This noble beast is Leo. He is three years old and has been with us since he was about nine weeks old when we adopted him and brought him home. That first day he strode boldly out of the carrier and made it clear that he intended to rule the house. They told us at the shelter that orange cats tends to be dominant and it certainly looked like Leo fit that bill. He quickly made friends with our two other cats, Roscoe the old guy and Ollie who is about the same age as Leo.
We didn’t know a whole lot about Leo’s origins. We knew he had been found on the street in Rockport when he was about six weeks old, a tiny thing, too small really to be alone like that. He was in the shelter just long enough to become healthy and be ready to be adopted.
After a while, though Leo was from the beginning an affectionate and friendly kitten, we noticed that he never stayed at the food dish to eat but rather would fill his mouth with dry food and then go elsewhere in the house where he would drop the food and eat it, or at least most of it. So we were always finding little piles of dry food in the places he liked to be. And when one of us would sneeze or cough loudly, Leo would startle and run away. Then we moved a couple of months ago.
All of our cats are indoor-only cats, so the move was the first change of place for Leo since he joined our family. Now it became evident how much Leo really hates change. We brought the cats to the new house after all the furniture and boxes had been brought in. One by one the cats emerged from their carriers and began to explore the house. Except for Leo. Who found a hiding place. And we hardly saw him for almost two weeks. We would catch glimpses of him as he raced to the kitchen to grab some food, but otherwise he stayed hidden away in a closet or behind boxes, clearly not thrilled with being in this new place.
Finally after two weeks he began to spend time outside of his hideaway. He would race into the bathroom any time I was there and purr and rub against me. And he began again to perch on my lap, between my legs so he could watch tv — he loves television. And he returned to sleeping next to my feet at night and walking on my husband during the night when he thought he should be fed. He seemed to have returned to his old self.
Then we changed the kind of litter in the litter boxes. And on that very same day there was a huge and very loud thunderstorm — and Leo disappeared into hiding again, this time for about three days. It is now a bit more than two weeks since that trauma and he has again emerged and seems even more his open self than before.
We know that trauma leaves its mark on developing brains of humans. I can’t help but believe that is what we see in these behaviors of Leo’s — the way he takes his food away from the dish, his response to changes in his environment — are how the trauma of his early weeks marked him. Though he has been safe and warm and loved for all but a very few weeks of his life, those weeks remain with him.