Shy cat finds the confidence to climb higher

Littles the cat lying in a kennel
After being found scared and disheveled in a home with too many cats, Littles has become one courageous and happy cat.
By Nicole Hamilton

One of Brenda Watkins’ most cherished photos is of her three-year-old cat, Littles, peering out at the world beyond the window from the highest tier on the cat tree with her paw pressed up to the glass. What Brenda loves most about the photo isn’t the light or how cute Littles looks relaxing in the sunbeams, but the story it tells.

Brenda just happened to be in the right place at the right moment to capture a turning point in Littles’ life. As Brenda watched her climb slowly to the very top of the cat tree, she remembered the first day she met her at Best Friends in Los Angeles. Back then, Littles was too timid to let Brenda touch her. But now, as she lounged in the light, it became clear to Brenda that Littles finally found what she needed most of all: courage.

“I had never seen a cat look so in awe. Her expression was literally like she had never seen the sun before,” says Brenda. “She just looked up into the sky with her eyes wide open like she just discovered a whole new world.”

Cat chats her way to confidence

It makes perfect sense that Littles would be slow to trust people. Before she came to Best Friends, she’d been living in a home filled with far more cats than their person could care for. When animal control officers visited the home one day, they found Littles under a garbage can that had somehow been turned upside down. Her hair was matted, her body malnourished.

Littles and the other cats were brought to a Los Angeles County Animal Care shelter. Then, Littles came to Best Friends, where the veterinary team devised a plan to get her body healthy again. As for her spirit, that would take a little more time to heal. “She was scared of absolutely everything, from noise to touch to everything she saw,” says Krystal Vera, Best Friends lifesaving and care supervisor in L.A.

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Krystal began spending extra time with Littles in hopes that she could gain her trust. When she worked later in the evening, she noticed that as soon as the sun went down and the room got quiet Littles would start meowing.

It began with meows here and there, as if Littles were working up the courage to talk. Krystal visited Littles’ cat condo whenever she heard her meow. Soon the two were having nightly conversations. Krystal looked forward to those evening chats, and she had a good feeling, by the way Littles would wait for her at the front of her condo, that Littles liked them, too.

It turned out Littles had a lot to say, and eventually, Krystal was able to converse with her during the day and encouraged the rest of the cat team to do the same. “Next thing you know we were all able to work with her and see such a difference,” says Krystal. “She just needed to gain confidence and trust with people. And she needed time — a lot of time.”

The next stop for Littles was a free-roaming room, where she could practice being around other cats who were a lot like her — tentative about socializing with people but ready to give it a try.

Littles and her feline roommates were ready to be adopted but with one caveat: Adopters would have to be patient. While all cats need to get used to their new homes on their own time and in their own way, it was particularly important for Littles and her fellow feline introverts. They’d likely need extra time to feel comfortable.

A simple snafu leads to an adoption

Call it fate, a happy accident or just plain happenstance, but Brenda Watkins might not have met Littles if it weren’t for a delivery mix-up. After she received the wrong order of cat food for her cat, Lucy, she decided to donate it to Best Friends. Then she remembered that she’d been thinking of adopting another cat. Recently, Lucy had seemed lonely.

The next day, Brenda brought the cat food to Best Friends and set out to meet adoptable cats. When she met Littles she could tell that the young cat was shy, but she also recognized something familiar. “Her will to play and engage seemed to overpower her fright,” says Brenda. “I could see that her movements and spark to chase the mouse were very similar to the enthusiasm that my Lucy had when she played.”

Brenda talked to the cat behavior team and learned all about Littles’ life before coming to Best Friends. The team told her that she’d need to take it slowly with Littles, who likely wouldn’t warm up to people, or Lucy, right away.

The more Brenda learned about Littles and watched her play with the other cats in the room, she started thinking that adopting her just might work out. She was right.

Patience helps a cat climb higher

When Brenda first brought Littles home, she kept her in her office. “She looked so scared and just wanted to hide,” she says. “It was hard not to try and pet her. She is so cute, and I so badly wanted to help her relax and let her know she was going to be OK.”

Instead, Brenda helped Littles from a distance, opting to put on a video she found on YouTube for cats of tropical fish and calming music. That did the trick. Within a few days, Littles was exploring the office.

[Shy kitty finds her happy place in a new home]

It was on one of those early days of exploration that Brenda decided to lie down on her back in the middle of the room to see whether Littles would feel more comfortable around her. Littles had been looking depressed all day, and Brenda was getting worried about her.

That’s when Littles started climbing the cat tree. She went cautiously at first, stopping at each tier for a minute, until she climbed to the top, lay down on her side and put her paw on the window. “It hadn’t dawned on me that growing up in a house with so many cats that she may never have had a view outside in her life,” says Brenda, who happened to have her phone on hand to snap several photos.

“I’ll admit it did bring tears to my eyes,” she says. “That moment made me realize that she had been through so much and that she needed us for emotional support to help her recover.”

From little meows to confident roars

During the first few weeks at her new home, Littles barely made a sound. Then one day, she surprised Brenda just like she had Krystal. “I heard this little, tiny meow noise, almost a partial squeak, like she had never used her voice before,” says Brenda. “I looked around me, and there sat Littles a few feet away.”

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Over the next week her squeaks turned into full-fledged meows. “Now all these months later she orders everyone around the house with her tiny meow announcing when it’s time to play,” says Brenda. “She also has this very unique loud wild animal sound that I have never heard from a cat before. She sounds almost like a wild bird.”

These days, Littles and Lucy love to play and run up and down the stairs like it’s their own private racetrack. Littles gets so excited at mealtime that she rubs against the cabinets and lies on her back showing her belly, meowing gleefully. “The cutest thing is when she flops on her back in excitement to show her belly because she knows breakfast is coming,” says Brenda.

How to help a cat overcome fear

Brenda has some sound advice for anyone considering adopting a shy and fearful cat. “Keep in mind, all times, that it is all about what is best for them on their terms,” she says. “Expecting to pet them right away, which may be super frightening to them, may not happen.”

Brenda went slowly to gain Littles’ trust, with consistent and frequent playtime. Wand toys, for example, helped her build confidence and a connection between them. She also suggests that adopters stick to a routine to establish trust. Meals, playtime and keeping the litter box clean all provide a predictable environment.

Now when Littles is lying on her back with her belly exposed for the world to see, it’s hard to believe that she’s the same cat who once hid from everyone. Today, Littles lives to feel the sun on her face and frolics with her BFF, Lucy. It just goes to show you that with time, patience and love anything is possible.

Ready to meet a new four-pawed friend?

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

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