Shelter Stories:

A Mr.Frisky Blog

What to Do When Your Rescue Hates You

You risked your own safety; spent time and hard earned money to rescue a hard luck case. And the dog or cat hates you! When you try to approach they growl, snap, spit, hiss. Or at best, they cower, pee, whimper, roll into a ball, and act like you're trying to kill them when you approach. Thanks a lot you think! 

I've been through it a few times. It does get better, but it will take time. The amount of time varies depending on what that animal went through before it met someone as kind as you. It may also require the help of your Veterinarian, a behavorist and/or a trainer. 

I've been through this more than once, and I wanted to share some of my experiences in case it helps someone else. 

Most recently, I am dealing with this right now. It's the 2 community cats I rescued that a new neighbor was threatening to kill. Paddy (the cat formerly known as Patty until we discovered "she" was a neutered "he") hisses at me every time I feed them or try to play with them; if I reach out he will lift his paw to  strike at me. I think Linus had a home at one time because he is warming up already, playing with toys I've given them - and with toys I wiggle like the feathers on a stick, using the litter box with more ease, and does his "happy buddha" cat pose when I sit and talk to them and try to play. I think he is remembering back when at least over a year's time ago, he had a home.

It's taken 6 weeks to get them to the point where they don't hide in the dogloo when I come in to clean litter, or give food. Paddy still does. Linus will not run and hide anymore, but he'll sit behind or beside the dogloo, in his happy buddha pose now, and watch. If I accidentally make too much noise banging a food bowl, he'll run into the dogloo. Paddy will not come out until I leave.

When I first put in toys, they hid from them in the dogloo. I took them out and put in one catnip scented kong toy. Within a couple days, it disappeared into the dogloo. After that I started putting one toy in every few days. 6 weeks later, they play with the toys at night, and in the morning the toys are lined up outside the dogloo. When I try to play with them via a feather toy on a wand (the ones they sell at pet supply stores), Paddy at first hid in the back of the dogloo; now he will watch from the dogloo entry. Linus has, in the last 3 days, started to try to play with it when I twirl it. That's huge progress.

It's clear Linus and Paddy are afraid; I can't blame them. Life was harsh to them; they somehow ended up on the streets. A kind lady had been taking care of them for over a year in her yard/garage, providing shelter, food and water before her new neighbor moved in and decided she wanted them dead. They had finally found a safe haven, only to lose it. Then here I came, with carriers, trapping and carting them off to who knows where I'm sure they thought!

Back when I rescued Silver cat, he was a street cat I had started caring for. It took months of sitting patiently outside, for hours at a time, reading a book (not out loud, just sitting quietly with it and not moving) before he decided I was safe to approach; more months before he decided it was safe to sit next to me. Then it was only a few more weeks after that to let me pet him - only briefly, not too long or I'd end up with scratches on my hand.


The timetable got sped up when he showed up one day with an injured eye. I snuck in and shut the garage door in the middle of the night (he slept on the car hood every night in his kitty teepee). The Vet sent a Vet Tech to come by the next morning to help me get him in a carrier (a 90 minute ordeal involving oven mitts, pillow cases, spontaneous pee and poop (Silver's although a couple times  I thought I'd pee MY pants!) and a dog kennel. My Vet operated and saved the eye. When I picked him up at the Vet the next day, and brought him home to the recovery room, I figured his first order of business would be to try to get out, or escape. Instead, he was so determined to never be outside again, it was 3 months before he chose to leave the recovery room - even though I left the door open every day after the first month to the rest of the house. After 4 months, he finally decided to sit in my lap and be petted. 3 years later, he's fuzzy, fat and loving, worshipping Alex cat and following him everywhere (much to Alex's consternation at times).

When I brought home Milo dog - who'd been a victim of both severe abuse (broken bones) and severe malnutrition (he had been so starved his teeth were falling out and he was almost hairless) - he promptly ran upstairs and buried himself under my long dresses that hung in the closet.


He didn't come out for 2 days.


I put potty pads in the closet, and a food bowl and water. In the evening I would sit on the bathroom floor that adjoined the closet, and talk quietly to him. On the 3rd day, he came out, tail between his legs, and slunk around the house. He stationed himself in the laundry room between the dryer and the wall, where he could watch the other cats and dogs run around and interact. After 3 weeks of this, he decided to come out, wagging his tail, approaching with this belly almost dragging as he slunk out. If I walked toward him and tried to touch him, he'd fall to the floor, urinate, and shake uncontrollably before running up the stairs to bury himself in the closet again.


I consulted my Vet for advice, and when he'd come out to approach me, I'd just sit down on the floor and smile and talk softly, and not try to walk towards him nor touch him. This worked, and over time he'd come all the way up, lick me quickly then run off as if he'd somehow be punished for that! So when he'd lick me I'd make kind of a soft slightly high pitched happy sound (speech was more frightening to him). As I did this, he'd stop in the midst of running away, and look at me hopefully, wagging his tail. After a while, he'd come back up again to give me another lick. It took several months before he could accept love without being frightened of being hurt again. It took over a year before I could pick up a broom, dishtowel, oven mitt or any other object in his presence without him running in fright. Five years later, I can't get him off my pillow at night nor stop hogging the bed!

With Paddy and Linus, I'll be repeating my process with Silver. We'll get there.