Cat’s transformation from scary to sweet

Samara the black cat sitting on her caregiver's shoulders
Samara went from hissing and growling to cuddly and confident with help from his new friends at Cat World.
By Sarah Thornton

Like the ghost from The Ring with whom he shares his name, Samara had a reputation for being scary. If the “staff only” sign on the door of his room hadn’t tipped you off, the way he charged the window, hissing and growling, upon seeing someone certainly would have. He did not want anyone in his space, and he made sure everyone knew it.

[Aggression in Cats Toward People]

That behavior was why Samara had ended up at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary. But living his life constantly on edge, always looking for the next person he’d need to chase away, was exhausting — that much stress isn’t healthy for anyone.

And ultimately, underneath all that bluster and bravado, Samara was really just a frightened, insecure cat who needed help.

A slow and steady start

Samara didn’t like other cats any more than he appeared to like people. So when he arrived at the Sanctuary, he got his own private room at Cat World Headquarters. He settled into his space quickly — and then became protective of it.

At first, caregivers had to suit up with protective leg and footwear when entering his room, as he would try to chase them right back out with swats and snaps, yowling the entire time. They were new and in his space, and Samara did not like either of those things.

He was always paying close attention to how people behaved around him, and if he saw someone react to him just a little, he’d react even more intensely. It took a certain amount of calm (and a dedicated effort to ignore his behavior) for caregivers to get into his room to clean it and deliver his food.

[One kitty’s transformation from scaredy-cat to queen of her castle]

Then, as he started to realize that these new people were not going to do anything bad to him — and they were also not going to run away when he yelled and charged at them — Samara started to calm down. As the weeks went by, he began to accept his regular caregivers’ presence. And once he connected them with the arrival of his meals, he got even more comfortable with their visits. After all, sometimes the quickest way to a cat’s heart is through his stomach.

“It became a positive thing because it’s, ‘Hey, I’m bringing you food. I’m OK, and I’m safe, and I have this offering for you,’” explains caregiver Bee McCarroll. It became her routine each morning and evening to bring Samara his meals and then sit down in his room, calmly, for some one-on-one time.

And once Samara had given up on chasing her out — and was feeling more confident with Bee’s relaxed behavior — he’d hop up onto her lap to enjoy the calm himself.

From scary to sweet

It took time to build up that calmness and confidence in Samara. He was getting comfortable with his primary caregivers, but strangers were still very much strangers.

For a while, when it was his turn to be let out of his room to roam the hallways, it came with a heads-up to the rest of the Cat World team. Samara’s caregivers called out on the radio to let everyone else know he was out and that they should steer clear of the building. If they needed supplies, they’d have to get into the storage room through a separate entrance. “We’d have to block off the lobby, too, because if he saw anyone coming up to the doors, he would yell,” Bee explains.

To forge an even stronger relationship, Bee started teaching him different cues. And Samara was a whiz. He picked up “sit” quickly and soon learned that if he plopped down calmly, he could expect tasty treats in return. Even if Bee was in one of his neighbors’ spaces, he’d come up to the fence and sit down without being asked, waiting for his reward, which she always made sure he got.

He learned to come to his name, so if he ever darted past Bee’s legs and out into the hallway, she just had to call him back. She also started working on a “kiss” cue with Samara, encouraging him to touch noses and reinforcing gentle contact (even if it was a little startling the first time he did it on his own).

More recently, Samara went on his very first stroller ride, taking in the sights and smells around Cat World and thoroughly enjoying himself. His time in the hallway no longer needs a radio call beforehand. And when a stranger walks up to his door, he paws at his window and meows for attention.

“He’s a really good boy,” Bee says. “He just needs to be approached with an equal amount of confidence and respect for his boundaries.”

There are still moments when Samara gets scared and defensive — like when he ventured into a room he hadn’t explored before and became overwhelmed, hissing at Bee. But he’s doing better every day. And one day, before too long, he’ll be ready to make his first confident steps in a new home with a new family.

Ready to meet a new four-pawed friend?

Whether you’re ready for a frightened cat like Samara or one who loves being the life of the party, you’ll find your ideal feline at your local shelter.

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