Bessie has lived her entire life in fear.
Well, maybe that’s not entirely correct, but she’s at least lived her life just on the edge of fear. She can go from relaxed and happy to tense and terrified in a split second. She’s not just scared of people who might try to hurt her. She’s even scared of the one person in the world who’s fed her and taken care of her for two and a half years — me.
I wrote about Bessie’s sister, Molly, last week. You can read that story if you’d like, because most of it applied to Bessie, too.
Bessie was one of two kittens who appeared outside my door with their mother about two and a half years ago. They wouldn’t let me touch them or even get near them. I still have no idea where they came from. They were beautiful — as you can see in the picture that’s with last week’s story — but they clearly had a lot of fear in them.
The mother cat disappeared one day and I’ll never know what happened to her. It created a real dilemma for me. I certainly didn’t want or need two more cats — and these didn’t seem terribly adoptable — but I couldn’t just leave them outside alone.
You know from last week’s story that I wasn’t able to find homes for them, simply because they were too scared of people. (The top photo on this story is when she was still a kitten.) Most people just aren’t going to put up with a pet who runs almost every time a human approaches, because most people are much more interested in what they can get from the animal than in providing a home. I understand — and I’m not going to judge them — but that’s not the way I feel about it.
She’s still terrified, for the most part. It’s especially bad when there’s something going on that she doesn’t understand. For instance, in the picture above on the right, she was having to go to the vet because of swelling on her lip. (You can sort of see a pink swollen area in the picture.) She has a look of terror in her eyes, not just a normal fear, but an absolute terror that something terrible is going to happen.
I have no idea whether she simply inherited all of this fear from her mother or if terrible things happened around her as a kitten. She might have seen experienced her mother dying. I’ll never know. She was named Bessie in honor of my grandfather’s sister. My Great Aunt Bessie had more natural fear in her than any woman I’ve ever known. She was a wonderful woman, but she couldn’t shake being afraid of the world. She was a natural to lend her name to this new Bessie.
She’s very happy today, living with her sister, Molly, and her three nieces — Charlotte, Emily and Anne. During the day, they also spend time with Thomas, William and Dagny. As long as the humans stay away, this scared girl is happy.
There’s one odd exception to her fear. I have no idea why this happens, but it’s amazing when it does. Every now and then, she apparently feels a need to be touched and rubbed. It’s no more than a few times a year — and it’s only when she decides she’s ready.
She will come close to me, but then run who I reach out my hand. Then she’ll do it again, this time lying on her side and exposing her tummy. When I reach for her, she panics and runs. This can continue over a period of a day or two. Then, finally, she gives in.
She’ll let me touch her and scratch her side and tummy. She’ stretch and roll her body on the bed and purr. Every now and then when this happens, she’ll even let me pick her up and hold her while I scratch her tummy. When it’s going on, she purrs loudly and makes little sounds of pleasure.
Then — as suddenly as it started — it’s over. She’s finished with trusting me for awhile. She withdraws, pulls away. It’s frustrating, because I like to be able to make her happy and purr. But I don’t let it bother me too much, because I know she’ll be back in her own time. Even though she’s scared — and even though she wouldn’t want to admit it, if cats could “admit” things — she needs me. It’s not just for food.
She needs love and attention. She just needs it on a schedule that most people wouldn’t put up with. I’m happy that she trusts me at least that much.