WILBUR, THE SEEING-EYE CAT
I knew this cat was special the moment I laid eyes on him, explained Shirley, and that’s why I adopted him. Who could resist such a gorgeous orange tabby, anyway? And as soon as I got him home, Wilbur showed me what a character he really was. This cat immediately took charge of my little bichons, Cuddles and Paesano, who thought they were the bosses in this house.
Those dogs didn’t know quite what to make of Wilbur. He had his own room (and he didn’t let the dogs come in), his own TV and his special spot in front of the window. But he was also in charge of kitchen, where the dogs were. He shared a frou-frou pink bed with Cuddles when he felt like it, he took over their kennels, and generally lorded it over them because he could jump over the gate to the living room and they couldn’t..
And when they went outside, Wilbur went, too. He had to because Cuddles was blind and needed his help. Where Cuddles went, so did Wilbur. If Cuddles lay on the sidewalk, Wilbur plopped himself down beside her. And if she went on the lawn he stayed right next to her, like a big orange shadow. When it was time to go in, Wilbur herded Cuddles toward the door and waited for her to go in.
But that’s not all. Cuddles had seizures and her poor little head would bang on the hard floor. S o Wilbur carefully positioned himself under her and laid there like a soft cushion. H e was devastated when she died, and immediately decided Paesano, a bichon with an attitude, needed his help,. She didn’t agree and there were a few kerfuffles.. But Wilbur wouldn’t take no for an answer. Poor Wilbur was really at a loss when Paesano died, too. We were both devastated, said Shirley, but our dogs were old and sick. We were fortunate we had them as long as we did.
But she still has Wilbur. This cat is a godsend; I don’t know what I’d do without him.
“Mr. Irrestible” has his own fan club. The neighbours just love him and his Auntie Bonnie (who rescued him) takes him on vacations to the lake. .
All cats should be so lucky. But our Wilbur wasn’t always that fortunate. Before his rescue he survived on the street and he finally ended up at our sanctuary, where we rehabilitate problem animals. Wilbur’s problem was fear – he was the most terrified cat we had ever seen.
He was one of our biggest challenges. To begin, we had to gain his trust and we do that through training.
Wilbur started out in a small kennel, his secure home, which was inside a large training crate, complete with litter box. He wouldn’t look at us, so we just crept into the room, left a piece of food and went out.. We made over 30 visits a day for about three weeks and one day Wilbur peeked out at us, with eyes the size of saucers –a catatonic stare that cats have when they are afraid. . We blinked slowly, left food and went away. One day Wilbur blinked back. He got an extra food reward for that.
We communicate with our rescues the same way animals “talk” to each other – with signals like blinking, licking your lips, and yawning. We also use food as a reward for positive behaviour. All of Wilbur’s food came one kernel at a time – a reward for moving his head, lifting his paw, any movement that made him realize he can get us to feed him by relating to us.
Our trainer and her daughter slept in his room with him, which is another facet of the training process. She left the door of the crate open and Wilbur curled up next to her when she was sleeping.. But he zoomed back onto his kennel when she moved. She had to stay on the floor to make him comfortable.
Our whole family gets involved in the training process. It was our 10 year old who got to pet Wilbur for the first time.
We never pet cats before they are ready and they tell you by rubbing against you, or actually crawling onto your lap. This whole socialization process with kids is an important step because kids are unpredictable and noisy – at least some of them are. With all this help, our Wilbur blossomed. He turned into a shadow and got under your feet. He bossed the other acts around; he stuck his nose into everything that was happening. Our terrified cat had morphed into king cat with a strong personality. Finding the right person to adopt this cat was not going to be easy. Because, of course, people, not cats, are supposed to run the show.
We were lucky in finding Shirley, a dog breeder and groomer, with a lifetime of experience… She knew just how to handle Wilbur. I just treated him like my other pets. He holds out his paw for his nails to be cut; he stands still on the grooming table. But he’s a character and thinks he is quite the guy, Mr. Irresistable.
They are a match made in heaven.
Anyone who has ever re-homed an animal will know how hard it is to find the perfect home and how wonderful you feel when you find one that is really special. That’s why we keep on working with the rescues, knowing we can make a difference, one animal at a time. You can just ask Wilbur – he knows he was worth all the work!