During a difficult time in my younger life, I started volunteering in a shelter. I saw many cats deal with the novelty of their abandonment — many had been owner surrendered, rather than strays. I saw some go into depression after they were returned (usually for allergies or normal mistakes they made as they were trying to settle in — a litterbox missed, a scratch, a bite). A few simply gave up and became physically ill after failed adoptions, when they came back into the shelter.
One in particular ended up so sick that she went home for hospice care with a volunteer. She could not hold food down, and was becoming weaker despite our best efforts and the best medical care. That cat’s problems were over the moment she left the shelter. Her health improved and she lived many years after, obviously now as an adopted cat with the volunteer.
We had cats who started out social but would hide and avoid social interactions after a failed adoption. My cat Min was just such a cat when she came home to us. We brought her home mostly as a friend for our kitten, expecting she would have nothing to do with us — yet she ended up being the most wonderfully loving cat once she figured out she was there to stay.
Finally, our current cat, Sox, was passed from care to care 5 times in his 6 years of life. Eventually, he took himself out and never came back, prefering to live from handouts people gave him. Someone figured his last owners had left and rescued him from a storm drain during a horrible thunderstorm, and brought him to me because he could not keep him. After tracing his owners through the microchip, and seeing how many times he had been left behind, we decided to keep him and end the chain.
But while lovable, he is taking his time to trust us with his love. That cat who used to go jogging with his original mom in the morning and sleep wrapped around his original dad’s head is taking his time trusting us with his heart. His last “owner” said something about “unrequited love”. This cat is clearly still mourning his people even now, 4 years after he lost them. All we can do is offer him shelter and our care, and hopefully he will decide at some point that this is his home and we are his people. We have time.