A hiss is just a hiss.

After three months of wooing Sophie, the frightened little stray, with tuna and pets, I decided we had bonded enough that I could bring her into my home. So on Tuesday night, I did just that. I set up a sanctuary room for her in my spare bedroom to give her a safe place to adjust to being indoors. And to make sure she’s healthy before I introduce her to Sadie and Sally. Sophie first hissed at me Tuesday night when I attempted to pet her. She’d never hissed at me when we were getting acquainted while she was still outdoors, so I was a bit surprised.

On Wednesday morning, I brought a plate of tuna for her, and a cup of coffee for me. I put the tuna just outside the open closet door and sat quietly. She made sad little mewls from time to time, but stayed safely hidden in the closet. Eventually, she popped her head out just enough to eat the tuna (between the sad little meows), while casting sideways glances at me. After she’d eaten, she went back into hiding.

On Wednesday night, I brought her more tuna. And treats. Her favorite is Whiskas Temptations. (Greenies are a distant second.) Again, she emerged from the closet just far enough to eat the treats I’d placed closest to the door. When she didn’t eat the treats I put a little farther away, I picked them up to move them closer to her. Another hiss. I feared this was going to be a long and arduous process. But we have time. And I am learning patience. At least so far as Sophie goes.

Thursday morning, yesterday, I brought her a plate of tuna and again sat with her while I had coffee. She seemed to have calmed down some; the plaintive meows had become soft little mews. But still she would only emerge from the closet just enough to eat her breakfast. I worried that the mobile vet, scheduled to come that afternoon, would be unable to examine her. I imagined scratches and howls and struggling.

I left work early yesterday to meet with Dr. Allen. She is, hands down, the most wonderful veterinarian I have ever known. And she comes to my home so the kitties aren’t traumatized with a car ride and visit to a strange, scary clinic. Dr. Allen has a mobile clinic, of sorts. She has a big truck with a camper, filled with her equipment. If there’s a blood test to be done, or a tissue sample to be examined, she goes out to her truck and does just that, while I wait (impatiently) for the results.

I led Dr. Allen, carrying her examination kit and scale, to the sanctuary room. Sophie, not surprisingly, was hiding in the closet behind a plastic storage bin. As I moved the bin out of the closet, she shot out and made a beeline to the top of the mattress, which was leaning against the wall. (I’d taken the bed apart, at Dr. Allen’s suggestion, so she couldn’t hide beneath it.) She flattened herself against the wall, attempting to make herself invisible. Dr. Allen approached her slowly, and began talking softly to her. The next thing I knew, she was petting Sophie. No hissing! (She truly is a cat whisperer.) She checked her ears for mites. All clear. She looked at her teeth to estimate her age. Sophie is 4 to 5 years old. Amazingly, Sophie sat very still and allowed Dr. Allen to examine her. Things were going much better than I had anticipated.

Next, the goal was to get Sophie onto the scale, and then get a blood sample so we could test her for feline leukemia, feline immunosuppressive virus, and heartworms. Dr. Allen attempted to pick her up from atop the mattress, but she dug her claws firmly into the fabric. Even so, she exhibited no aggression. It was my turn to try. With the slightest bit of resistance, she let me pick her up and seemed to relax in my arms. I put her on the scale where she stayed still long enough to get her weight: 8 pounds 11 ounces. Being smaller and younger than Sadie and Sally, she officially is the baby of the family.

After we weighed her, I picked her up again and sat down on the floor for the most difficult task: obtaining a blood sample. At this point, Sophie was very nervous, but quite docile. I held her close, and she snuggled into me. She attempted to bury her face in my arm, so I placed my hand gently over her eyes so she would have the sensation of hiding. Dr. Allen put the tourniquet on  her front leg and inserted the tiny needle. Sophie remained still. But when Dr. Allen inserted the needle, the vein went flat. We tried both front legs several times, each time the vein collapsing just before the needle went in. Sophie, amazingly, remained still the entire time: nearly twenty minutes. Even so, after numerous attempts, Dr. Allen was unable to get more than just the tiniest bit of blood. She explained that when a kitty goes into fight or flight mode, the peripheral circulation reduces so that all the blood is reserved for vital organs. Sophie was so frightened, she had minimal blood flow to her legs.

So Dr. Allen went to Plan B.

Because Sophie has such long thick fur, Dr. Allen thought she’d have more success shaving a bit off her leg. She went out to her truck to get her electric razor while I held Sophie close in my arms, still hiding her face in my hand. Dr. Allen returned, plugged in the razor, and shaved a small patch of fur off of Sophie’s leg. Amazingly, Sophie registered no reaction and remained still. Dr. Allen made several more attempts on the shaved leg with no luck. She would have to go with the tiny sample she had managed to obtain, and hope it was enough. She wasn’t optimistic. If we didn’t have enough of a sample, I would have to take her to a vet clinic, where they would obtain a sample from her jugular vein, which doesn’t shut down during flight mode. Needless to say, I did not want to subject her to the stress of riding in the car and going to the clinic. Dr. Allen took the tiny sample out to her truck while I sat with Sophie, hoping for the best, but not feeling optimistic.

Feeling anxious, I left Sophie and went outside to wait for the results. My neighbor joined me as we held our breaths. Would she have enough of a sample to do the test? If so, would it be negative?

Dr. Allen bounded out of her truck camper: “She’s negative!”

Sophie is healthy! She has no ear mites; she has no leukemia, or FIV, or heartworms. The only unknown at this point is whether she has been spayed. Since it is kitten season, and she does not show any signs of estrus, she likely has been.

After the vet visit, I thought Sophie would backtrack, taking days, or perhaps weeks, to come out of her shell, and out of the closet.

Because Sophie has been through so much, I decided she needed a special treat for supper. Since she gets tuna regularly, I’d have to take it up a step: fresh salmon. I bought a large piece and baked it in the oven. My neighbor and I then went up to her room, put the salmon outside the closet door, and sat with her, talking quietly. Sophie ate her salmon, and then went back into hiding in the recesses of the closet. My neighbor and I continued to talk, when much to our surprise, Sophie emerged from the closet. As she walked past me, I gave her a pet. She then went under the dresser, and continued to observe us. We pretended to pay no attention to her, as she sat and watched us. The next thing I knew, my neighbor, who was sitting closest to Sophie, was engaged in a lovefest. Sophie soaked up the petting, purred and drooled, and laid down on the floor snuggled up to my neighbor’s leg.

Sophie is healthy. She’s beginning to feel safe. Soon I shall begin the introductions to her new cat family. Sadie most certainly will remain alpha cat. The question is, who will be number two on the hierarchy: Sally or Sophie? My guess is Sally, but we’ll have to wait and see what they decide.

What I’ve learned over the past two days:

You must remember this

A hiss is just a hiss


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