When Fuzzy George was transferred from the high-kill shelter to Chicago he came with the name George. Somewhere along the lines, when I was just flirting with the idea of trying to bring a new cat home but had not decided who, I renamed George. I was driving home from work one night when I decided I wanted to change George’s name to Chewie. I thought Chewie was a perfect name. It reflected my love of all things Star Wars while also reflecting his penchant for biting. I then realized my mistake. I named him, that made him mine. I came home and told my dad about the cats new name. My dad, also named George, asked what the cat’s name currently was. I told him. He insisted the cat keep the name George. “He can be Fuzzy George” my [bald] dad said. I shared the story at work the next day, and it stuck. Thus “George” became “Fuzzy George.” He also became my cat in the mind of my co-workers.
Having shared in the naming of Fuzzy George, and having shared in the desire for a new cat, I knew my dad was on my side with Fuzzy George. So the day that Fuzzy George, who had been sitting on my dad’s lap, suddenly lunged at my dad’s face because of a loud noise on the TV, I knew we were in serious trouble.
Fuzzy George had quickly made himself at home once he was given free reign. He settled in quickly but still had some nervous energy. Unlike Sneakers, Fuzzy George knew what a bed was, what a couch was for and had no qualms about sitting on one. While Sneakers looked at us guiltily the first few times we found him sitting on the couch, Fuzzy George knew he belonged there. He still was unsure about many other things though. He also showed just how much he liked to bite.
If you stuck your hand out to pet him, Fuzzy George would bite it. If you tried to clean out his perpetually disgusting eyes, he would bite you. If you tried to remove him from the counter, he would attach himself to your arm with all four legs and his mouth, and try to maul you. He also developed a love of pouncing on legs and bare feet. It being summer, there were lots of bare feet. Fuzzy George would walk into the room, see a foot and pounce on it. Worst of all, he started attacking legs and feet if you walked past him wrong. He decided what “wrong” was. This was particularly troubling when he decided to sit in the hall in front of the bathroom at night and attack my mom’s legs if she tried to use the bathroom. Clearly we had some issues. Clearly the issues were bigger than what I expected.
One day, about a week after he was with us, he suddenly became afraid of the television. If he walked into a room and the tv was on he would freeze, decide if he really needed to come in the room. If he did, he would slink, low to the ground, to the first hiding spot he could find. If he didn’t need to come in the room he would flee in terror. Just as suddenly as this odd behavior started it stopped.
Loud noises spooked him. And loud noises here is a relative term. A car driving past could be a loud noise. Something falling was also a loud noise. This wasn’t such a big deal at first, before he felt comfortable. He would jump, freeze and then get on with his business of exploring. So I just assumed he was tense from the unknown environment. Soon however it became clear that it was something more than just tension. I bought him a battery operated toy, a butterfly that twirled around on wire. I thought it would help him learn to play, and get some of his energy out. He was terrified of it.
I tried clicker training him. I bought a clicker out of the dog training section. For those who don’t know about clicker training, the concept is you get the cat to associate the clicking sound with a treat. You then use the clicker to get them to do other things, like get off the counter without mauling you. After a few rounds of *CLICK* treat *CLICK* treat, Fuzzy George attacked the clicker. My co-worker suggested the clicker was too loud, so we muffled it with duct tape. No good. She suggested I try a loud pen. I did. We got a few rounds of that and he attacked the pen. Ok. She next suggested I try just clicking my tongue. So I tried that. He seemed much calmer. Then suddenly a brief shadow fell across his face. I had just enough time to lean back before he lunged at me. Shortly after that is when he lunged at my dad.
I went from casually trying to retrain him to pulling out the big guns. We got him started on some calming medications. The first one we tried was a supplement. I think it made him worse, in fact I am almost positive that his two lunging incidents happened while he was taking the supplements. After that he went on kitty Prozac. I also set up an appointment with a behaviorist.
Fuzzy George was on thin ice. I hadn’t officially adopted him yet, but I had fallen for him. If he kept acting spontaneously violent though, I knew he couldn’t stay. That was too much to ask my parents to live with. I was stressed to the max, worrying about him, worrying about how he was acting while I was at work. Thankfully Dr. C, the behaviorist, came over and helped me.
Dr. C was wonderful. She came over and spent some time getting to know him. She listened to the history I had of him, and his interactions with us. She visited his space, got to know the territory. She played with Fuzzy George. We met for about 2 hours. She helped me see the tree that was Fuzzy George and not just the forest that was the overall situation. Dr. C gave me a plan. She showed me new toys he might like. She showed me ways to enrich his environment. She helped me remember all my behavior training!
I suddenly had tools to work with Fuzzy George. Instead of physically removing Fuzzy George from the counter, we redirected him with a laser pointer. He would chase that laser pointer right off the counter! We redirected him from biting legs with the laser pointer too. Behaviorists call this The Hands of God. It removes the association between the action-removing Fuzzy George from the counter- and the humans. I made sure to clear time every night to play with him burn that energy off. I am slowly working on getting him to sit.
Between Dr. C and the Prozac, Fuzzy George was able to stay. He was officially adopted on September 9, 2017. Fuzzy George still bites too frequently. Either someone taught him, in his past life, that hands coming towards the face was playing, or he needed biting as a survival mechanism. (The other day he bit me one too many times while I tried combing something out of his fur. I forgot myself and bopped him on the nose a little too hard. The look on his face and body was one of utter shock and horror. It was also the look of a cat who has known much harder whacks from hands). He doesn’t bite as hard though. And he *usually* only bites when he gets overstimulated.
He snuggles now. He truly relaxes when he sleeps. He worms his way a little
deeper into my heart every day. There are a few times when I have seen Fuzzy George catch himself as he was about to bite! He is an amazing cat and learning something new every day (not always good new. He just discovered begging at the dinner table). We are comfortable and happy now. Now he mostly does adorably naughty things, not terrifyingly naughty things. Like pulling everything off the magnetic bars on my desk. I wasn’t giving him attention. He’s a little monster, but he’s my little monster. I am so blessed to have a chance to give this cat a second chance at life. It makes me so happy to know that Fuzzy George knows love, peace, and happiness because of me. And that is why I kept on through the stressful days. To give him a loving home.