What does it look like to come to love a pet in a gradual way?
June 3, 2017 6:55 PM   Subscribe

I'd like to adopt a cat to be my friend and companion. Some people say that the cat will "choose me," or that I will fall in love and just "know" when I've found the right cat. But while that's true for others, it doesn't seem to work for me. Is it possible to befriend a cat more slowly, and still end up with a bond of companionship? What does that look like?

I posted a question recently about wanting to adopt a cat to be my companion and help me with depression and anxiety. People were very kind and generous with their answers. Some people said that it takes cats a long time to warm up, but others said that when you meet the right cat, you know it right away. The consensus from many seemed to be something like, "Wait for a cat to choose you. You'll know." I was a little surprised and skeptical because as an anxious person, I rarely have that feeling about anything, but I gave it a try.

I went to a lot of shelters and met a lot of cats, but it seems like I'm not a "you just know" kind of person. Even when a cat paid a lot of attention to me, and purred at me, and did objectively charming things like craning her neck upside down in order to smush her face into my hand more effectively, my annoying brain's thought process just went something like this: "This is a nice cat. But I don't feel any special certainty. How am I supposed to know that this is The Right Cat? If I adopt her and don't come to feel any love for her, that would be bad. If that happened, would that mean I was incapable of feeling love? Am I a monster? Maybe better not to adopt a pet at all."

In short, I overthink and worry about things, so I don't seem to be a good candidate for that kind of "you just know" bonding with a pet. Plus I never owned a pet as a kid, so I don't have any previous animal companion bonding experience for comparison. Yet I'd still like to own a cat if I can, because I'd like to develop that bond and to take care of a living thing that cares for me back. (I've had a fish before, and I did like it a lot, but I was hoping to keep a pet with which I could have a more reciprocal bond.)

So my question is, have you ever owned a pet that you bonded with slowly or gradually—where you didn't automatically love it or know that it was perfect for you, but you got there over time as you got to know your pet better? If so, could you please tell me what that process looked like—how long it took, or what milestones there were, or when you started to feel bonded with your pet? I would really appreciate a kind of road map or guide to where I should set my expectations, as an anxious person, for bonding with a pet. Thank you very much to anyone who feels like they can understand and might be able to help!

(P.S. I know it's an AskMe favorite, but please don't say "Get therapy/meds for anxiety"—I've been trying lots of kinds of both for a long time already. Thanks!)
posted by honey wheat to Pets & Animals (35 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Yes. While I had my first dog that was my soul mate dog, I also adopted another, second dog. She was fun, but she never compared to my first dog. And she had a slew of expensive health issues, was stubborn, and just did her own thing. Fast forward to last week, and I was actually thinking maybe she would be a better fit elsewhere. Fast forward to this week, when she has an emergency leg and shoulder amputation, all of a sudden I know how very much I love her and she loves me, and I'm counting the hours until she comes home.

If you find a cat that is relatively friendly and playful, meaning they don't seem like they have personality issues, you will find your path to bonding. You will relate to each cat according to both your personalities. That means you would have a different communication with a playful cat (toys, etc) vs. a mellow cat (you will doze together on the sun). You may also just bond over food. All those ways of being are different, but still connected. So there is no 'right' one, just 'different' one.
posted by Vaike at 7:07 PM on June 3, 2017 [4 favorites]

Just pick a cat that likes you when you meet them at first and take him or her home. Cats, like people or dogs, or really any animal, develop familiarity and bond with other animals thanks to repeated interaction over time. As you and the cat get to know each other you will love each other.

I got my cat from a friend who found him in the street during a thunderstorm, she kind of didn't give me a choice, she just called and was like, hey I found your cat! because she knew I had been looking for one. At first he was really food aggressive and kind of bitey and such, but as we got to know each other we got along better and better, and now I'm all "my cat son!" You can help your cat bond with you by learning how to interpret common cat body language, incentivizing with snacks and warm snuggly places, and using Feliway (imitation cat hormones in a wall plug in aroma thing) if the cat is anxious or upset because of moving to a new home.

Things don't need to be perfect from the beginning in order to work out great. For everyone who says "I just KNEW IMMEDIATELY!" about a pet, or even a romantic partner, there are probably three or four other people who weren't sure about it at first, but when they gave it some time and some positive energy, it turned into a very meaningful relationship.
posted by zdravo at 7:09 PM on June 3, 2017 [10 favorites]

So this will likely not be popular, but I don't think it matters what cat you get, as long as it doesn't have any red flag personality or behavioral issues. Although many of us (myself included) might say that we "knew right away" about a particular cat or that the cat picked us, I really believe that we make our pets special, and they make us special, by the time we spend together. So just get a cat already!
posted by OrangeDisk at 7:18 PM on June 3, 2017 [31 favorites]

YES. My first cat I felt "it" after about 4 days. We just felt like a pair. At the spca he just seemed a little different than the other cats. I had my doubts but by day 4 there was no question. He was just so chill.

My second... it took about 6 months or more until I realized I loved him. When I saw him at the spca, I felt like "yeah this one is ok" but when it came time to pay the adoption fee I was very nervous. I chalked it up to fear of change and the unknown and followed through anyway. He was a kitten and while I felt caretaker towards him, the feelings of affection just didn't hit me until much much later. Now even though he's a total stinker I'm his #1 fan. What changed? No big milestone. I had him fixed and leaving him overnight at the vet made me care about him. I had a bad dream that he was hit by a car and the sadness was awful. He had a kitten freak due to Too Much Energy and I tried to calm him down (and failed) but admired his spirit. What else to say? Just time and familiarity.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 7:20 PM on June 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

Yeah, cats especially take some time to get to know and love... my first cat was a complete asshole and there were times at the beginning when I thought I wouldn't ever bond with him, but eventually I learned his moods and eccentricities and came to love him, he was the best cat ever. My second cat was a sweetheart right away, and still is, but I don't love him any more than the first.

Just as a point of information, the first was adopted blind from a friend after he found him abandoned. The second was picked from a shelter, and he was the friendliest cat in the place, and that was really his personality... he's more like a friendly dog than a cat.
posted by Huck500 at 7:30 PM on June 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

My dogs and cats all have wildly different personalities, but they are all completely loveable. I think the way bonds happen is just by spending time together, and getting to know and appreciating your new family member for who they are. Being responsible for their happiness and wellbeing plays a big part.

Try not to stress out too much about picking 'the one'. Any cat you choose to adopt will be winning the kitty lottery that day. And you'll be getting a new family member! Also, their personality might change once they get comfortable in your home. Watching that change can be really rewarding and enhance the bond.
posted by Fig at 7:36 PM on June 3, 2017 [4 favorites]

have you ever owned a pet that you bonded with slowly or gradually—where you didn't automatically love it or know that it was perfect for you, but you got there over time as you got to know your pet better?

I would say that more or less describes my experience with my Trilby. I went to the shelter and looked at all the cats, and there were two I seemed to be struck by -- I think it just boiled down to them seeming especially pretty to me. One was white, blue-eyed Trilby, and the other was a buff-coloured, green-eyed cat named Pandora. After learning more about the two of them, I decided on Trilby because he was younger and had no known medical issues, even though the shelter staff person recommended Pandora, because she was friendly while Trilby was initially nervous around strangers. I thought he'd come around once he got to know me, and he did.

We took awhile to bond, but it was never something I worried about, and it almost meant more because it happened slowly. Trilby never seemed afraid of me, though he was intimidated by the house, and it was two weeks before he would sit in my lap. Then for the next 6 weeks he went through a phase of being very, very eager to spend as much time in my lap as possible. But he wouldn't stay in my room at night. He'd hang out with me as long as I was awake and watching TV and sleep in my lap, but as soon as I turned out the light and settled down to sleep, he'd get up and bolt out of the room. Then he began visiting me at night, apparently to check on me and make sure I was there and alive. I'd wake up and find him sitting on the night table beside my bed, staring at me intently. Then one night I woke up to hear the sound of breathing. He was sleeping on a folded jacket on the dresser. He did that for a few nights, I moved the jacket, and then he began sleeping on my bed, but just on the very edge of the bed. Gradually he relaxed into it and now he sleeps on the extra pillows and that side of the bed is his and I'm not allowed to sleep there. Once he started sleeping with me at that two-month mark, he stopped sitting in my lap as much or for as long. I'd say his sleeping with me marked the point where he was settled in, though I'd had him for six months before he gave me my first nose rub, and I'd had him for nine months before he would let me clip his claws.

As for my side of things, I must admit I never liked cats and got Trilby mainly because I had an extreme chronic mouse problem in my old house. He turned out to be an avid mouser and resolved the problem, which was great. And of course when I adopted a cat I accepted the responsibility of making sure he had a good, happy life with me, which meant I was affectionate and attentive from the beginning because that was part of giving him a good life. But I didn't love him, though I think now I can say I do.

I think the idea of "just knowing" when you first meet a cat is overly romantic. Some people might feel that way, but probably most of us just pick out an appealing cat and take it home and let things develop over time.
posted by orange swan at 7:39 PM on June 3, 2017 [7 favorites]

Yes. I fell in love with my Huggy gradually. I never would have picked her out. But since I had her as a foster, I had a chance to know her and love her.

I am an absolute advocate of fostering for exactly this reason. Shelters need fosters and it's a good way to find out how good of a fit you are with an animal.
posted by frumiousb at 7:42 PM on June 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

Yeah, while I do think sometimes you come across an animal and do have a super strong feeling about it, in many cases that's more about where you are as a person at that second rather than something magical about the animal.

My "heart dog" was elderly when we got my husband a puppy - and they did strongly and intensely bond, for whatever reason, instantly - and not long after two dogs came along circumstantially. None of them are my best friend, but I love them and like them and we are all strongly bonded. They are seniors now and I know how badly my heart will still break when they're gone.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:48 PM on June 3, 2017

Hey you sound like a reasonable person who is kind and thoughtful and able to separate the bullshit anxiety thoughts from your real feelings with some space for reflection. I think you will be an amazing pet parent who won't expect impossible things from your pet.

People absolutely form slow building and deep bonds with cats and dogs all the time. Remember the dads who didn't want those dogs? Probably the most common example is when parents get a pet for the family and the kids get the fun parts and the parent gets stuck with the maintenance, but the pet does its awesome pet thing and spreads love around anyway and two years later it's all miniature themed matching sweaters and long calming walks and couch naps with a furry lap warmer.

I think that as long as you have the resources to care for a cat's physical needs (good food, clean water, shelter, clean litter box, interesting stuff to chew and scratch and pounce, company for a few hours a day, head scratches) any cat who isn't a bundle of preexisting problems is going to be good for you in terms of emotional attachment and giving and receiving love. So many perfectly lovely cats are in shelters, please don't worry for one second about not getting a special needs cat. Every "easy to adopt" cat still needs to be adopted, and that makes room for another cat in need. And that is its own form of love, really, even though it is more generalized.

I've had the opposite experience, where I bonded with a cat, brought her home, and immediately the problems began and never ceased until she passed away. I have had (and currently have) incredible kitty relationships but it isn't always like that, even for people who do feel that instant bond sometimes.
posted by Mizu at 7:50 PM on June 3, 2017 [5 favorites]

Create a list of traits you want in a cat. Find a cat that meets these criteria and acts as if they like you and just seems cool. Take it home and you will come to love it. If you don't, then you have provided an excellent home to an animal in need. But, really, you will develop affection. A couple of weeks of purrs and headbutts and you will be fast friends.
posted by Foam Pants at 8:06 PM on June 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

I took in a pair of 5 year old cats last summer when an acquaintance had to give them up. I had less than 24 hours notice before they showed up at my house. I'd never met them before. Less than a year later, I'm a total insane crazy person about them and my husband and I both agree (secretly, of course, and not in front of her) that we love them more than our other cat we've had for years. Sorry, Papaya. So yeah. If you're an animal person and you end up with good animals, you're likely to love them.
posted by something something at 8:12 PM on June 3, 2017

My old kitty was chosen by my daughter (age 7) at the shelter ten years ago. She was asleep under a shelf that her litter-mate was lying on the top of. We just kind of pulled her out of there and had no idea of her personality or anything.

She was standoffish at first. I definitely had an "I don't know about this cat..." kind of feeling towards her for awhile, several months at least. It was a slow process, but I did eventually become bonded to her. I had some overthinky thoughts during this process about "Shouldn't I be more bonded to her already? What's wrong with me?" and such, but overall I just let it be. Over time, as we got to know each other better, I felt more and more strongly that I loved her. If it takes time, that's just how it goes, I figured.

Things that I think I did that helped: I went easy and slow with her, didn't try to force interactions. A brief head-pat here, a bit of petting her along her body there, and a nice cushy blanket on my desk that was a nice place for her to be near me when I'm at the computer. Later, eventually, she was very much into petting (head rubs especially), lap-sitting, and sleeping beside me.

Anyway, I want to encourage you to get a cat and not be too hard on yourself if you don't feel the bond right away. Just power through your stray thoughts and pick one, a friendly one if you can manage it. Odds are real good that by the time a year has gone by, you'll be impressed with how your relationship with your cat has progressed. You could be best buds by then!

(And if you are, like me, unable to choose between equally appealing options at times, bring a coin or a die to throw to help you at the shelter. May sound weird, but may be of some use?)
posted by cats are weird at 8:32 PM on June 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

I didn't really know until after I brought my first cat home. She seemed nice enough, and she was the one I met who didn't like the shelter at all. So I figured I might as well give it a go. She had apparently bonded with me though, because when the light went out in the house that night, she started scrabbling at the bathroom door and wouldn't chill until I moved her to safe room with me, at which point she settled onto the bed and we went to sleep.

My feral cat Slim was just a project - he was far too screwed up by being feral for me to know anything about him except that he had potential to grow out of it. It took years for him to go from being calm when I was in the area to actually like being around me, and more years to become the sweet mush of a cat he is today.
posted by wotsac at 8:46 PM on June 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

I didn't know how to choose between about 4 cats at the shelter so my husband picked ours. I felt really uneasy and unsure as to whether this cat was the "right one." She was really quiet and mild-mannered and just kind of sat there.
A month in, we had discovered that he (he!) was a whiny, demanding super affectionate kitty with vampire fangs.
I 100% did not feel like our cat was the cat for us, but now I do. Just pick an adult cat (kittens are cute but way too much of a hassle) who seems pretty friendly, or at least not actively unfriendly. The cat will probably become your beloved kitty once you get used to each other/the cat adjusts to its new home.
posted by sacchan at 8:47 PM on June 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'll add that on the other end - I was asked to rescue a friend's cat who was in bad trouble - and figured I'd bail him out, make sure he was well behaved and pass him on. But as soon as I met him, I wanted to keep him - and sure enough he's napping on my lap right now, many years later.
posted by wotsac at 8:58 PM on June 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

My second cat was chosen for my by the shelter as a "good match" for my situation. She was perfectly cute, but I didn't feel a special bond like I did with my first (who came to me from a friend & was a foster-to-adopt situation - again, I didn't choose him as such). I wasn't sure about the 2nd one for a while. I liked her, but would I ever love her like I do my special boy? And it took some months I admit, but yes, I'm totally in love with her now (tho he's still my special boy). All my cats are best cats!! I'm sure your cat will be best cat, too.
posted by ClarissaWAM at 9:19 PM on June 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

For practical reasons, I decided I wanted a female adult cat, more on the cuddly side than the playful side if possible. Then I went to the shelter and just picked one out. I figured there was no point in overthinking it, because I'd eventually fall in love with whichever cat I got.

My cat bonded with me right away. Some of that is probably her (very earnest and sweet) personality, and some of that is probably that she was so happy/grateful that I brought her out of the shelter and into a home.

It took me a little while to bond with her, because I had to get to know her first. By "a while," I mean about a week, maybe two. Once I felt I "knew" her, I loved her.

Nowadays, I love her to pieces and think all the time about how lucky I am to have such a wonderful pet. She is a delight.
posted by rue72 at 9:20 PM on June 3, 2017

Oh gosh yes. I adopted my first cat because a friend who was a vet student had rescued him and couldn't place him because he was an ugly, starving, feral little kitten who'd lost an eye and wanted to murder the world and I am a sucker for a hard luck story. He spent the first couple weeks trying to murder my hand and/or face and/or feet any time I got near him, yowling at the top of his tiny lungs, and being frantic about food. Once he realized I brought the food he followed me from room to room. Gradually he settled down and got less wild. Gradually he would sit next to me, let me pet him, sit on me. Then he decided he was my boyfriend and started trying to murder my husband and I knew he was my soul-cat. He wouldn't let me go to the bathroom alone or the shower alone and he'd try to block the door when I put my shoes on so I couldn't leave. He just died this past December after 15 years and I may never love a cat that much again, after a not very promising beginning at all.

All our subsequent cats have all been tough-to-place one-eyed ones -- that's how we "know" they're ours! Our second one was a very timid adult who'd been abandoned, and we basically didn't even SEE him for the first 60 days he lived with us (at one point we were sure he'd escaped but he was just hiding), whereupon he became a permanent lapcat who lurked, waiting to snuggle as soon as you sat down. Our third one was a fairly standoffish stray who came to us about 6 months old and he was not very interested in human companionship for, gosh, four YEARS. He thought my other cat was his mom/cat God and just followed him around all the time. And then one day he was just like, "Yeah, okay, I think I like you guys," and he is trying to help me type right now. My most recent one we got as a kitten and she was affectionate right off the bat, which is the first time that's happened for us. (In fact, I'm a little lukewarm on her, because it takes ME a while to warm up, and she just doesn't have much personality yet beyond "knock down all the things." I'm sure in another couple months I'll be like, "awwwww, kitty-luv!")

I think adult cats settle down into comfortable lap-cat-dom a lot faster than kittens, who are going through phases and have a lot more energy and have to chase ghosts and things. Older cats are suspicious for a bit, discover you bring food and have a warm lap, and eventually decide you're okay.

If you need an arbitrary cat-choosing criterion to get you over the hump, I give you permission to go seek out a one-eyed fella. I literally have no idea how to pick one otherwise; we tried once and we were just overwhelmed by all the choices at the shelter and there was no way to choose! But when we see a one-eyed charmer, we're like, "Yes! That's our thing! That one must be ours!"
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 9:54 PM on June 3, 2017 [9 favorites]

I chose my cats. They did not choose me, at all. I adopted two feral born cats who were not socialized or domesticated. When I met them, they were scared and angry and hissy. It's been eight years now, and they'll never be "normal" house cats. That's okay. I've had a lot of cats in my life, and I love these weirdos the most, because they were unwanted, and they're still kinda difficult, but when I get a headbutt, it means so much more. I have depression and anxiety, too, severely so, and adopting the cats no one else wanted was really therapeutic, honestly. It's not the typical human-cat relationship, but I love them that much more because, really, they're like me.
posted by Ruki at 10:04 PM on June 3, 2017 [8 favorites]

When I went to the shelter with my husband, I wanted to get an older cat, and he wasn't so interested in that. I had a cat I thought I would like all picked out from Petfinder.com, but once I got there, that cat didn't seem particularly friendly or interested in us, so the shelter showed us a pair of other adult cats who were being featured for 'tuxedo cat month' (apparently cats who have part black or all black coats are less likely to be adopted, so they were trying to market them better). Both cats seemed friendly, one crawled all over my husband and he thought it was a pretty weird cat.

We also played with some new kittens who were of course adorable. In the end, my husband voted strongly for the kittens saying that adult cats have probably had some abusive past that might have scarred them, and he didn't feel any particular spark with the adult cats we met. I cajoled him to take the older cats, not because I thought they were the greatest cats in the world but just because I knew they had been living in the shelter for 8 months already, and it broke my heart to think of them living there indefinitely when many people don't want to adopt adult cats, not to mention black cats, not to mention a bonded pair who came together. They were a charity case. We flipped a coin, and the kittens won the coin toss, so my husband started filling out the paperwork, but then I thought of the adult cats wasting away in a cage for years and I cried and said "no, we just can't leave them here." He relented.

Anyway, the point of the story is that I like my cats very much (I love one of them, the other one is a little hard to love but he's a good guy), but for my husband - they light up his life, they mean the world to him. Every day he comes home and he gets on the floor with them and they just love each other and roll all over each other and generally act like fools together. If we were falling off a precipice and my husband had to choose to grab and save only me or one of these cats, I suspect I'd have to face plunging to my demise.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 10:05 PM on June 3, 2017 [21 favorites]

Also, not sure if anyone else has also said this but it's really not fair to judge animals based on how they behave in shelters. It's an unnatural environment. The shelter we adopted from is very nice but the cats still live in cages some of the time and there are so many other animals around and no one pays that much attention to any particular cat.

Completely different story once you bring them home and give them a few days to settle in, you will see their real personalities start to come out. So not only do I think it's possible to gradually start to love a cat, I also think it's probably the more likely way things will happen because when you first meet them in a shelter, they're going to be a little more on edge and riled and stir crazy and perhaps a bit standoffish at meeting a stranger - once they know they are a part of your family and in a forever home, they will be much more likely to treat you accordingly and be relaxed and happy.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 10:11 PM on June 3, 2017 [12 favorites]

As with human romance, it isn't so much a matter of "just knowing" as it is of being in a receptive frame of mind. Cats come along sometimes at the right moment – a stray turns up on your front step; a friend has a new lover that's allergic, or has been offered a dream job overseas, and needs someone to take their cat; you see a cat up for adoption on Facebook and you take a liking to its face. Anything. Don't have to wait for some coup de foudre. The hour will produce the cat.
posted by zadcat at 11:07 PM on June 3, 2017 [7 favorites]

I believe all love comes in a gradual way and no cat will be "perfect for you" out of the box—true bonds develop over time. Sure, sometimes people say they just "knew" when they found the right cat, but you aren't hearing from the folks who had similar feelings, but eventually learned that they were a bad match.

Perhaps it would help relieve some of your anxiety if you limited your search to shelters that will take back/help rehome a cat if things don't work out—which, btw, would not be evidence that you are incapable of love/a monster, etc—maybe you're just a bad match.

Get as much info as you can regarding a prospective adoptee's background and temperament (iirc, you're looking for a rather laid back companion) and, if I were you, I would go with the next cat that "paid a lot of attention to me, and purred at me, and did objectively charming things like craning her neck upside down in order to smush her face into my hand more effectively".

Good luck with your search.
posted by she's not there at 11:16 PM on June 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

I'm not a fan of the "the cat will pick you" or the "you'll just know" narrative. Sure, it can happen that way - but not all of the time, or even most of the time, and it mystifies the process unnecessarily.

It's a little like telling someone who's looking for a partner that it will be love at first sight. Maybe, but most good relationships build gradually, and holding out for love at first sight means that you may be passing up opportunities to build something great so you can live this idealized narrative.

Anyway. Here's a specific example, which will hopefully reassure you:

My mom and I wanted Cat A. We thought that Cat A was perfect. Unfortunately, it turned out that Cat A wasn't up for adoption, and we couldn't have Cat A. We still wanted a cat, though, so we picked Cat B. Cat B was a good cat, but he wasn't really the one that we wanted.

Fifteen years or so later, I still have Cat B. I find his particular personality and quirks to be hilarious and endearing, and I love him. We've definitely bonded ... and it didn't take fifteen years, more like a few days.

And this is mostly how we've picked our cats: "This seems like a good one." Out of nine or so cats I've had since I was a kid, I think only one really fits the "you'll just know" narrative. It's not magic. And my family's never thought we picked the wrong cat.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 1:54 AM on June 4, 2017 [3 favorites]

I have had both situations.

In university, a friend knew I'd just had a sad situation (I fostered 3 kittens for whom it had already been too late, and gave them a comfortable and warm place to die but not much else) with cats, and missed a kitty presence. So when a cat ran into her house unexpectedly, she (not at all a cat person) called me and asked if I'd like to investigate. I showed up and yeah - it was instant. I saw the cat, the cat saw me, she ran to me like she'd been waiting for me, and that was it. Inseparable.

But the pet I have now, a dog... I was pretty reticent about him. I wanted a dog, he checked all the boxes, but I was so worried I was making a mistake. Even for the following... 3-4 months? I kept thinking, it might not work out. Now, years later, yeah we've developed a fantastic bond and I had nothing to worry about.
posted by gloriouslyincandescent at 2:12 AM on June 4, 2017

The two things don't have to be incompatible. When we adopted the goofy tux in my profile pic she certainly didn't choose us. She was literally the most terrified, cowering cat in the shelter, hiding in a miserable ball in back of her cage and hissing at any attempt to touch her.

Or rather that's how she chose us because I am a sucker for the toughest case in the place. She spent her first 6 months with us hiding whenever she could.

Love and patience are intertwined. She just spent the last half hour snuggled against my leg on the couch. It took well over a year of sometimes frustrating slow work to undo her fear and trauma.

The reward is proportional to the effort with feral cats.
posted by spitbull at 4:27 AM on June 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

So I met this jerk on Halloween when he was a tween, and the last of a litter of a friend's cat that got knocked up by a local tom. He came home with me and my ex because my ex was missing his own cat and I, despite believing I was a dog person, felt bad. I certainly didn't hate him at first, but figured he would be my ex's cat, and we would mutually not hate each other.

Then the adorable jerk grew on me.

Flash forward 4 years, the ex & I are getting divorced, and I demand to take the cat. I chalked it up to not trusting my ex to take care of him, but apparently I love this cat. After the divorce, he's been my main bond, and honestly, a bit of a life saver. We've moved together, snuggle together, he watches me play video games; hell, we even share a morning routine. I worry about him constantly, even when I'm at work. He meets me at the door every day when I come home, and yells at me through the window when I'm outside, so I like to think he worries about me too.

They can absolutely grow on you, and you on them. Adopt an older, relaxed, friendly cat and just give them love (and treats and chin rubs). They will return it.
posted by RhysPenbras at 6:06 AM on June 4, 2017 [9 favorites]

Avoid the wrong cat, don't look for a perfect one. Subjectively, for you alone, the cat needs to not look wrong. So, choose
- a color that you don't dislike,
- a body shape that doesn't make you laugh in disdain, cry in disbelief, or want to look away in embarrassment,
- a fur feel that agrees with you.
The cat also shouldn't act wrong. Choose a cat with a first-sight energetic level that doesn't put you off. Cats do sleep a lot, but they don't need to behave like brain-dead sloths; cats play a lot but they'd better not be continuously frantic as Roger Rabbit or the Animaniacs. Cats need to be friendly and a little goofy occasionally. Like: serious, but with humor. These cats do exist.

So in short, don't look for love at first sight, or the perfect fit. Cat attraction is mutual: you are friendly to the cat, the cat is friendly to you. Choose a cat that you can be friendly to.
posted by Namlit at 7:32 AM on June 4, 2017 [5 favorites]

A lot of my cats have chosen me, but not so much out of "love at first sight" but just "congratulations you have a cat now" and it's always worked out just fine in the long run, even the ones who were kind of crankypants and not very good cuddlers. So the only reason they've chosen me is because I happen to be one of those sorts of people where others are like, "Hey, my sister's foster cat had kittens and they need someone to take the last one!" The one cat I got from a rescue, my ex wanted a Siamese and I was just like "yeah sure" and I still loved him. I'd have a very, very hard time choosing if I was just supposed to walk into a shelter one day, but I think my POV after lots of experience with cats is "clearly I want all these cats" not "clearly I don't want any of these cats enough". Framing can make all the difference, there.
posted by Sequence at 12:24 PM on June 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

I don't think I've ever gotten to choose a cat in my life. All of our current cats are rescues: friends handed us a cat who needed a home, and we took them in. And then we did it a couple more times. We are very bonded with all of them. Cats like people who feed them and hang out with them and play with them and rub them in the way they prefer (they're good at communicating what that is) and give them a nice place to sleep.
posted by hydropsyche at 2:18 PM on June 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

The animals closest to my heart are the ones I grew up with - I definitely didn't choose any of them. The first two cats were adopted before I was born, the dog was a spur-of-the-moment adoption that they pursued without telling us kids (and he really didn't become "himself" until about a week or so in), the next cat was the only one at the rescue with the outgoing personality we wanted, and the last cat was only chosen because she got along well with the previous one (and she was a different color than him. That was important to my mom.) There wasn't a lot of magic in any of the choices, but they all grew into unique, special relationships that were 100% love. I honestly don't know how we could have "just known" with either of the kittens anyways, since their adult personalities were fairly different from the cats we met in the shelter.

If you're unsure about a cat, why not foster? Then you can start to get an idea of what your relationship with the cat might actually feel like without the full commitment - I was resistant to the idea of fostering before I got my dog, but now I SO wish I'd had that experience and perspective first.
posted by R a c h e l at 10:59 AM on June 5, 2017

People who know me will attest that I love my cat. Like, LOVE her, dote on her, and organize my life around her needs. When I first met her, though, I used to run at her, hissing, to chase her out of my yard. It took a good three years for me to warm up to her, and then I did.
posted by Stewriffic at 2:03 PM on June 5, 2017

As someone who never warmed up to a temporary kitten that turned into a permanent cat because impossible to ethically rehome, it has been my experience that:

Sharing space, time, and a grocery budget with a behaviorally unproblematic, physically healthy cat can be a significant enrichment even if an affectionate bond never develops. A cat's-needs-based bond, in which you recognize the cat's needs and go to lengths to meet them, and the cat thrives because needs met, is satisfying in its own right.

Many cats benefit from some structure and training.
IAABC article
WPR interviews Sara Ellis, author of The Trainable Cat
The experience of a cat eagerly responding to your hand commands, even when you know it's all it their own interest, is a sort of bond as well.

It might remove some pressure to know that cats don't love, in any case. They're opportunists, and survive in part thanks to humans' self-serving anthropomorphisations of their behaviors and appearance. These forces are strong enough that you're very likely to eventually develop the sense that your cat cares for you.

If you have a chance to see the film Kedi, you might enjoy the humans' descriptions of how their relationships to the portrayed cats evolved.
Ebert review
L.A. Times review
posted by wonton endangerment at 4:49 PM on June 6, 2017

Um, I have to clarify something. When I said I used to chase my cat out of the yard by running and hissing at her, I neglected to explain that she was not yet my cat. I ended up adopting her from her owners after I fell in love with her.

(Yes, it's months later. I am bored/at loose ends and happened upon this question while hitting "random" on the Askme main page.)
posted by Stewriffic at 10:21 AM on March 4, 2018 [2 favorites]

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