I Adopt “Difficult” Cats

There Are Understandable Concerns

Fellini, the day after I brought him home, calmly laying on the floor near my feet.I’ve had many cats over the years and almost all of them have been rescues. Several of them have been what was considered “difficult to adopt” or “shy”. In other words, they needed time to get to know a human before they decide if they want to be friends. I know that makes a lot of people nervous when choosing a pet. No one wants to have an adoption fail.

In my experience, I’ve not had an adoption failure. I’m not saying it can’t happen but I’ve not had it happen. A few of the things we (it’s a family effort) do is decide, as a family, that we are fully committed to taking on the challenge of a cat that probably won’t like us for quite some time. It’s nothing personal, some cats just don’t warm up to their new family right away.

Things we do to make it work:

Give the cat all the time and space they need. It may seem like they’re hiding (and they are) but they are watching, listening and evaluating whether the situation is safe. Go about your daily routine so the cat gets used to life in your house.

Play with cat toys where the cat can see you. You’ll feel like a fool but, do it. It won’t happen immediately but after you do it regularly for awhile, the cat will want to come get a closer look. Treats work too.

Talk to them. Again, it may seem like they’re hiding but they are listening and can tell the difference between friendly tones and scary yelling. You may feel like a fool again but give it a try.

Watch where the cat likes to be and make it more comfortable for them. Give them a bed or a blanket. At first, they’ll act like they don’t like the new bedding but they do appreciate it.  Leave and check back in a little while, you’ll probably find the cat curled up in the bed you gave them.

My Most Recent “Shy Cat” Adoption

First Impression

Stoney crouched in the back of the crate in fear.I saw Fellini’s photo on the ECCP Facebook page with a caption that said he had been waiting for his forever family for a long time. I thought he was beautiful and wondered if maybe we could be his family so I talked to my husband and we agreed that we’d like to try to adopt him.

As it turned out, Stoney (his foster name), had been waiting for a family because he was so afraid of strangers that he wasn’t doing well during meet and greets. I asked to meet him and, if possible, bring him home.

The first meeting wasn’t great. At first, he greeted his foster mom warmly. Then he saw me behind her and he fled in terror and hid. His foster mom had to remove him from his hiding spot and quickly put him in the crate I had for him. I knew we would need to work with him but I had seen his response to her and knew he was going to be a great cat.

He spent the entire one hour ride home cowering in the back of the crate. I wished I could comfort him but he was terrified of me and confused about being in a crate in my car.

The Next Morning

Stoney sitting at my feet, looking up at me.The next morning, to my complete surprise, Stoney showed up in the kitchen while I was making coffee and sat near my feet. He even let me pet him a little. After the meet and greet, I had fully expected him to take at least a month to come around. This little guy really wanted to be part of a family, right NOW. He wasn’t cuddly but he certainly wasn’t the same kitten who ran and hid from me the day before.

The funny thing is, I had adopted Alice and Andrei at the same time as I adopted Fellini. My thoughts after seeing their first reactions were that the little ones would come around first. They were so tiny and, while nervous, seemed more calm than Fellini did. I was completely wrong. It was Alice and Andrei who took weeks to decide their new family was OK. As it turned out, Alice (who was most bold at the meeting) was the most cautious about accepting us as her new family. I’ll write more about Alice and Andrei’s adoption in another post.

Stoney Became Fellini

Fellini enjoying one of the cat beds near a window.We named the beautiful blue kitten Fellini, (all our pets have names based on film, television, or books).  He learned his name very quickly, along with a lot of other things. It was immediately apparent that Fellini is a very smart cat. He’s intense and sensitive. He still doesn’t like strangers at all. I expect that will always be the case to some degree.

He’s quirky and has definite ideas on what is OK and what is not and has no problem letting people know, quickly. He’s not always a fan of being picked up but doesn’t mind a *short* hug. He loves to be pet. He must supervise everything I do and, sometimes, “helps”.  He’s a great companion and addition to our family.

My Shadow

Fellini laying on my journals The kittens have been with us just about seven months now and in that time, they have grown into confident, loving young cats. Fellini loves both his humans. He’s often at the front window watching for us to come home or appears there right after we arrive. He always greets us when we come in. Fellini follows me around and “supervises” everything I’m doing. He sleeps at the foot of my bed. Every so often, he even lets me pick him up and hold him, just a little.

The last thing I remember his foster mom saying to me was that he’s a good boy and to ask me to give him a chance, not to give up on him. I’m glad I did give him a chance. I will never give up on him and, he’s an excellent boy. I’m grateful every day that she did such an amazing job with him and that I was able to adopt him.

A Final Thought For Prospective Adopters

If you’re in a similar situation, considering adopting a “difficult” cat. See if you can observe the cat interacting with someone they already know. That will give you some insight about how they interact when they’re not scared. I noted that Stoney greeted his foster mom warmly and only fled in terror when he realized I was there. That tiny glimpse of an interaction between a trusted human and Stoney was much more valuable and accurate than his initial reaction to me.

Understand that the foster has spent time gaining the trust of the cat and you will also have to spend time.  Each cat is different. Some adjust quickly others can take a very long time.

And lastly, find out if the rescue or shelter has an online forum or group and join it. When in doubt, reach out to the group. The people in the group want to help all adoptions succeed. Chances are good that someone has found solutions to whatever issues come up.

Join the Conversation


  1. I too have adopted cats, a “difficult” one from Dakin and the other from ECCP. It took time to learn their personalities and what they needed, and I am so incredibly blessed. I’m probably going to have to stop following ECCP’s online community because I’m obsessed with all the new cats they bring in and foster, and now I want them all. But two is my limit. Because I do love my husband and want him to stick around. ECCP is a great organization and has given me great insight into what goes on “behind the scenes”.

  2. It’s a small world! Thank you for your blog. I can tell the words are from your heart and how patient and thoughtful you and your family are with the new additions. That’s all our pets ask of us is patience and unconditional love. I can’t wait to read future posts. We recently adopted a year old calico from ECCP. The organization and volunteers are amazing. I’m so thankful for the work they do. Mitzy is a wonderful addition to our family and we’re so lucky to have her.

    1. It IS a small world! Thank you for your kind words. I am hoping this post helps anyone who may be considering adopting a cat and unsure if a “difficult” cat will work out. ECCP is amazing! We have 4 cats through them now. They’ve been so good to work with.

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