have for them to be returned.   Many shelters will micro-chip your new family member before they come to you.
  • Take out pet insurance.  The peace of mind is worth the £5 a month it costs me for Gypsy and I couldn't bear the idea of having to put her down because I couldn't afford the vet bills if she were sick or injured.
Gypsy cost us £80 to adopt, which, considering her medical treatment, neutering, micro-chipping and not to mention her food and heated pen was an absolute bargain.   She probably costs us between £20 and £30 a month for food and litter and despite investing in a basket, climbing tree and toys for her has shown absolutely no interest in any of them (apart from her catnip mouse) and prefers to catch bugs and use the front door mat to sharpen her claws.

I would really like to adopt another one but Gypsy does not gel well with other cats so I think it may be cruel to put her through undue stress just because I want another ball of fluff around the house.  In practical terms as well I have no idea where I would put a second litter tray or food tray so that they both had their own territories.   So for now, we are a one cat home.
Which means that Gypsy is basically in charge of this house.


  1. What a pretty girl! :)

    I have 2 cats - sisters - who I adopted from a rescue shelter as well. I didn't have the training or behavior issues you did, as they were kittens (mama was pregnant when she was rescued, so my sibs were born at the shelter).

    I can't echo strongly enough your words that pets are NOT TOYS. If you adopt an animal, you are committing to caring for that animal for the rest of it's life, not throwing it away on a whim or because you're moving or because you took a new job or whatever. Too many people think it's ok to discard their unwanted pets, which is sad!

    Anyway - down from my soapbox. :)

    Thanks for the peek into Gypsy's (and your) life.

    1. Thanks for commenting Kara, and awww to your two cats. I still wish we could get another one (and I think that the company would actually do Gypsy good) but when I see her with the other neighbourhood cats I instantly revaluate! Kingsdown always states what has happened when a cat goes to them and some of the stories are horrible - owners deciding they don't want them anymore or can't be bothered with them. There have been a few genuine cases (change of employment circumstance so can no longer afford to care for them, or having to move into different accommodation which won't allow pets etc) but these are few and far between.

      If you like watching animals rescued, check out the Hope for Paws website - be warned though, I get through a box of tissues every time I watch the rescue videos but it is lovely to see so many pups getting rescued in LA!