Debbie Connolly is the Behaviour Consultant for Bengal Cat Helpline and has rescues, trained and rehabilitated many Bengal Cats. She has personally owned 10 so far and having lost two of her oldies in the last year, she may well be adopting more. This is a fairly typical case of a Bengal with struggling owners and shows how well this breed respond to training.
Katy Bengal’s story:
As owners of cats for 20 years, we thought ourselves experienced. We’d had a couple of difficult cats, one an ex farm feral, castrated late who had some aggression issues at times and another female Burmese cross who had bitten us a few times. When the last of our older cats had left us, we decided that we should have a pedigree this time. My husband had seen Bengals on the internet and I too thought them beautiful. We are not stupid people, we did our research or so we thought. It dawned on us too late that we’d basically asked breeders for advice and that maybe they didn’t really know what pet Bengals were like. Encouraged by the info, we bought Katy from a breeder who sold registered kittens and who was a member of a breed club as we’d been advised.
I wish with hindsight we’d asked some rescue people for information, but that never occurred to us. When in the most desperate moment we asked two local cat rescues to help, neither would take Katy as they were fed up with “endless aggressive Bengals”. This was a shock and we may never have bought her had we realised what could happen. We’d be sorry now of course, because she is wonderful, but it was horrible at times.
At first Katy was amazing. She was into everything, constantly wanting attention, investigating things, she was so entertaining. We just laughed all day. We thought that we had the best cat in the world. The first problem was when she was about 7 months, after being spayed. At the time we thought maybe she was sore or upset, but she bit me when stroking her. It was hard enough to draw blood and it frightened me a little. There had been occasional incidents with her biting or scratching us, but not serious and we thought she just sometimes wanted space. The breeder told us this was a normal kitten and that she wasn’t aggressive, so we didn’t worry.
This quickly developed into a lot more aggression. She started running at us and jumping on us and scratching and biting. My husband had to pull her off me one day as she latched onto my leg leaving nasty scratches and an obvious bite and I couldn’t get her off. I again spoke to her breeder but was told we must be doing something wrong, her Bengals were never aggressive. She accused us of having another cat and said that would cause the behaviour and got quite nasty, but we didn’t have another cat and she hadn’t been outside.
Our vet checked her over and said she was fine physically but also said that a cat this aggressive might have something wrong mentally and that he was a bit concerned. He wondered if letting her out might calm her down a bit.. As she was now 11 months old we thought we’d try it.
Once she started going into the garden and gradually further she was much better. Not aggressive with us, calmer indoors, we relaxed and thought that was the end of it. For about 7 months all seemed fine. Then one day a woman was at our door going mad. She said Katy had attacked her cat and we had to pay the vet bill. I was very shocked but she described Katy who is distinctive and there wasn’t another like her. We paid the bill of course, but were reluctant to keep Katy in in case she went back to hurting us. Our vet told us cats fall out sometimes and not to worry. She had been coming in with small wounds, but we just thought it was normal for a cat.
Then one day we found a note pushed through the door saying Katy had been going to a house and hurting the cats, even breaking through a locked cat flap. One day she had been outside the window screaming at the resident cats. When the owner went out to chase her, Katy went to bite her. There was no choice but to keep Katy in, we didn’t know which house this was and they were threatening to hurt Katy if she did it again. In all honesty Katy had started to be aggressive to us more too. So we bought an outside cat run so that she could still see the outdoors without being able to hurt cats. At first this seemed to help but she was difficult to pick up anyway and so she spent longer out there than I wanted because some days I daren’t pick her up.
I spoke again to the breeder and another breeder in the same club and got some abuse. I eventually spoke to yet another breeder who did admit quite a few Bengals had some level of aggression but he couldn’t say so publicly because other breeders would abuse him!
Our vet was not all that helpful, he said he’d warned us the cat wasn’t right but he did refer us to a behaviourist. Katy was spraying quite a bit indoors too and the behaviourist suggested plug in pheromones around the house, a change of diet and more toys. She did not want to touch Katy at all, especially when she tried to stroke Katy and Katy latched onto her leg. Although she got her off, she looked quite shocked and seemed to want to leave. We asked specifically about her aggression and were told that more toys would solve the problem and that if it didn’t, we should probably think about sending her back to her breeder or having her put down and that she’d never seen a cat so bad. We did try everything but it made no difference. The behaviourist seemed not to want to come back and again hinted at putting her down.
This was horrible and my husband wanted to send the cat back. I reluctantly rang the breeder but she wouldn’t take the cat. I said I’d been told it was in their code of conduct but she said we’d ruined the cat and to have it put down. This we wouldn’t do. Then thankfully I spoke to a different vet as mine was on holiday. He said that he’d seen a lot of aggressive Bengals and that he knew someone who could help and gave us Debbie’s number. I remember crying during the call, we were so upset and thought we’d be told again there was no hope. But Debbie actually owned Bengals and had treated dozens with the same problems, including her own. We realised that the behaviourist we’d seen didn’t know anything about the breed and how different they were.
Debbie came to see us and Katy was really odd. She charged at Debbie when she came in and Debbie turned to her and Katy stopped dead, looked her up and down and walked off. We were amazed, she seemed to have done nothing. We know now it was clever body language and Debbie said this was encouraging and that Katy wasn’t mad. When later Katy bit her, she calmly tapped her on the head, made a hand gesture and Katy never did it again, despite Debbie picking her up and fussing her in a way we’d never been able to.
We realised we had completely misunderstood our cat and that she had always needed more handling and boundaries than she got from us. I was relieved to be told we didn’t have to stop the affection, just do it all differently. The first week was hard as we had to reject a lot of the things we thought were affection and weren’t and I felt very guilty. The first noticeable difference was the spraying quickly reduced to just an occasional one although as Debbie had predicted she did a lot more of it the first two days. After that she became a much calmer girl all together. Debbie taught us how to play with her and how to create more interesting toys and games which allowed her Bengal nature to be used more appropriately.
Now, 6 months on we can’t believe we nearly got rid of her. She is a challenge sometimes but the body language we were taught can stop her. She even sleeps on our bed now. She doesn’t go out as we can’t risk the neighbourhood cats, but she has lots to do and I can now put her in and out of her run quite easily. We have been shown some cat proof fencing for our garden by Debbie and some advice on how to use it so Katy can’t climb out. This is something we really want to do so she has more freedom. Thankfully we found the right person to help Katy and teach us how to live with a Bengal.