Cat blog about my life with many, many cats.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Feral Kitties and Trying to Tame Them

It's not an easy thing, trying to tame a feral cat.

A few weeks ago our neighbor took three cats from an overburdened lady who regularly takes on homeless cats. This lady had three cats literally thrown on her porch some time ago and the poor kittens were pretty spooked. She worked with them for about four weeks and two of them were getting more acclimated to people. But the third one was a seriously spooked little guy who wouldn't allow anybody to come near him.

The lady needed somebody to take these cats because she was expecting more cats to be delivered shortly, and these were sort of "extra" cats that didn't look like they would ever be suitable for pets. So the choice was either take them to a shelter or get someone to take them as barn cats.

My neighbor has a large property with many barn cats, so she took all three sibling kittens and said she would take them to her place. We rent a farmhouse on my neighbor's property and the barn cats here have happy lives. And then we have our own group of seven indoor cats who are more people friendly.

These three kittens, two males, one female, arrived. My neighbor was able to put the two kittens who were slightly more friendly in the barn and show them where the kibble is kept so they knew to come back there to get fed.

But their spooked brother, a gorgeous orange and white guy just five months old, wouldn't come out of his cage and needed a little more love and care because he was so spooked. He was too feral to even be released as a barn cat yet because nobody could get near him.

So one afternoon about a week before Christmas, my neighbor shows up with this adorable spooked orange kitten in a cage.

And we happen to have a spare room right now that is empty, so we said we'd take him to see if we could get him used to people before either releasing him to become a barn cat or -- if we got lucky and he came around to enjoy people's company -- he could become a new kitten of ours.

I spent several hours a day with him, at first just gently sitting near him as he sat within his cage with the door open. He didn't seem to like humans, but whenever I'd bring in one of our other housecats for a "play date" the little kitten immediately came out, meowed, rubbed noses with the other cat, and allowed me to pet him a little bit.

So for a week I kept introducing him to our other cats and spending some time with the little kitten and our various cats, trying to teach the little kitten that basically, I'm a cat, too.

Still, the kitten wouldn't really come over to me unless I had a cat with me!

And he'd spend all of his time in his cage, not really playing or exploring the room. He never tried to get out of the room when we opened the door. Instead, he was just quiet and fearful.

I realized the poor kitty had been through trauma and I just hoped that as the days went by we'd could gradually get him to see that humans can be nice and that he had nothing to fear.

During this time he never once tried to get out when we opened the doors. He prefered the safe refuge of his cage, where he had blankets and soft carpet. He would come out of the cage to eat and use the litter box, though.

Cats like this who are semi-feral need a lot of loving attention. I was happy to try to rehabilitate the little guy since I work from home and could spend a lot of time with him.

Over the week he was with us there were a few times when he'd come over to me and let me pet him and he'd behave like a normal, happy kitten. So there were definitely signs of hope.

We went away for two days over Christmas and our cat lady came to spend some time with him, so he was still getting friendly human contact.

When we got back from our holiday trip I resumed the habit of introducing other cats into the room for the kitten to meet and play with and also rubbing the kitten on the head and getting him used to human touch. Again, he made no attempts to escape from the room.

Then I did something really stupid. I was tired and I was cleaning the house, and I cracked open the window in the kitten's room to let out some stale air from the room. I thought I'd only cracked it a tiny bit like an inch or so.

Well, it turns out I had cracked it a few inches, and when I went into another room, our sluggish and scared little kitten who never dashed anywhere, jumped out the first floor window and made a run for it!

I was SO upset!

We went outside and called to him, and he was in some bushes behind the house, but since he was still spooked about people he wouldn't come to us.

So we left out food and shelter for him and hoped he would start coming around to our enclosed back porch where we have a cat door and always keep plenty of food.

The problem was he escaped in the early evening and so he probably couldn't see the cat door on the back porch, we didn't have time to show it to him.

And pretty soon he had taken off, and we haven't seen him since!

SNIFF! I felt soooo bad about this.

The good news is that the kitten is five months old, so he should be able to fend as best as can be expected on his own. It's a good thing he wasn't younger. And he has had some preliminary shots from the vet. But of course he hasn't been fixed yet, and he hasn't had his full roster of rabies shots. AARGH!

My honey and I have done a lot over the years to rehabilitate ferals and get them their medical checkups and spaying and neutering, and some of them we have had to release back into the wild because they were not happy around people. We do have two indoor/outdoor males right now that came around to enjoy being housecats, and they are both very sweet.

I had high hopes for pretty Mr. Kitty. And I was so dumb to crack open that window. If I hadn't been so tired and mentally out of it when I was cleaning, I would have known not to crack the window open so much. But I really thought I had only cracked it an inch or so, and since Mr. Kitty had no history of trying to make a run for it when we opened doors to his room and stuff, I really didn't think he'd be so quick on his feet to make an escape.

I've seen his brother cat in the barn and I believe he and his sister are both still on the property, but this is a rural area with lots of woods, so those two might come and go. I hope that somewhere along the way they encounter their little brother and can show him where they get food at the barn. There are a lot of people out here who feed outdoor cats, too, plus we've had a few weeks of warm weather which probably made it easier for the little guy to get used to being outside.

But we had our first snowfall yesterday morning. Maybe we'll get lucky and Mr. Kitty will come around again for food when it gets cold - but I know I can't count on it.

Not that we have a lot of room for more cats.

You can see here why it's so difficult for me to ever make the bed. There are always cats accumulated on it.


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