When I adopted Ivy the Wonder Cat, naturally, she was guarded when it came to where she would allow herself to be petted by this new stranger. But as we got to spend more time together and she realized that she had nothing to fear with me, she started trusting me more and letting her guard down.
At first, I could pet her back and perhaps the top of her head, but that was it. If I pet her anywhere else, I risked getting bitten.
As she warmed up to me, her head became welcome territory as she loved getting massaged behind the ears. Then she started presenting her chin as she liked a little scratch there from time to time.
When she realized that I was a willing participant in indulging her requests for attention, the “rub my belly” days began. Whether I was just coming out of the bedroom in the morning, or coming home from work, she would collapse to the floor like her joints all gave out at the same time, roll over on her back, front paws up in the air and present her belly for a gentle tummy rub.
What surprised me was the slow evolution with her allowing me to go near her paws. As I discussed in my post about challenges in trimming my cat’s nails, she has never been fond with me touching her paws, even if I didn’t have the nail clippers in my hand. She took a long time to warm up.
Now, when she is very relaxed, I can go in gently and cajole her into letting me pick up a front paw to gingerly snip the tips of her nails just to make them blunt enough to pose no danger to the furniture and the curtains. But her back paws are still mostly off limits… that’s just a matter of time, I think.
Just the same, when I pet Ivy in areas that are known to be “welcome territory”, I pay careful attention to her eyes and to her body language because her deep relaxation can change on a dime when she has decided she had enough.
And of course there are some days when she doesn’t want to have anything to do with me, for no specific reason. I just have to follow her cues.
But in this slow and steady evolution of trust, in some very relaxed moments, she has been presenting her head to me in my hands, as if to say “scalp massage please”. Of course, I oblige, as this further confirms to me that she takes after her dad!
It’s certainly not a complex process, but I try to be as slow, gentle and methodical as possible, kneading the top of her scalp with the lightest of pressure, and alternating with thumb strokes starting in the middle of her head and working outwardly toward the ears.
It only takes a few minutes, but she seems to love it as she closes her eyes and makes that face I think I must make when I am on the massage table. When that session is done, she either dozes off in my lap or slowly walks away, in what seems like the feline equivalent of a massage buzz.
The latest step up has been allowing me to use the same technique on her face. This is where I really go gently, working outwardly, to stroke just above the eyes (along what would be the eyebrow area for us), then from the bridge of her nose running along the top of her cheeks and circling the ears. And last, I offer gentle strokes around the mouth, contouring the jaw line and giving the cheeks a gentle touch.
The deep purrs that radiate from her when that’s going on are unmistakable. And the scalp massages have been a cool opportunity to check out the inner eyelids I’ve read about, as her eyes get so completely relaxed.
Not only has she been enjoying face and scalp massages, but she has been asking for repeats as she has truly been sticking her face in my business, meowing sweetly as if to say, “Daddy, could you please?” Who can resist?
Am I spoiling her? Probably. But given the rough life on the streets she had before she joined me, it’s the least I can do.
What I find most fascinating is that when we are both watching TV, super relaxed, she sometimes reaches out to me and places her paw in my hand. It makes me go “awww” every time and warms the cockles of my heart to know the unconditional trust we have developed… as long as I don’t touch her back paws.
I take great joy in finding these new opportunities to bond with Miss Ivy. Not only do these gentle massage techniques add more fun activities to the repertoire to switch up the routine for her, it shows me that over the last 4 years I have succeeded in creating the warm, trusting, loving and secure home that every pet deserves.
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Have a great day,