Tuesday 4 May 2021

Reading to cats helps to socialise them

There is an interesting story in the news media (Kent Online) today about RSPCA employees reading to adult cats who had been neglected and therefore had lost some of their socialisation. Thirteen cats had been rescued from a house in Tunbridge Wells, Kent, UK. The cats had to fend for themselves because they had been abandoned. They were temporarily looked after at the Bluebell Ridge Cat Rehoming Centre in Hastings, East Sussex.

RSPCA employee reads to a rescue cat Babs who  is the black and white long-haired cat
RSPCA employee reads to a rescue cat Babs who  is the black and white long-haired cat. Photo: RSPCA.

They are described as "scaredy cats" for obvious reasons. They were nervous and five of them, Lily, Babs, Pickle, Nutmeg and Basil have been treated to a rare form of feline therapy although I have seen it before once, namely, being read to. So why does this work?

There are two aspects to reading to a fearful cat, one of which is that you are present with that cat. You are quite close to the cat. This is a very gentle form of passive socialisation. In addition, the sound of your voice projected towards a cat is also a form of socialisation. If a cat has been neglected, living alone for quite a long time they lose trust with humans; they revert to their solitary, independent nature and you have to reintroduce humans to them. Reading to them, I think, is a very good idea in achieving that goal because it is gentle.

I suspect that it was the beginning of a process of reintroducing people to the lives of these nervous cats. Myra Grove the Centre Manager at the Hastings branch of the RSPCA said that the owner of the cats had gone into hospital and nobody had looked after them for several weeks and so, "They've had a tough start in life. We been working hard to socialise these cats and had taken a hands-off approach which means we been sitting with them and reading to them so they can start to get used to human company."

She said that they have seen some fantastic improvements with the cats gaining confidence and starting to accept interacting with people. Appropriately, the staff read books from the Warrior Cats series written by Erin Hunter which is a pseudonym for a group of three writers as I recall.

Apparently Basil needs more time to learn to trust people. He has shown his gradual rehabilitation by settling down to sleep while an RSPCA employee gently sits with him. Nutmeg is also still a bit nervous and it will take time for her to learn to trust. She is a calico cat around four years old. Basil is a black-and-white male cat about one year old. Babs, Lily and Pickle are between two and four years old.

Babs appears to be progressing faster than the others as she enjoys being fussed over. The RSPCA say that if you are interested in adopting the new have to be patient and kind with them and you should contact the RSPCA Sussex East and Hastings Branch on 01424 752121.

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