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Callum: The rescue cat who rescued us

Updated on December 10, 2016

Callum's back story: "Before"

All we know is that he was born in the wild. We don't know what his mother looked like. By the time he was found, he was an eight-week-old kitten caught - literally - in a situation from which he was unable to escape.

A woman was out walking on her large property in the country and heard sounds coming from a summering snowmobile in her field. She came closer and popped the hood. There, barely visible, stuck under the underside of the engine and pinned by the fan belt, was a tuxedo kitten, meowing for his mama - who was nowhere to be seen. The woman tried to reach in and pull the kitten out, but he was stuck! Terrified, he squirmed away from the woman's hands, covered in engine grease. All he could see of her were her hands and her hiking boots.

She tried for over a day to get him out. No luck. Finally, she called the local Humane Society and explained the situation. Within an hour an Animal Protection Officer was there with some equipment to help remove the kitten safely.

During this whole time, the kitten was becoming even more traumatized. When he was eventually brought back to the shelter and held down to be examined, he was beside himself with fear. Hissing, clawing, and spitting, he was unapproachable. They left food out for him, but he didn't eat any until the nighttime when all the people were gone.

The APO who rescued him noticed that he seemed to get along well with other animals. Since she had a couple of cats and a dog or two at home, she decided that she would take him home and foster him. In the month that he was with her, he came out of his shell a little bit, and stopped hissing and spitting, but he was very jittery and would flee as soon as anyone reached for him. She discovered he liked tuna and was using food to motivate him to permit someone to handle him. She saw some progress, but there was still this basic mistrust of all things two-legged. After a month with her, the APO brought him back to the shelter and he went up for adoption. The shelter named him "Tux."

But nobody wanted Tux. He wasn't social enough ... and other kittens - who were used to humans and who trusted them - got chosen before he did. He stayed - and stayed. The staff worked some more with him and were able to do more things with him, but still, nobody wanted him because he was not the kind of kitty that you cuddled. He was going to need a lot more work to rid him of the psychological damage... and the shelter staff began to wonder if he would ever find his forever home.

Our "before" story

Meanwhile, in the two years prior to this moment, our family had gone through some major upheavals. First, our beloved Manchester terrier / beagle cross had died at the age of 16 years, and then, three months later, our youngest daughter was killed in a car crash.Those two events traumatized us, and symptoms of post-traumatic stress began to surface in us, especially in our oldest daughter.

My husband and I both came from physically and verbally abusive homes, and we have historically had trouble trusting people or developing relationships with others. We considered ourselves to be "damaged goods." When our youngest died, it was ... wrenching, to say the least (see my previous post.)

Our oldest daughter has always been an animal person; she is particularly drawn to cats. We had gotten our cats - most of them - from the animal shelter. We knew that our daughter needed another cat to keep our elderly tortoise-shell cat (Angel) company, but the relationship didn't work out, and Angel left home, never to return. After she left, Loki, the kitten we had gotten to keep her company (being a social animal) became quite withdrawn, so we got another kitten to keep him company. We named her Eris. They got along really well! There was a delay in Eris' adoption because (as a small cat) she was underweight to be spayed, so we fostered her for a few months before adopting officially.

During that time, our daughter got into the habit of visiting the shelter's website to keep an eye on the animals there, and their stories. And that, in a nutshell, is how she found out about "Tux." She looked at his photo, read his background story, and watched the video that the shelter workers made of him playing with a wand toy they'd stuck between the bars of his kennel. She was slowly but surely falling in love.

Avoiding Eye Contact

Callum - hesitant to come close
Callum - hesitant to come close

Saying goodbye, saying hello

She asked me one day if we could go to the shelter. "Just to see this cat I've been watching there, Mom." She was aware that we were unwilling to have a third cat, so this visit was to help her convince herself that she was just infatuated with "Tux."

When we arrived, she went to his kennel. He was behind plexiglass, hiding in a cat tunnel, and all she was able to see were his eyes. Knowing something about "cat language" - she started to squint at him. "I like you" was the message she was trying to convey. He returned her gaze, but did not squint back. After all, she was a two-leg. He was close enough to the glass to be able to reach out with his paw and touch it, but he didn't.

Then she put her hand up to the front of the kennel so he could see it. His eyes got very wide. She stretched her fingers apart, touched the glass with them in front of his face, and curled them in toward her palm slowly, the way kittens knead their mother's belly. His face was a study in conflict. She did that a few more times, and he seemed to relax.

And then something incredible happened. He reached his paw out to the glass where her fingers were touching it, and he spread his toes out and kneaded the glass. Just once.

In that moment, there was an instant connection. My daughter's eyes filled with tears, but she blinked them back. She had come to say goodbye ... but he had just said hello.

A couple of weeks later, after his picture had disappeared from the site due to a viral outbreak at the shelter, and then reappeared, she convinced herself that it would not be long before he would be adopted. She wanted to say goodbye, and to take some video of him to remember him by. So we went to the shelter again. And he recognized her. Out came the paw. And this time, almost imperceptibly, he squinted back at her. "I think I like you," was the message. Thath was the day before Canadian Thanksgiving, the Saturday before the second Sunday in October.

Watching the two of them together, I knew that this connection was something real, and that this was no passing fancy. My husband and I had a private conversation that night, in which I reasoned that had Angel come back, we were going to have three cats anyway. He considered that, and finally said, "Okay." So I went onto the site, pretended to be my daughter, and filled out the adoption form. However, I didn't tell her. I wanted it to be a surprise.

The adoption agent was thrilled. Knowing us as she did, she emailed our daughter the next day from home, and when she opened the email and was reading it, she was confused - and asked me about it. "Happy Thanksgiving," I said. She began to cry - tears of gratitude and relief - and emailed the shelter worker back saying that we'd be there the following day.

And we were.

The first week

When we brought him home, we let him loose in her room because he associated the carrier with captivity and became very stressed. She spent the next three days doing nothing but interacting with him (taking time out only to sleep, eat, and go to the bathroom). She would sit on the floor, or on the bed, and let him get used to her presence. She would coax him with wand toys (sometimes with food, but mostly with toys) and she could see the walls coming down, the trust building between them.

He would always hesitate before coming close enough to be petted. But when he did, he SO loved being stroked that he would start to drool ... purring a distant, low-pitched purr that got louder the longer he stayed.

After the fifth day, she allowed me to come into her room while she was interacting with him, and I got a chance to touch him as he paced around her bed, ducking in for a few pets and then wandering off - as if trying to convince himself that he was not going to be hurt.

The discovery was fresh every time! And then he would start to drool again.

During that time, we debated about what to call him. With Loki and Eris, it had been easy. But this fellow - finally, we went through a list of baby names, wanting to choose something meaningful because of his background, and because of our hopes and dreams for him. Eventually we chose the Scottish name "Callum" ... which means "peace." We wanted peace for him, and he responded to the name from the first time we said it in his presence.

So he became "Cal."

Cal after four days with us - what a transformation!

Deepening the bond

Ever since that time, we have been strengthening the bond that our daughter first forged in those first few crucial days. When the week was done, he met our other cats and immediately linked with them in a social group! He took the lowest place in the pecking order, even though he was the largest cat - and learned from their interactions with us as well. About six months ago, he learned how to meow for greeting, or to get attention. (We're still working on getting him to come close to get the attention he asked for!)

He's still very skittish around new people, especially if they are wearing work boots - apparently the sight of them takes him right back to the snowmobile experience! He's also a little hesitant if someone puts their hand down from above to pet him (again, the trauma is deep) but if folks come toward him from behind and then put their hands around to the side of him, he is more likely not to bolt.

Still, we have watched his transformation and we are amazed at the transformational power of love in his life. Since coming to us, he has experienced nothing but love, nothing but calmness, routine, and peace. It has changed him slowly - and watching him change has changed us. He has given us hope.

To be perfectly honest, it will likely take him a very long time to ever get over that horrible, nightmarish experience he had at 8 weeks old. However, he has come such a long way! He used to dive under furniture if there were strange noises or when strange people would come to the house. Now, he takes his cues from his siblings and from us, and jumps to the top shelf of a "cat tree" that my husband built for the three cats if he feels unsure. It's one of his "safe places." He will also allow himself to be petted when he is there. And he will ask us for attention when he wants it.

He has so much love to give! Yet, with the exception of our daughter, on whom the sun rises and sets for him (and she can do ANYTHING with him, even clip his claws if need be!) he usually worships the rest of us from afar. When I go to bed at night, it's a common thing for me to find a toy he has been playing with, left there as a gift for me to see. It warms the heart - makes me smile. And sometimes in the morning, when he hops up on the bed to greet us, after I have given him his morning strokes (he lays right down and squirms while I do that), I will give him the toy back as a sign that "I love you too."

Because I do. We all do.

Behold the power of unconditional love!

Callum after a year with us
Callum after a year with us

Cat body language and what it means

Ears

  • Perked up, facing forward = interest, trust
  • Laid flat back = in a bad mood
  • Swiveled to the side = hearing something OR something bothering the cat physically

Eyes

  • Slow, long blink while looking at your eyes = I love you / I like you
  • Wide eyes while paired with ears facing forward = interest, possibly caution

Tail - the most expressive body part of a cat!

  • puffed, looks like a bottle brush = scared, angry
  • twitching = annoyed, or stalking "prey"
  • wagging = very annoyed, stop what you're doing!
  • down low, dragging on the ground = sad
  • lifted high, not puffed out (used while standing) = content
  • lifted high, curled at the tip, may make curly Q motions = extremely pleased

Body

  • head bumping against you (or an object close to you) = You're my person. I'm marking you as mine
  • rubbing against your leg = affection
  • back arched = scared, defensive
  • laying down at a distance, watching you = You're my person. I'm supervising your activities. (Cats mark territory with their presence.)
  • coming close and turning their back on you with their behind close to your face = I trust you enough to show you my back

Paws

  • Reach out a paw slowly with toes outspread toward you = I am comfortable around you; I like you; I respect and trust you
  • Lift one front paw up with the wrist bent, as if to bat at something (especially if the mouth is open) = Quit that!
  • "Sharpening" claws = usually marking territory. Some scent glands are located around the front paw pads.

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