How Your Lifestyle Can Affect Your Cat

By Elisa Black-Taylor

This is an example of how cats can be affected differently by sudden changes in a person’s lifestyle and home arrangements. If possible, the sensitivities of your cat should be seriously considered when making changes to arrangements at home. The story concerns a sensitive rescue cat called “Sheela”. There are actually two topics in this post:

  • splitting up cat sisters and..
  • the effect of a big change in a cat’s environment.

I debated for days on whether to write about Sheela because I don’t want anyone to say anything bad about her adoptive mother. However, I think it is best to tell Sheela’s story in the hope that it might help someone in a similar situation.

 Nervous Cat

This is just illustrating the article. She is shy cat made nervous by change. Photo by Michael.


Sheela and her sister Shirley first came to us in March 2011. They had been turned into the shelter where we did rescue and both were pregnant. I contacted the shelter coordinator and told her if no one claimed the two, I’d be glad to rescue them. After a week, I was the only one to want the two sisters.

Sheela’s a beautiful but shy Maine Coon mix. Her sister Shirley has short hair and the mouth of a Siamese. By this I mean she “talks” all the time. We picked them up the day after they were spayed.

The two sisters fit right in with our other cats for the short time they were with us. I found a good home for Shirley, and took Sheela as well as Lucky along when I made the home visit. I did this because the lady wanting to adopt didn’t know for sure which cat would fit in best with her family. This would be her first cat.

I’ll never forget talking to Shirley’s new caretaker on the phone. Shirley was talking to the phone and pawing at me in an attempt to get the phone closer to her. Shirley was telling me “I want the new home!”

So off Laura and I went on a home inspection/adoption with three cats.

Shirley ended up being adopted. Sheela wasn’t too thrilled with that first visit, and Lucky definitely wanted to come home. He stayed car sick for hours after we got him home. This was really bad because it was only a 4 mile trip.

Sheela Missed Her Sister

Shirley settled in her new home at once. Sheela wasn’t so lucky. She refused to eat after losing her sister. She was definitely unhappy and began losing weight. We contacted Shirley’s owner and explained the situation and took Sheela to her that same evening. It broke my heart because Sheela had been my cat and spent a lot of time sleeping on my bed. I had to do what was best for her.

Sheela and Shirley lived together for almost a year and a half at their new home. They had cat trees to climb on and cat beds to sleep in and toys to play with. We stayed in touch and went to visit the happy cats on several occasions. All was well.

Retaming a cat

Sheela. Collage and photos by Elisa Black-Taylor

Change in Lifestyle

Then a few months ago I found out what the term “change in lifestyle” means. I’d seen that on many cats on the euthanasia list and couldn’t imagine why a change in lifestyle meant you had to give up your cat to the shelter. We’d always told any adopter that should the time come and the cat couldn’t be kept, we’d gladly take it back. I did this many years ago with a cat. He’d been gone for two years and I got the call that a large dog had been added to the household and the cat was in danger.

Shirley and Sheela weren’t in danger, but Sheela was definitely unhappy when her human caretaker allowed her grown daughter, along with two toddlers and a few dogs to live with her. The change in the environment was to much for Sheela. Sheela had taken to hiding under furniture, and it was unknown whether she was coming out to eat.

Taking Sheela Back

I picked her up from work one night and wrapped my arms around her crying human caretaker. She knew she was doing what was best for the cat, but still it hurt to give her up. I feel it was one of the hardest decisions she’d ever made. She was terrified Shirley would be the next to have to go but Shirley was fine with the added noise and attention.

Sheela was a basket case when we got her home. She was shaking all over and clearly terrified. Sheela had also developed a new skill since the last time we’d seen her. She could growl, hiss, spit and slap without actually hurting anyone. Laura put the frightened cat in her bedroom and closed the door so Sheela would have some privacy.

Sheela refused to eat any of the good canned food put down. She wasn’t interested in dry food either, and we offered her the same kind she had at her adoptive home. The next day Laura started syringe feedings using KMC kitten replacement milk. It has lots of vitamins and we’ve used it on several of our cats. It’s what pulled our little Midnight through feline distemper. Laura would have to get on her hands and knees and get Sheela out from under her bed to feed her the formula. She gave Sheela at least three syringes full every four to six hours. I have to hand it to my daughter. Even with all the hissing and spitting, Laura would reach right down and pick Sheela up.

On day three Sheela started eating canned food on her own. We had to take reintroducing her to the cats very slowly. All but Brinkley and Sealy had been with us the first time Sheela lived with us. I looked through some of my old photos and found Sheela and our black girl Cassie had been buddies. So Laura started out by placing Cassie and our tame kitty Coral in the room with Sheela so she’d have a companion. Sheela didn’t have a problem with that arrangement.

Sheela came out from under the bed after the first week. Laura fixed a chair up by the window where she could look out. She also had a cat tree she could get on if she preferred, but Sheela liked the chair much better. It was a strange experience to pet a cat, who wanted to be petted, but whose “hisser” was stuck on automatic. Sheela would run circles under my hands and hiss the entire time. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry at my poor, terrified kitty.

After the first week Laura began leaving the bedroom door open so the other cats could go back and reacquaint themselves with Sheela. Sheela also decided to emerge on her own at this time. She found a huge pot under the kitchen sink and claimed it as her new sleeping spot. Since there was no reason for her not to sleep in a pot under the cabinet, we left her alone. It’s important to allow a scared cat some alone time in a place the cat feels comfortable. Sheela was definitely comfy in that big pot.

Sheela spent the first few weeks going from under the bed to under the kitchen sink. We were about to face a new obstacle since Laura was getting ready to leave town to visit family and would be gone for four nights. I had to get on my hands and knees every night and run her out from under the sink. Sheela decided she didn’t like me very well for disturbing her naps, but I had to be sure she was still eating without Laura there to coax her. So each night I’d have to run her into Laura’s room and close her off with a can of food.

Sheela survived Laura’s absence better than I did. I had the job of babysitting a houseful of cats while working a full time job.

Sheela’s Rehabilitation

A lot has changed in the month or so since Sheela rejoined the family. Sheela wanders from bedroom to bedroom. She’s rarely under the kitchen sink in her sleeping pot. She even came into the living room last night when she smelled dinner cooking. Last night Laura caught her playing with Lola, our first cat.

I’ve spent the past few months promoting our car fan blade cat Sealy on one of the top cat networking sites. This is the season most car fan blade accidents take place and I wanted to raise awareness on the topic. I decided on a whim to add Sheela on the site. I started her a “diary” where she tells of her day-to-day struggle to become comfortable in her old home here. I was shocked when she was picked Diary of the Day on November 11, then Cat of the Day on November 26. She’s also been chosen two or three times now as a Today’s Diary Pick.

Sheela is unaware of her new-found celebrity status. She’s just happy laying in front of the window bird watching.

I think the lesson here is that it’s possible to earn a cats trust after a very frightening ordeal. It takes time and patience and lots of love. I hope anyone reading this will understand taming a cat can’t be accomplished overnight. But it can be done.

Sheela’s adoptive mother has an open invitation to visit anytime she wants. We’re glad Shirley has adjusted and can stay with her new family.


Facebook Discussion


How Your Lifestyle Can Affect Your Cat — 12 Comments

  1. The take back clause is common for rescues I know. It keeps a cat from being turned into a shelter. We’re in touch with her former mom and Shirley is still doing great.

    Yesterday Sheela allowed me to pick her up and carry her to the couch and hold her. Our little cat-dog Cujo has gone quite a ways in making friends with Sheela.

    I’ve never seen a cat as terrified as Sheela was that first day, except perhaps Furby after his last vet visit when he was sick and had to have the temp and worm check.

  2. I thought this was a great article that brings oup some interesting issues. Often siblings have opposing dynamics whereby one is shy and the other brave and outgoing. So its really nice to know that Sheela is doing pretty good all things considered and that she will soon be feeling just fine by the sounds of it. Sounds like everybody did the best they could for her and I don’t think anyone is to blame. Obviously the lady didn’t have the option of not bringing her daughter and kids and dogs to her home so given that then I guess things we taken care of with Sheela’s best interests in mind. I would say well done Elisa for having a ‘take back’ clause in your adoption contract and for doing a great job of reintroducing her back including going through old photos to see who she spent a lot of time with before and so on. Sheela is a lucky cat who will always be looked after is what we can see here. Good for her.

    • I agree, I think the “take back clause” is fantastic. It is certainly very orientated around cat welfare. This was a difficult situation. It is shame that the new owner took in her daughter and pets. To be honest this was likely to cause problems with thee existing cats. However, I agree that there was probably no option. I do feel though that cat owners should be very focused on how their actions affect their cat. Sometimes the reliable and undemanding cat (unless the cat is Siamese) is overlooked.

  3. Hi Elisa,

    Splitting up siblings is upsetting for them. It saddens me but I’ve done it when I’ve adopted out some of my foster cats. I sure try not to. I try to at adopt them at in twos or threes, but it doesn’t happen that way every time.

    It sounds like the dogs and children terrified Sheela. Not a big surprise there. Dogs often chase cats until a cat runs under the bed and then the dog stays there and scares them some more. Children are sometimes rough in handling cats and can be too loud and busy-bodied around the cats.

    Sounds like Sheela got a double dose of freak-me-out-to-the-max while she was at that house.

    The earlier hissing is a sure sign that she was really shaken. She wanted you to pet her but she was afraid to let a person or animal get physically close to her. Not wanting to eat is another sign that she was terrified.

    Sheela has been shaken up for a while – even since you’ve brought her back, but at least she is finally calming down. Glad she is calmer and is eating again. I think she’ll be alright fairly soon by the sound of it.

    Best of luck to you and Sheela,

    =^..^= Hairless Cat Girl =^..^=

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