(As a pet sitter, I just felt that I should share what I've learned.)
1. Try and establish a positive relationship at the outset. Non-confrontational postures (head tilted down and turned slightly away from the feline), slow movements and calming voices, letting them be the ones to come up to you, and then—gradually—engaging them in their preferred mode of activity (petting, playing, brushing, etc.) are all tried and true. It usually takes multiple visits to woo a feline. Be patient; it will be worth it.
2. Keep good records of what happens during initial contact and first visits. If the usual tactics listed above fail, then make a note of it. There is always knowledge to be gained from the exception to the rule. Analyze the records to determine what could be done differently to bring them around. For example, if 7 p.m. is the time when he turns into a rabid, woman-eating werewolf, come a bit earlier next time.
3. Give yourself permission to go outside your comfort zone. Even if all of your other feline clients love you, allow yourself to accept that this one feline might just hate your guts. I mean, really really hate you. Accept it; it’s okay. It’s not the same as when you got bullied in high school. Just try and let it go.
4. Understand normal animal behavior. If they’re frightened, it’s normal for them to hide; it’s normal for them to watch you from afar. It isn’t normal for them to hunt you. If they follow you around the house like the hungry lioness on that nature show, do not stifle your fight or flight response. You probably ARE in real danger.
5. Remember previous experiences with abnormal feline behaviors. You’ll especially want to remember that time in 1992 when a vacuum cleaner prevented you from having to escape out the second-story window of a home in Woodland, CA. A simple visualization on the event will suffice: picture the hissing, growling, lunging feline at the end of that long hallway. Now visualize the feeling of relief when you found the vacuum in the closet of that back bedroom and pushed it in front of you until you got to the front door. Take the time to acknowledge that when an animal-lover fantasizes about sucking up a cat through a tiny rubber hose, the cat is most likely not a typical feline.
6. Relinquish pre-existing ideas of your competence. You knew he could be abnormally aggressive at 7 p.m., left the house without your proven-effective mode of protection, and now he is lunging, hissing, and growling at you. Let go of the idea that you will survive this; you obviously didn’t want to anyways. Which explains why your baby gate shield is resting 4 miles away on your front porch, rather than in your hand protecting you from Rosemary's kitty.
7. Avoid convincing yourself that you’re charming him into not attacking you. Because it’s not working. He’s like that bad boyfriend you had in high school; he’s not listening and doesn’t care. So stop groveling and move on. Practice detaching emotionally from the situation, and acknowledge that the only real chance you have is if he already ate human flesh for lunch.
8. Utilize the resources at your disposal for escaping harm. You might feel humiliated waddling around with the cat owners quilt wrapped around your legs, but, trust me: no one will see you. No one except the feline who’s probably going to kill you anyways.
9. Keep the human client apprised of the situation or, if the client isn’t available, a friend or family member. Try to keep your screams low to prevent distortion in the phone. At the very least, they’ll need to hear your name and your exact location. Otherwise they’ll have no way of knowing where to pick up your carcass.
10. Examine the situation objectively to ensure your future survival. Look to your thoughts immediately following the incident for clues as to how to proceed. Evaluate your fear on a 1 to 10 scale. If below 5, chalk the incident up to isolated, avoidable foolishness on your part; if above 5, consider relinquishing the client to the next delusional/incredibly-hopeful sap who foolishly thinks reforming bad boyfriends and unstable felines is a valid use of time, or, alternatively, you could divvy up monetary earnings to go into a fund for the immediate purchase of a high volume, high-performance vacuum cleaner.