Faces of No-Kill: Supporting super-shy cat brothers

Rhett and Alfie the cats together in a kennel on some blankets
Rhett and Alfie were so shut down that it became an emergency — but with help, they bounced back and blossomed.
By Sarah Thornton

Change can be difficult. Even little changes can add up, but big ones like moving can make it feel like everything’s crumbling. It’s not unusual for pets to withdraw into themselves when their world is turned upside-down, and they find themselves in unfamiliar places with new sights, sounds, and smells all around them. It would be stressful for anyone, and you can’t explain to a cat or dog what’s happening.

This story is a part of our Faces of No-Kill series, highlighting the journey of pets who lost their place to call home. These pets are thriving today thanks to an animal shelter that helped them rather than killed them. Best Friends’ goal is for every shelter and every community to reach no-kill in 2025, and this story shows why that’s so important.

Often, scared pets will wait until everything has quieted down for the day before coming out of hiding to eat and do their business. But when Rhett and Alfie landed at Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, they completely shut down, and it would take veterinary intervention and time in a foster home to help them open back up. No matter what happened, though, the brothers always had each other's backs.

When shyness becomes serious

Like with any newly arrived — and especially shy — cats at Cat World, caregivers made sure to give Rhett and Alfie the time and space they needed to settle in. Other than cleaning up, refreshing their water and dry food, and offering yummy wet food at mealtimes, Rhett and Alfie’s caregivers did their best not to disturb the pair of brothers.

All day, the two cats stayed huddled up together in their hidey-hole, a soft pile of gray fur with bright green and blue eyes occasionally peering out from the darkness. When they didn’t touch breakfast, it wasn’t necessarily noteworthy; there were still people nearby, and they didn’t feel comfortable coming out. But when they were barely touching their food even overnight, caregivers became concerned.

Alfie didn’t have much of an appetite, and Rhett wasn’t eating at all. And when cats stop eating, it can become an emergency fast. Not only could there be an underlying health issue, but just the period of not eating itself can cause fatty liver disease.

[Liver Disease in Cats: Signs, Treatment, Prognosis]

With no signs of other illness, veterinarians prescribed an anti-nausea medication, and caregivers syringe-fed the brothers in the hope of stimulating their appetites and getting them to eat on their own. But when their food bowls continued to go barely touched, it became clear that more serious intervention was needed.

Caregivers first whisked Rhett — who hadn’t been eating at all outside of syringe-feedings — to the Best Friends Animal Clinic for a closer look. Veterinary staff confirmed there were no physical issues that would have caused him not to eat. He was really just that shut down emotionally. And to stop his body from likewise shutting down, Rhett would need a feeding tube.

When it was decided that Rhett needed an extended stay at the clinic — and seeing that being apart from his brother was only distressing him more — Alfie joined Rhett as moral support. With his brother beside him to smooth his fur and purr (as well as plenty of TLC from veterinary staff), Rhett started to relax and show interest in food again.

A lick of wet food here and a piece of kibble there wasn’t much, but it added up. And as Rhett began eating, so too did Alfie’s appetite grow. Slowly, as he started doing more of his own eating, Rhett was weaned off the feeding tube.

Though the immediate concern was past, it was clear the sensitive siblings needed an even quieter place to recuperate — somewhere that wasn’t quite so busy with staff, visitors, and other cats. The call went out looking for a peaceful foster home for the brothers, and soon they were on their way to their own little casita.

Shy siblings go from foster to family

Local Best Friends volunteers Mark Patrick and Alicia Robb had the perfect place for the shy cats to relax and unwind: a quiet cottage separated from the main house, which Rhett and Alfie would have all to themselves. For the first few days, they were given their space to settle in.

Even after a couple of days, though, the pair shifted into hiding mode when Alicia first went in to visit them. But with a gentle hand, Alicia was able to start nudging them out of their shells. “Alfie was hiding behind the bathroom door shaking,” she recalls. “So I picked him up and held him and petted him until he stopped shaking and started purring.”

She approached Rhett, who’d found a hiding place under the covers of the guest bed, in the same way, holding him close and petting him until he melted into purrs. The brothers were shy sweethearts, scared and unsure after losing their home, and they just needed some quality cuddle therapy to remember how wonderful being with a family could be.

It wasn’t an instant change. Alicia says the pair remained fairly skittish when she visited, and sudden sounds or movements would send them scattering. But every time she lifted them into her lap, Rhett and Alfie got right to snuggling. “As they got more comfortable,” she explains, “they would come to me for petting and lap time.” Rhett even hopped up to join her for a nap one day, cuddling right down and purring through the quiet moment.

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

Things had already turned around for Rhett and Alfie, but the holidays would hold yet another big milestone for the brothers. Alicia’s aunt and uncle came to visit over Christmas, and her aunt got set up in the casita with the cats. Alfie and Rhett were, of course, shy at first. But over the week, as they came out and spent time with this new human, love started to bloom among them.

By the time the visit was coming to an end, Rhett and Alfie had secured themselves a new home — one where they’d still be part of their foster family. Alicia’s aunt came to the Sanctuary and made it official, adopting the brothers before they all turned around and headed home. “I was really worried the drive down to Arizona would set them back,” Alicia says. “But they started coming out after just a day or two, and they are adjusting so well.” They even made fast friends with their new dog brother, Sunny.

With appetites at full force and their shyness melting right away with their new family, Rhett and Alfie have done a full 180. And they’re an important, beloved part of a whole new world.

Let's make every shelter and every community no-kill by 2025

Our goal at Best Friends is to support all animal shelters in the U.S. in reaching no-kill by 2025. No-kill means saving every dog and cat in a shelter who can be saved, accounting for community safety and good quality of life for pets. 

Shelter staff can’t do it alone. Saving animals in shelters is everyone’s responsibility, and it takes support and participation from the community. No-kill is possible when we work together thoughtfully, honestly, and collaboratively.

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