• Retired professor Liz Wing and her new pet, Abby the cat. Photo by Pat Foster-Turley/News-Leader

Cat training equals companionship and love

Well, this is a new one on me. You readers know that I’m a cat person. I dote on our current cat, Dumela, and I doted on the ones who came before. I’ve had pet cats as long as I can remember, and even worked in high school for a veterinarian who always called upon me to calm the most difficult cats. Knowing cat behavior is second nature for me, but not for everyone.

My beloved major professor from the University of Florida, Liz Wing, is now living in Oak Hammock, a fine, continuing care retirement community in Gainesville. I’ve been visiting her there every few months for years now. Until recently, Liz shared an independent apartment with her large mixed-breed dog, Abby, well known and loved by many residents there. But Abby (and Liz) got older and older. A couple of months ago, Abby had to be put to sleep, and Liz had to be moved to the assisted living wing. But this story only begins there.

Partly at my recommendation and after consulting with the facility managers, Liz’s daughter helped her find a new pet companion – a cat. The two of them visited a pet adoption center in Gainesville, looked over the cats, and found a sweet, four-and-a-half-year-old orange tabby. Her name was Abby, too! It was a done deal!

Liz’s daughter provided Liz with cat food, a litter box and scooper, a scratching post and cans of food. Shortly thereafter, she had to return to her own out-of-state home, so I went over to Gainesville as soon as I could to see how the cat was working out for Liz.

Liz was a professor in the zoology department and always had pet dogs. For decades she also maintained a large flock of sheep. But Liz had never had a pet cat, or even, I think, interacted much with one. All this was new to her. Her first words to me when I showed up were, “Cats are much different than dogs!” She didn’t know the first thing about catering to cats.

I arrived with a bag of additional goodies – cat treats, catnip, cat toys, laser pointer, brush, clippers, the works – and set about training both Liz and Abby. Liz marveled at the deep sound the cat sometimes made and, ever the biologist, wondered how the animal created that noise. But she didn’t really know that the noise – a purr – meant the cat was happy. Now she does.

Liz also didn’t know why the cat would use its claws when she settled on her lap. Every cat lover knows that “kneading bread” movement means the cat is content, a relic from its baby days nursing from its mother. But Liz only felt the claws, without the context. So now the cat’s claws are clipped, and Liz is much the wiser.

As far as feeding goes, Abby is very overweight, and can’t do much more than sleep. But with some help from the vet department at UF – vet students will visit frequently – Liz will learn the proper amounts and Abby will be well looked after.

But it wasn’t only Liz who needed “cat training,” so did Abby the cat.

Liz and her daughter thought that just providing Abby with a scratching post was enough – the cat would know how to use it. Abby had spent much of her early life in a rescue facility and much of that time alone in a cage (Abby apparently did not do well with other cats), so she had no idea the scratching post was hers. I rubbed catnip all over the post, and soon Abby discovered this treat and rubbed against the post and rolled around it on the floor. Hopefully, she will soon use it to scratch her claws as well.

Liz, without her longtime companion, Abby the dog, was lonely. And Abby the cat, with a life spent mostly in a cage was very needy, wanting attention from Liz all the time. I’ve shown both Liz and Abby how to enjoy cat brushing. And now, with laser cat toy, catnip, cat treats and assorted toys, they have many new ways to interact.

The staff and other residents at Oak Hammock are thrilled with Abby too, and Liz invites everyone into her room to pet her. Liz is lonely no more. And Abby has her very own person to cater to her. As far as I’m concerned, they are a match made in heaven!

A postscript: Three months later, Liz’s daughter reports now, “Mom sure does love that little cat. I’m really glad we got her. I think it makes a big difference to my mom’s happiness.”

Mission accomplished!

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