Making friends with a cat is a lot tougher than hitting it off with a human, or just about any other species outside the reptile world.
And if it's your new girlfriend's tabby or mother-in-law's Siamese you're dealing with, you'd better learn how to appreciate it and get the cat to appreciate you. Snubbed felines make for powerful enemies. So learn to love 'em!
If you're having trouble starting off the romance, keep this series of tips in mind:
Don't get into a turf war. Though most cats are not overtly aggressive toward humans, they are all very territorial. And while it may be your girlfriend's apartment or your mother-in-law's house, it's the cat's turf.
Your girlfriend is also your cat's turf. Cats mark humans (with the scent glands in their "cheeks") as well as furniture. Your touching someone a cat considers her own raises her dander. If possible, greet the cat soon after entering her turf and get her approval before moving on to others.
So how do you win the cat's approval? First of all, don't try too hard. Don't run up to a cat and furiously stroke its neck or try to pick it up. That type of behaviour may hit it off with a dog, but it will cause most cats to flee, or to write you off as an oaf. Wait until she moves in and rubs your leg. This is the feline stamp of approval that you've passed initial inspection.
But the inspection doesn't stop there. After the cat has rubbed against your leg, let it do the same to your hand. Hold your hand steady a foot or so from her face. If she pushes her cheek up against your fingers, you've passed the second test. If the cat shows any reluctance, don't touch her at all. Remember, each step has to be the cat's idea.
But what's on a cat's mind? To understand this, you have to learn to read feline body language. The most important indicator of a cat's attitude is its tail, which acts just the opposite of a dog's. A perfectly straight, upraised feline tail is a sign of welcome. A twitching or wagging tail on a cat can signal discontent or fear.
So don't scare the cat. Keep your voice even and unthreatening. Men often scare cats just because their voices are low, a trait shared by many felines' most feared enemies. When addressing a cat, raise your pitch a little and try to talk in a more sing-songy cadence. (If you can't bring yourself to do this, mimic a British accent, she'll love it!)