Blink gently at a cat and they'll sense you're being a friend. Yawn to a cat (preferably whilst blinking gently), and they'll just know you're no foe.
I first met Tilly whilst engaging in volunteer work in what is, shall we say, one of Liverpool's less salubrious parts. I got chatting to Lin, a Cat Saviour. Lin directed my attention to a kitten, not much bigger than my hand, who didn't so much move, as dance about, grabbing the scraps of ham that Lin had thrown to the Grizabellas of L4. Despite her size and youth - she wasn't more than a few months old - it was notable that Tilly held her own amongst the big bruisers; life had necessitated that she learn quickly - her mother was missing and her siblings had met only with tragedy.
We got it totally wrong with Tilly, mum and I.
We were used to taking in strays (huh, yeah, remember Binky?); local cats that had been left behind with yesterday's rubbish as tenants moved on. We were even used to cats that had suffered mistreatment or neglect but what we hadn't handled before was a 9 week old kitten who had never received human contact.
Whereas past experience had proven that allowing a cat to explore and come out of his safe haven, in his own time, was the best way forward, we simply didn't realise that with a cat so young, we ought to have handled her and picked her up, despite her plaintive cries to leave her be - head buried like an ostrich in her fleecy blanket.
So she's a very well cared for but a very messed up kitty, Tilly (something for which I feel no little amount of guilt). She lost her gung-ho, her confident street attitude - even if it was just an act - but we realised our mistake too late to instill in her security enough to ask us for love and affection, so she's a mish-mash of "stuff"; a hodgepodge of feline melodrama. Neither soft nor strong. Neither affectionate nor feral.
I often catch Tilly staring at Sam (her protective older 'brother'), who loves a knee to knead or a hand to stroke and scratch him, and I hope that she becomes a true "copy-cat".
Tills appreciates any time I lavish upon her in playtime with her wicker mouse but sometimes I lie opposite her, sprawled out on the bed or floor and I blink softly at her (cat kisses). Then I yawn and blink. She blinks back. We have this silent conversation for several minutes until, finally, Tilly succumbs and melts, stretches out her paw to me, rolls onto her back and, with a squeak, invites me to tickle her tum.
It's at that moment, as I'm whispering my adoration to this small, sensitive and shy soul, that I realise Tilly is as desperate for love as any human who doesn't always know how to ask for it.
The magic of this tale is that Tilly, as damaged and as hyper-sensitive as she is, can and does receive love and affection. All she requires is a little bit of patience, a little bit of time and a whole lot of gentleness.
A Moodscope member.