From Hiding to Happiness
This story has a happy ending. But, for many months, it sure didn’t look that way. Through the years, at different times, we had taken in stray adult cats; we had adopted and raised kittens; we had nursed every one of our cats through the illnesses that took them from us. Having lost our last two cats in the months prior, we adopted two adult cats from the Escondido branch of the Humane Society on February 13, 2019.
“Chance” was 7 years old and thought by the Society’s vets to be mostly blind and deaf. His family gave him up for unknown reasons. Chance was a love bug from the start – unafraid of his new situation and ready to explore despite his deficits. He couldn’t get or give enough love in the course of a day!
“Spot” was only 4 years old and had come from an undefined “hoarding house” situation. When we first met him in his cage, he stared straight ahead and seemed “shut down.” We knew he would need lots of time to adjust – but we had all the patience the situation seemed to need.
Spot meowed only once during the long drive from Escondido home to La Mesa. We settled him into our small bathroom where we thought he would feel more secure while getting adjusted. He tolerated our gentle petting but, in hindsight, he was just biding his time until he could escape and hide. As soon as we stepped away to bring his water fountain into the bathroom, he had vanished into thin air! In fact, he had squeezed himself into the opening at the back of the porcelain one-piece toilet with only his tail and a small part of his haunches still visible between the wall and rear of the toilet. He was stuck – and we were stunned and mortified. My husband had to unbolt the heavy toilet from the floor and lift it up and back enough for me to grab Spot by his haunches and pull him out as if I were delivering a baby! We stuffed and blocked off access to the toilet “cave” and re-settled him in the shower with blankets to make to soft and cozy and his carrier in case he wanted to “hide” inside something. We closed the very heavy glass shower door and said goodnight.
A loud thud awakened us. The heavy glass door was still closed but the shower was empty. Spot had jumped over this 7-foot high enclosure and was gone. With flashlights in hand, we finally found him under the living room couch. We let him be. The next morning, Spot was still under the couch. We kept our distance but set a patio chair cushion under the couch in case he wanted a more comfortable perch. We put his water and food bowls next to the couch but not under it, and set a litter box nearby as well. During the night, Spot would come out, politely use the litter box, eat his meal, and explore. He would open various kitchen cabinet doors and then relocate to a new hiding place in one of these cabinets. Somehow he would maneuver himself into the deepest regions of the cabinet without disturbing the contents. Each morning, on rising, we would determine where he was in hiding for the day.
Only visual confirmation would work as he would make NO sound at all while in hiding. I kept a log of each hideout and how many times he had “overnighted” in that location. The days passed. I tracked his eating, bathroom habits and water intake. I spoke comforting things to him when in the vicinity of his hideout or when “visiting” without disturbing him. Once he knew that we “knew” which cabinet he was in, he typically relocated. This pattern continued for nearly a month. One morning we arrived in the kitchen earlier than the norm and he panicked. He had not hidden in time and he bolted down the stairs to our lower level living area, disappearing again into thin air. We looked everywhere. We had just declared defeat when my husband said – wait, what about that small plumbing cut-out under the bathroom sink?!? Yup, our boy Spot somehow knew that if he opened the cabinet doors under the sink and squeezed himself through the plumbing cutout, he would be safe and hidden from view. He was right! A stack of two drawers sat between the undersink cabinets. Because these drawers were shorter in length when closed than the adjoining cabinetry, there was an open space between them and the wall. Once we knelt down and peered through the plumbing cut-out under the sink, we saw him tucked inside this rectangular “box”area. It was roomy enough to be comfortable, with a clean, smooth wood surface.
So we sprung into action. We cleared everything out from under the other sink on the side where the plumbing cut-out was just a bit bigger than the one he had used. We put his water fountain and food bowl in that cabinet so he could at least come out and eat or drink as needed without waiting for his nocturnal outing. We set up a small fan to make sure he had better air circulation. And the days continued to pass.
We were grateful that he had landed in a decent enough hideout where his life could be sustained and, in an emergency, we could rescue him. But, in truth, we were completely discouraged. Cat experts suggested that a 2-week adjustment period would be normal; we could certainly be patient for much longer. But weeks passed with no sign of progress. I would get physically under the cabinet to look in through the plumbing cut-out just to see him and assure myself that he looked okay. Sometimes he would be sitting inside his hideout just looking out at me with a wide-eyed, icy stare. I would hold up his dry food bowl with a smile and explain how much we love him. Nothing . . . until one day he responded by slapping the bowl with his paw and knocking it out of my hand. I burst into tears. That day, I sent an e-mail to the Humane Society’s cat behaviorist whose class we had just taken. I asked if there might be a better, safer place for Spot to live where he wouldn’t need to have unwanted human interaction and, if so, whether the Humane Society would help us get Spot out of hiding and relocated if we decided that we just couldn’t go on. She assured us that help would be provided. Having done this, I was overcome with remorse. We re-committed ourselves to our goal of providing THIS cat with a safe home and a loving family even if he could not return the love. We agreed with one another that WE had chosen him and that, if we failed to help him, Spot would never likely achieve his potential to be a happy boy. So we dug in.
We decided to make his hideout larger. We emptied the drawer of its contents, draped a protective curtain over the front to keep Spot “hidden” from view, and pulled the drawer out. Mike cut a big square in the back of the drawer to permit Spot to access the spacious drawer area from the back and curl up on a nice comfy cushion. We slid the drawer back into place on its runners but secured it in an “open” position. We added a plexiglass “lid” over the open space so that Spot would not be afraid to use the inside of the deep drawer. We called it his “Pope Mobile” because the plexiglass lid reminded us of the Pope’s bullet-proof dome over his vehicle! We could see Spot inside his “Pope Mobile” through the narrow gap at the top of the plexiglass. From all appearances, he seemed to be in good physical shape and not in need of any medical care. We put his litter box on the bathroom floor with a folding screen around it so that he could “sneak” out to use it without fear of detection. One night, as soon as Spot went upstairs for his nocturnal outing, Mike enlarged the plumbing cut-out to improve Spot’s access to his Pope Mobile!
From mid-March when Spot first settled into this hideout through August, Mike and I spoke to him regularly as we came in and out of the bathroom which was, of course, still in regular use. In addition, I brought his food and spoke with him in the morning before leaving for work and in the evening on my return home. Every night before bed, I sat on the floor and talked to him. I told him that, no matter what had happened to him before, he would always be safe in our house and he would always be loved. Then I sang him a lullaby. I could see that he was opening and closing his front paws as I sang. Eventually, I reached through the opening on the top of his Pope Mobile with a long-handled brush to pet him. I dangled a small ball of yarn and other little toys to try to engage him. We made his nocturnal outings as interesting as possible – hiding Temptations treats in various places for him to find – and he always did. We left toys out for him which he used and left in different places or “lost” under tables and chairs. He ate well. His litter habits were impeccable.
By August, he started to eat inside his cabinet but with the door open and me sitting on the floor nearby. But he would always retreat to his Pope Mobile if I moved much. I talked...and I sang...I talked...and I sang. One night, he just came out to me and let me brush him while in full view!!! I couldn’t believe it. Mike was out of town and I didn’t have my camera. I didn’t think Mike would believe me.
And then the miracles continued. Spot came out more. He stayed out and found comfortable nap places. He was skittish though and, when in doubt, he would run back to his cabinet; he was afraid of certain toys. BUT NO MORE. Spot has become a full-fledged member of our family. The biggest surprise of all is NOT that he has now stopped hiding six months later. We hoped that this would eventually be true and that he would live comfortably. We imagined, though, that he would always be aloof and even unfriendly. We accepted this because we took comfort in recognizing that our goal was to provide a good, safe home for him whether he loved us or not. The biggest surprise is that Spot is in fact a total sweetheart. He loves everything about me – my voice; how I brush my teeth; how I curl my hair. He wakes up from a sound sleep if he hears my foot fall on the top stair to go downstairs. He jumps up and runs down with me. He closes his eyes when I speak to him. He has added my husband Mike to his list of acceptable friends and loves having Mike pet him – even offering Mike access to his soft, round belly.
Our boy Chance was quite surprised to learn after 6 months that he was not the only cat in the house as he thought! With our love and support – plus lots of playtime and a daily brushing to create a “group scent” from their facial pheromones – Spot and Chance are managing their feline relationship quite well.
And so this story has both a happy ending and a lesson for all of us who love animals. Time and patience can often bring success and, when success comes, love is the reward of love.
Submitted by Ann M. Smith and Mike A. Feuersinger