Because I got my first cats when I was only in first grade, they were subjected to a socialization process that included being captured imperfectly, being lifted inexpertly, being carried in strange positions, being put inside things, being dressed in doll clothes, and wearing socks in all the ways a cat might wear a sock. When I was in my early 20s and got my second set of cats, I believed that a certain amount of this kind of handling was necessary to raise a well-adjusted, happy, friendly cat.
To some degree it is true. If you want to be able to roll your cat onto his back and trim his nails without a struggle, you’ll need to practice this with him when he’s a kitten.
In the case of our white cat, he was perfectly docile for me to handle in any way. I could cut his nails, give him a pill, put him in a bag.
Other people were unacceptable to him. Other people who sneezed were growled and hissed at. Other people who tried to pet him might have been scratched. Many people visited our home and never saw him. Cat-sitters, who came to feed him while we were out of town, called us on the third day to say they still hadn’t seen him. My half-brother visited, and saw him in the dark and declared he was a “Mummy-Cat.”
Our current cat, Schwartz, tolerates all manner of handling, including nail trims, being carried in awkward positions, rude dog inspections, and meeting strangers. At his most recent vet visit, it took three of us holding him down to give him his shots, but no one got scratched. Schwartz was fostered by a volunteer for Purrfect Pals, a no-kill shelter in Arlington, Washington. His mother was feral, so he needed to learn not to bite and scratch, and some volunteer I can never thank did the job.
The most docile cat I ever owned came from the Burlington, Vermont animal shelter in 1985. I was a college student in my senior year. She was a stray tuxedo cat. I was told she was found in a dumpster. My professors were frustrated when they heard I’d adopted a cat. “Cats live a long time,” they said. “You’ll move around. What will happen to the cat?”
My boyfriend and I moved with the cat from Vermont to Utah and back to Vermont. We moved with the cat from Vermont to California. We moved with the cat from California to Washington. She saw us get a second cat, get married, have a baby, get a dog, have another baby, get another dog, and have another baby. The biggest excitement she ever had was in the summer of 1986, when she got trapped in the ceiling of my mother’s house.
No one ever bothered her: not the other cat, the dogs, or the kids. She lived to be 19.