Cat’s no-touch preference is no problem for adopter

Lorcan the cat peeking out of a hole in a leopard-print cat tunnel
Lorcan isn’t always comfortable being petted. In his new home, his need for space isn’t just tolerated, it’s celebrated.
By Nicole Hamilton

Don’t be fooled by Lorcan’s need to be admired from afar. He’s a lover, although he has a unique way of showing it. In fact, when he came to Best Friends in New York City with a front paw that appeared to be injured, he hissed at anyone who opened the door to his cat condo.

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Back then, staff who first met him weren’t sure if Lorcan’s attitude was because he was in pain, because he wasn’t thrilled to be there, or something else. What they did know is that he needed swift medical attention for his paw and a quiet room where he would have all the time he needed to get used to his new surroundings.

Surgery and a private suite

Best Friends’ medical team examined Lorcan when he first arrived at the lifesaving center. He wasn’t putting weight on his front paw, and they determined that it wasn’t due to an injury but rather a birth defect. This wasn’t the only reason Lorcan wasn’t feeling well, though. He also had severe dental disease.

Lorcan had surgery to remove several of his teeth. Then, once he was on the mend, he had surgery to amputate his front leg. This would give him the ability to move with greater ease.

To protect the amputation incision, “he wore an adorable onesie,” says Diane Mancher, Best Friends supervisor of lifesaving outcomes in New York. She and staff at the center set up a private suite for Lorcan for him to recover. They also made sure he got plenty of exercise, playtime, and enrichment to encourage the healing process.

[Pet Dental Care]

Despite looking adorable in his onesie, Lorcan made it clear, through swipes and hisses, that he did not wish to be petted. That’s not to say that Lorcan didn’t like people. In fact, the more time the team spent with him, they saw that he did seem to like people. Sometimes.

“We let him out of his suite every morning before we opened, so he could get more time and interaction with people,” says Diane. Then, once the center opened, he’d decompress in his suite.

In the mornings, Lorcan appeared confident as he strolled around the lifesaving center. He even obliged, occasionally, when someone reached out to pet him. But more often than not, he’d swipe if someone tried to touch him, and behavior like that wasn’t going to help him get adopted.

A plan for adoption success

After a few weeks at the lifesaving center, the staff had a much better understanding of Lorcan’s personality and had helped him some. Still, they wanted to make sure he had the best chance to thrive in a home once he was adopted. So they reached out to Kristyn Frohock, a certified feline training and behavior specialist with Train Humane LLC.

Kristyn saw his behavior firsthand when she spent some time at the center watching Lorcan interact with the staff and fellow felines. Lorcan, she determined, is comfortable in the company of others but easily overstimulated. Touch, when given in large doses, can trigger him to react, often by swiping or hissing.

While limiting touch is necessary to help Lorcan feel comfortable, learning how to pick up on his subtle signs that he’s had enough petting is also key. Sometimes, says Kristyn, people miss signs cats show that they don’t want to be petted. That’s when they are apt to hiss or swat.

Kristyn suggested steps to take when interacting with Lorcan, including only petting him if he came up to a team member and rubbed their steady hand (wiggly fingers might be seen as an invitation to play).

She also recommended petting him for five seconds or less. Any more time could overstimulate him. And she helped the team identify signs that could indicate that Lorcan was not in the mood to be petted or that he was overstimulated. These signs include whiskers moving forward, tail twitching, and back twitching.

Since Lorcan loves to play and find hidden toys, it was important to give him plenty of opportunities for enrichment through food puzzles at mealtime or from games where he had to find hidden treats.

Of course, playtime with Lorcan came with one caveat, as he can become overstimulated from too much touch. So keeping a distance by using a wand toy and watching for signs that he was overstimulated were important. Then, they’d end a play session with a treat. Lorcan takes his playtime seriously, and a treat is a reward for a job well done.

Diane says that Lorcan’s training sessions provided the team with even more knowledge that they could use to help lead Lorcan to a loving home not despite his unique personality and needs, but because of them.

Lap cats need not apply

Kait Kirkpatrick had fostered a dog with Best Friends and was thinking she might like to foster a cat next when she visited the Best Friends website and saw Lorcan’s photo. “Then I read his description, and he seemed like quite the character,” she recalls, adding that she prefers cats like Lorcan, who like to do their own thing. “Cats that are super affectionate and cuddly can be a bit too much for me,” she says.

[A shy but spicy cat and the family that adores him]

The first time she met Lorcan, they chatted through the door of his suite at the lifesaving center. “He reached his front leg out of the little hole to play,” says Kait, who came back several more times, gradually working her way from sitting calmly with Lorcan in his room to visiting him during his morning play sessions with the team. “I could tell he was high energy, inquisitive, and maintains those core cat qualities of hunting, exploring, and lounging,” she says.

During her visits, the staff who had worked with Lorcan showed Kait how to gauge his body language. She practiced “consent only” touch and did a ton of research on her own about cats like Lorcan, who have three legs, and on cats who tend to get overstimulated. “I’ve interacted with a lot of cats of varying physical abilities and personalities, but he was a unique mix,” says Kait, who after several meetings with the sometimes-feisty feline decided to adopt him.

Little fierce one

Since Lorcan is an avid explorer, it didn’t take him much time at all to get used to his new home with Kait. “It was more about adapting the apartment to support him,” she says. “I watched him closely as he explored and removed potentially tricky setups. He slept a lot that first week, just sprawled out, belly up.”

Now, a typical day in the life of Lorcan starts around 5:30 a.m. with a little play and then breakfast. “He has puzzles for his kibble. He loves his tunnels — racing through them, chasing his feather wand around them, jumping through the top openings. He thinks they’re just the best,” says Kait. “We're also harness and leash training, so he can explore the walls beyond the apartment and satisfy his inner adventurer.”

Lorcan has three windows with deep sills that he patrols. Kait lives above a school, so he monitors the kids arriving and playing at recess. “There’s also construction happening, so in the evenings he makes sure the crews are doing well,” she says. “I can’t wait for the trees to bloom and all the birds to come in. He’s going to love it.”

As for affection, it suits Kait just fine that Lorcan isn’t a lap cat, although she loves it when he wakes her up from a nap, often after he’s been asleep on her desk. “It’s his space of physical connection,” says Kait. “He gives a little murmur and headbutts me several times.”

She also loves how he chats with her, which he does often when it’s time for breakfast or as he’s observing from the windows, as if he’s telling Kait what he sees.

“He’s very expressive, so reading his mood and responding intentionally in a way that he accepts is key to our relationship,” says Kait, who was the one who gave Lorcan his name (he was called Link at Best Friends). The name is Gaelic for “little fierce one.” Kait says it fits him perfectly. “It honors his deep feline nature while appreciating how cute and goofy he can be.”

This article was originally published in the July/August 2023 issue of Best Friends magazine. Want more good news? Become a member and get stories like this six times a year.

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