Rainy is training to become an agility cat! Ever since Andy and I adopted her in the fall of 2015, she’s been exposed to agility in our house, and shown herself a natural at it. Of course, it is one thing train your cat in your own home where she feels safe; it’s an entirely different thing to train your cat in an alien environment. But this is what Rainy did this past Sunday. The experience increased my belief that Rainy enjoys a life of adventure, and it gave me insights our next steps.
Huge thanks goes to Hearts United for Animals, the no-kill shelter we visited last Sunday. Not only did Carol Wheeler respond enthusiastically to my request to let Rainy use their equipment, but she and others showed up with cameras. Big appreciation also goes to my husband, Andy, who provided transportation and shot video, and to Kathy Z, who is Rainy’s godmother and co-trainer. Now on with Rainy’s story!
As soon as Rainy stepped out of her crate into the indoor agility building, she immediately turned around and tried to retreat into her carrier. I closed the carrier door, and encouraged her to instead walk with by my side on leash. She instead plastered herself to me. In the past, I’ve taken Rainy to visit my-laws and for stroller rides. Why such an adverse reaction now? Many reasons stand out. The most obvious problem was that we were in a scary new place. There was also a couple walking around with a dog, rain and wind pounding on the roof, shelter dogs barking in the adjoining room, and strangers taking photos.
Nothing we did could calm Rainy’s nerves. She refused cat treats and even cheese. She ignored the friendly outstretched hands of strangers. And when she could, she hid deep inside an agility tunnel. When I carried her to an obstacle, she dug her claws into me. When I placed her onto an obstacle, she scampered down as quickly as possible.
What eventually helped calm her? When the couple left with their dog, Rainy’s panic finally somewhat diminished. It also helped that the weather quietened, and so did the dogs. That just left Rainy’s apprehension about being in a new place, and her paranoia about being watched by strangers. I walked her on leash around the cavernous room to let her explore the sights and smells. That helped, but the strangers still made her nervous.
I allowed Rainy to dictate where we’d explore, but at times also encouraged her to try some of the agility obstacles. Her favorite was the cat walk. She trotted back and forth over it a few times. I also got her to agree to try the teeter-totter. She was startled when the raised end hit the floor with a thud, but she shook off her fear and agreeably leaped over a few jumps. To my surprise, she then bounded up the A-Frame. She also climbed onto the table and through a tube. Pretty good for her first time here!
At this point Rainy decided she had enough new adventures for one day. She plunked herself down and refused to do anything until I opened her crate. Immediately, Rainy climbed inside and curled up for a nap. Since then she’s enjoyed more agility at home, and her owners have done some thinking about what training steps are next.
The most obvious next step is that Rainy needs exposure to lots of new situations. At heart, Rainy is a risk-taker. As a homeless kitten, she’d walked up to Kathy and meowed for rescue, even though Kathy had dogs with her. Since becoming ours, Rainy has shown little fear of anything except loud noises. She doesn’t even mind the vacuum cleaner. Rainy also gets into absolutely everything. She knocks things over and likes to eat our plants. She’s eager to welcome guests into our home, and she goes with us to visit Andy’s parent. But to become an agility cat, she’ll need to be exposed to LOTS of new people, places, and events, and in the coming weeks it will be my job to help her become less nervous. Stay tuned, as I share those adventures in the weeks to come!