Very Timid Rescue Cat Saved Woman in Her Darkest Time


A long haired tortie cat named Tilly was a very feral and scaredy cat. No one wanted her until one day Celia Haddon decided to take her home for rehabilitation.  It was a journey to tame the kitty and gain her trust, but in the end, Celia realized that it was really Tilly the cat who truly rescued her.

Celia Haddon wrote in her book about Tilly:

“I was looking at a very odd-looking cat. Her stringy coat was an unappealing muddy brown and her eyes were a frog-like green. As for her face, it had a distinct line down the nose, separating the right black half from the left tortoiseshell half. She wasn’t just odd-looking, she was also one of the most frightened cats I’d ever come across. The photograph I’d just taken showed her cowering in a cat pen, her ears flat on her skull and her eyes dilated with terror. Her hair stood out in spikes, like a cartoon cat.

Little wonder that no one had wanted to adopt Tilly in the 18 months she’d been with my local branch of Cats Protection, where – as a lifelong cat-lover, I had been a volunteer for several years. Like a bed-blocker in a hospital, Tilly had been taking up space for too long – indeed, some rescue organisations would have had her put down. So, in June 2010, I decided to make her my project. I’d just finished a science degree in applied animal behaviour and was keen to practise my new skills. I doubted I’d learn to love such an unlovable cat – but I was keen to work on her behaviour in a detached, scientific way.”

Once she got Tilly home, the tortie cat immediately took refuge under the bed and froze against the wall. She didn’t touch her food for the next two days.

“Maybe the poor little thing was feral. All I knew was she’d been rescued aged four months, sick and flea-infested, from a barn where she lived with numerous other cats. On day four, I lay on my stomach and peered under the bed: she was still crouched motionless. Rolling a few cat treats towards her just made her shrink more tightly against the wall. The following day, the treats were still there. In her mind, they’d been contaminated by the touch of this frightening human. It was time to change tack: I decided to stop all attempts to build a relationship. I didn’t look at her. I didn’t try to make nice little noises. I didn’t roll any more cat treats. Thus began a long time of cat invisibility.”

“A week or two later, we began to notice that shredded pieces of newspaper were appearing in different rooms, and wastebins were being overturned. A few nights later, I woke with a start at 3am, with a powerful and unpleasant feeling of being watched. It was like a horror movie when the eerie music plays.

So I left little balls of newspaper around to see if they’d attract her interest. When I found them in the morning, they would be in a different area of the room. She’d been playing! This frightened and lonely cat was enjoying herself, albeit at a time when no humans were awake.”

More than 2 months after Tilly settled down in her new home, she still remained semi-visible.  ”If I so much as glanced at her, she responded with terror. I was on the edge of giving up.”

“Then it happened: the moment that changed everything. I was again in bed reading when she suddenly appeared 6ft away. But this time, she rolled over on to her side. She was performing what cat scientists call ‘the social roll’ – a signal to come and play. I didn’t dare get up or move towards her, and she soon walked away. However, I had a glimmer of hope.”

Celia went on with Tilly’s rehab with treats. Though the mere movements of her arms was still frightening to Tilly, she was slowly making progress. “To make myself seem less threatening, I decided to lie down on the floor and roll the treats towards her. That didn’t work either. I was 66 years old, so getting down to floor level took too long. By the time I was flat on the carpet, she’d run off.”

Finally, she figured out a way that would work. “Every time I saw her, I’d immediately retrace my steps and go the other way. If I had to pass her, I’d turn my back on her, thus avoiding all eye contact. Soon, because she didn’t feel as threatened, the little brown cat no longer ran away quite so far or so fast. Her eyes were still huge with fear and she was still spending about half the day under the bed, but she was able to sit and watch me at what she felt was a safe distance. And this safe distance was getting smaller every week. Finally, one day, as I lay on the floor, she took food from my hand. Her body language changed, too: she no longer slunk round the house with her stomach close to the floor. And I even found her sleeping on, rather than under, the bed. Then there was another break-through. I was sitting on the sofa watching TV when she suddenly jumped up beside me. Without thinking, I started to stroke her. As she began purring loudly, I thought: ‘I really love her.’ From that moment on, there was no more talk of putting her up for adoption.”

During the entire rehab period, Celia’s husband Ronnie was going through cancer treatments, then one day, they received bad news that his leg ulcer would not heal. At the same time, Celia discovered that she had a 5 cm tumor  from her routine mammogram, and it needed to be removed surgically. During the next 28 days, they were in and out of the hospital for doctor’s appointments. “Tilly sensed the change in me and became particularly loving, rubbing her face against mine. But in the distress and frenzy of those days, it was her wordlessness that was the greatest comfort.”

“Tilly didn’t tell me to ‘be positive’, as many people did. She did not say to me, as a surprising number of people did: ‘I know someone who died from breast cancer.’ She didn’t tell me to eat a vegan diet, abstain from dairy foods or take various infallible anti-cancer alternative remedies. Nor did she tell me, as some people did, that by failing to do these things I’d given myself cancer. She just purred and gave me affection. Once, as I watched her wash herself, a wave of happiness came over me: I couldn’t cure Ronnie or myself, but I had cured Tilly. Finally – after organising a carer for them both – I went into hospital for a mastectomy. I was lucky: I didn’t need radiotherapy or chemo. As I came round, it helped to know that a cat would be waiting for me at home. Not beautiful. Not graceful. But with a loving heart.”

Sadly, Ronnie had deteriorated…

“At 5am, in total despair, I wrapped myself in a blanket and sat in the living room, trying to calm myself down. It was then that a small miracle occurred. Tilly, of her own accord, jumped on my knees and curled up to sleep in my lap. For a whole hour, she lay in a small warm ball. I could feel despair ebb away. From that moment, I vowed to look after myself, so I could help Ronnie enjoy the rest of his life. Sitting in the dark with Tilly, I was infused with calm determination – and that feeling has lasted. I may have rescued the craziest cat in Oxfordshire, but there’s no doubt in my mind that she’s also rescued me.”

Celia shares her story with Tilly in her book.

Photos via Celia Haddon. Source: Daily Mail.

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62 Responses to “Very Timid Rescue Cat Saved Woman in Her Darkest Time”

  1. Shannon says:

    Awwww.. We have a beautiful tortoise shell Kitty that also is a rescue cat.. She has her funny ways but after a couple years she is a little snuggle bug… That’s awesome what you did for her… Bless you…

  2. Alisa says:

    What a beautiful story AND cat! Sometimes God places people or animals in our paths at just the right time and Tilly was there for you like you were there for her. God Bless you.

  3. Maysoun says:

    beautiful story

  4. Potpie says:

    What a beautiful and touching story

  5. Catherine Cheek says:

    Isn’t it amazing how love cured Tilly and Celia….Cats are awesome.

    I think Tilly is gorgeous…as are all cats.

  6. ida says:

    my ginger still rans from me. but he would purr when i hold him. you did a wonderful job of helping tilly.

  7. Li says:

    I… I think I got something in the eye…

  8. Mr B's Human Mama says:

    Bless you, what a wonderful story of love and determination.

  9. Lauren H. says:

    Tilly is far from ugly, she is beautiful! and this story is beautiful as well <3

  10. Colin says:

    What a beautiful and heartwarming story! I just love this!

  11. Christine Aspinall says:

    Yes, I also think ‘Tilly’ is a beautiful cat! Love her markings! Wonderful story! All a matter of trust! :)

  12. Gretchen says:

    What a lovely story! I wish I could get the entire book.

  13. Jazzpjd says:

    She’s not ugly, and obviously has an amazing heart.

  14. JR says:

    Tilly is certainly not ugly, she is beautiful. Celia is a kiatty whisperer. our fur babies have a greater ability to since things in us humans, they are totaly amazing.

  15. ViX says:

    The beautiful Tilly is the angel sent to help a human in need! Amazing story of love.

  16. Demitria says:

    You were meant for each other…what a beautiful story.

  17. Cecilie says:

    Thanks for a very encouraging story filled with love and hope:) A what a beatiful cat i all the right ways:))

  18. nnua says:

    Yes it is a beautiful story which gives us hope in times of despair.

    To have such an animal companion to come home to is a blessing indeed.

  19. Ingrid says:

    What a beautiful, moving, graceful story. Thank you for sharing this. It helps put things into perspective.

  20. Bren says:

    I so enjoyed this article and have ordered your book. I am also a cat lover, sanctuary volunteer and fosterer. I am very interested in cat behaviour, but had not read of the “social roll”. So thank you both for that small snippet of information and your wonderful, inspiring story. Good health and love to you and Tilly.

  21. nfmgirl says:

    I’m so glad you two found one another. I have my own “ghost cat”. She’s been with me now for 8 1/2 years. (What?? How is that possible??) She showed up as a very timid stray hanging out with a male stray for which the neighbors took care. After knowing her for a bit, she still wouldn’t get close enough for me to touch. But she wound up pregnant, and one day disappeared. I knew she’d probably had her babies and hoped she’d return one day. One morning I went out to water the plants on my balcony when I found a bunch of little eyes looking back at me. Momma (which is the name she has acquired over the years) had brought me her three kittens! (The landscapers were out with their mowers and weed eaters, and I think she was frightened for them.) During the next couple of weeks, Momma became a little more relaxed with me, even lying close by while she nursed and allowing me to touch her briefly, as long as she had a way of making a quick escape. One day I became concerned for the kittens (I lived on a second floor and worried they would fall over the balcony ledge), and I captured Momma and kittens in a large carrier and took them inside. They spent the next couple of weeks confined in my bathroom, but eventually were moved to my bedroom. During this period, Momma remained very timid and cowered or hid from me. The move to the bedroom marked the beginning of Momma’s nearly four years spent hiding under my bed and in my closet. After a year or so, she began to jump up on my bed and let me pet her as long as I didn’t move, but if I was standing, she was no where in sight. After almost four years of this, I bought a house. I figured allowing the cats (I now had five cats: Momma, an adult tortie I’d already had by the name of Fancy, two of Momma’s kittens Simon and Delilah, and a new cat I’d rescued from an abandoned home by the name of Shotsie) would have more room, and this would help make Momma feel more secure. It worked! Momma was in hiding for a few weeks, but one day I finally saw her. She now hid under a large built-in desk in a spare bedroom, but once I had a cat door installed, she quickly moved to the porch. Today she is a much more relaxed cat who moves freely between the porch and the house. Still very timid, she will keep a low profile, but will commonly sit with me on the couch and let me pet her when I’m standing. We had to put her daughter Delilah down earlier this year after a bout with lymphoma, but Momma is still going strong. I was happy the other day to have her lay in my lap for an extended period for the first time, and a couple of days ago I watched my dog playfully chase her (while I yelled at him to leave her alone), and I was pleased to see her run up to the door leading to the porch, but rather than run through the cat door to escape the dog, she stopped and just casually looked out the window before turning and calmly walking under the dining table where she feels safe. She’s come a long way! (Well, that was a bit long-winded!) All that to say: I know where you are coming from with a timid cat, as I’ve had a couple in my life. Momma can reach a tenderness and patience in me that the others don’t stir in the same way. She’s one of my greatest “accomplishments”, and there are times when focusing on her has helped me through a difficult time. So happy you and Tilly found one another!

    • vagabond says:

      I liked your story! I, also took in a preggers feral & kept her her 4 kittens, one of which passed of liver failure at the age of 2. Very rewarding when they come round!

  22. pumbie says:

    What a comforting story. Cats are calmness; you both deserved each other. And Tilly is a precious gorgeous cat!.

  23. Wendy S. says:

    The power of love always comes through. Especially with cats. I’m so happy a little feral cat found such a loving home.

  24. Barbara says:

    I just got something in my eye. What a wonderful story.

  25. Tillie is beautiful, and this is a beautiful story. Cats can really sense emotions, and can be a great comfort.

  26. Sue Bee says:

    You and Tilly ARE beautiful! Love the story!

  27. gwen says:

    amazing and so wonderful. Love it!

  28. Tucker says:

    I HAD A FERAL CAT NAMED RIGGINS AND IT WAS THE SAME IDEA WITH HIM THAT WE WENT THROUGH!!

    PATIENTS,LOVE,CALMNESS AND TRUST IS ALL IT TOOK!! 5 MONTHS LATER A HAPPY ,SPOILED CAT WHO I HAD FOR 8 WONDERFUL YEARS!!

    I MISS HIM!! )))))-;

    TILLY IS A BEAUTIFUL CAT AND SO LUCKY TO HAVE YOU!! AND YOU HIM!!

    HERE’S TO A LONG,HAPPY,HEALTHY LIFE TOGETHER!! HAPPY DNACE TIME IN HONOR OF TILLY CAT!!

  29. fairlady68 says:

    One of the best “cat tails” I have ever read! Hugs, nose bumpies and purrfect love to you both!

  30. Danie says:

    What an inspiring story! :>

  31. Chaz says:

    Your story is beautiful, but so is your writing. Thank you for putting this account into words.
    I received a tiny full-grown black cat that was tortured and high-strung, hissing constantly. It didn’t even have a name. Months later, after doing all I could to care for and comfort her, I felt something light as a feather land on my body. I got a new friend and she got a new name. Black, lightweight, tiny, just like a barbeque…Briquette.

  32. vagabond says:

    Great story- bless you for your patience!

  33. Old Man says:

    That was beautiful. Feral cats are very loving when they become part of the family. I have 5 formerly feral friends and they make life much more worth living. I give a little they give back so very much.

  34. Hi, Tilly! I’m Vinny, with two sisters Fluffy and Simi. Of late three black cats have adopted our human, and named them Lenny, Jenny, and Penny.

    They look like Tilly except that they’re all black. We’ve got hair your length, too. So, thanks to you, she’s closer to identifying our breed. Maybe we’re long-haired Torties, too, only black.

    They’re beautiful, and so is Tillie!

    Vinny, CanineTrackers.Wordpress, and Blogspot

  35. Dee says:

    Celia, thank you, thank you, THANK YOU for all that you’ve done for Tilly!

  36. Lexi says:

    Thank you for sharing such a lovely story. I’ve just downloaded the book on my kindle. Can’t wait to read it :)

  37. Fernanda says:

    Thank you for sharing your great story with us!

  38. Dorothy says:

    What a great lady and a great cat! I look forward to reading her books.

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