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Love at First Sight and the Interesting Things

"It was love at first sight" and "I knew the minute I saw her!" are common phrases we hear in the adoption world. The cats that go home quickly are usually the ones that make eye contact with potential adopters and walk towards them. Admittedly, I can understand why some sort of interaction is preferable when you are looking for your next companion. That's exactly how I picked my own cat years ago. Once I began working in an animal shelter, I began to see homeless cats from a new perspective.

I met Harriet my first day at my new job. She was huddled in her box, scared and striking out at anything that came near her. No one could pet her with a pole, literally. I had seen cats like her before in the previous shelter; I had helped over 40 of them overcome their defensive fears and go on to find loving homes. So when I first saw Harriet, I didn't see an angry cat at all. I saw a terrified cat. Harriet saw nothing at all.

Being in a shelter is scary enough, being blind in a shelter can be traumatizing. Everything is new and scary and unpredictable. We needed a plan for Harriet, and fast. The first order of business was to get her a very consistent and predictable schedule for her daily care. We began by cleaning her kennel at exactly 10 am every single day. We cleaned her kennel in exactly the same order every single day. Introducing this predictability in to her life lowered her stress level to the point we were able to touch her. Most importantly, she had a better quality of life.

It took only a few days of positive predictable encounters for Harriet to quit defensively biting at anything and everything that came within 6 inches of her face. When you lose your vision, the other senses need to take over. She now has to rely heavily on her sense of smell and the information gathered from her whiskers to navigate the world. The best way to interact with a blind cat is to play to her other senses. We used smell to acclimate Harriet to her heightened sense of touch, especially around her whisker area.

As soon as she was able to relax during her daily care we introduced a new game to get her brain working and secretly acclimate her to things coming near her whiskers and face. Giving Harriet a cue phrase of "what's this?" we slowly presented her with really smelly things like tuna and catnip. The cue phrase was given when our hand was about 7 inches from her face, which was just before her normal striking distance. Each time we presented a new thing for her to investigate we gave her the cue word with our hand down on the bottom of the kennel. We moved our hand toward her nose on her front left side. We stopped advancing at 3 inches and allowed her to choose if she wanted to investigate the new smell or not. The idea behind these exercises was twofold: habituate her to movement near her face and activate the seeking portion of her brain. She was a little unsure about this game at first. She was also a little unsure of our reasoning skills when presenting her with some of the smells! But she took it in stride and played along.

Harriet is closer now to being comfortable in a world where she cannot see. She will investigate things, her gaze follows friendly voices, and she LOVES tuna. Her ideal forever home will need to continue providing her with positive predictable encounters. Cats have an incredible ability to make spacial maps of their environment; so living with a blind cat is not as strange as it might seem. Blind cats need to have litter boxes, food and water dishes that never move. They need to be set up in a sanctuary room and be given time to memorize the layout of the room. Then, slowly be introduced to the rest of the house (and new things like the cat carrier)so they can build their mind map.

Other special considerations with a blind cat would be to always announce your presence in the room by softly saying "hello", use smells and baby gates to protect the cat from falling up or down stairs, use baby protection bumpers on sharp corners or place cat cheek scratchers on the corners of walls. In addition, remember that if you pick up a blind cat, be sure to place the cat near one of the scent markers, in a place where the flooring changes, or right back in the same place. Most importantly, remember that blind cats may not be able to fall in love at first sight but love is blind. They have just as much unconditional love as any other cat.


  1. Ooh, Harriet sounds like a delightful kitty, and she'll get her furrever home soon!

  2. Awww, what a sweet kitty. Too bad she had to go through all that stress and emotional trauma. We hope she finds a wonderfur new den to explore and love and to be loved back.

    Nice to meet you!

  3. harriet ewe iz one total lee gorgeouz tabby; we send de best oh all fish smellz two ewe; mackerull, bloo gill, flounder, toona, herring, salmon, shrimpz, cod, fish stix , pizza pie :) itz veree nice two meet ewe; we troo lee
    N joyed yur storee.. N lurnin how ewe..... R lurnin.... two adjust ~ ♥♥♥♥♥

  4. how wonderful that she has all of you to help her find a new forever home. welcome to the blogosphere!!

  5. Thank you for your wonderfully empathetic care for, and socialization of, Harriet. Surely she will blossom once she is in her forever home; we are grateful that you are there to help her find it. Welcome to the Cat Blogosphere! :)

  6. What a lovely post. On so many different levels. I totally enjoyed reading this and admire your storytelling.

    Lisa tells us you recently lost your kitty. I am so sorry to hear this. It is always so difficult to lose a loved one. My heart goes out to you

  7. It's amazing at how well cats can adapt to things like being blind, etc. Harriet sounds like a great cat and we hope that she finds the purrfect home soon.

    We also heard that you lost a kitty recently. We are so sorry. We send you comforting purrs and gentle headbutts.

  8. She is a cutie, I am sure she will get her forever home soon.

  9. What a beautiful post... thank you for all you're doing to help sweet Harriet.

    We're so very sorry to hear that you've recently lost your heart kitty. Sending comfort and love to you. ♥︎

  10. What kind and wise advice for dealing with disabilities. Thank you for helping Harriet. I hope someone will make room for her in their lives.

  11. Thank you for the warm welcome everyone!


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