In March we got a daddy cat from a family of cats in south Seattle. Now, a cat family is not like a human family. They don’t hang out together on the back lawn come evening. They did live in a colony and the care taker was fairly sure this fellow was the father of one or more litters.
We had to hold him for a couple days before the clinic so I set him up in the garage. I always watch cats to see how they respond to me. Some cats we trap are socialized to people. This guy didn’t run away from me like other cats but neither did he seem even halfway happy to see me. He had bad diarrhea, which can be due to the stress of being captured.
On clinic day they called to say that he was very ill. The clinic notes are below. He had several broken teeth, scars from previous fighting, muscle wasting, and other problems which suggested an underlying disease.
Daddy Cat's Medical Notes
The clinic suggested euthanasia for humane reasons. They thought if released outside he would die soon and it would be uncomfortable, even brutal. I consulted with Deb, but there is little we can do in these cases so we told the clinic to euthanatize him. I cleaned his cage well. A week later I got back his medial record with the vet’s notes. That, and my memory were all that were left of his life.
Many feral cats suffer uncomfortable deaths. Many animals suffer uncomfortable deaths. Many people suffer uncomfortable deaths. It is one of our sufferings. We work to help feral cats because we have an affinity for cats, but we also see how limited our help can be. Once a month our temple makes prayers for the deceased and Marie and I go whenever we are in town.
Our group recently got a box of free microchips from HomeAgain. Kate and I injected chips into two ferals. She had me try the second one but I didn’t get it in. Yesterday Deb helped me inject a chip into another feral. Success.
All shelters put microchips into cats they adopt out. All shelters also scan stray pets for chips. The chips have a number. The number leads back to the chip company which keeps a record of pet owners. This is a great system, in theory. In practice there are a few flaws.
All too often the contact information is out of date
There are different chip technologys in use and some older scanners will not recognize all chips
There are multiple companies registering chip numbers
But overall it does work. Last month the clinic found a chip in one of our cats and got her back to her people. She had been lost for 3 months.
You can make it work better by:
Registering with the company that made the chip. Registering with another company may prevent your contact information from being found.
Updating your contact information when it changes.
Lost dogs usually get picked up with in days. Lost cats can take months to be picked up. We don’t see free roaming dogs in the city but we see lots of free roaming cats, many without collars. Most are from a nearby house and are not lost. Some are lost. It is just hard to tell which is which. Here are some things you can do to help get lost cats back to their homes.
If you let your cat roam outside put a collar on it. The collar should have your phone and address. The collar will show the cat is owned. The address will let people decide if the cat is lost. The phone number will let them contact you. All cat collars should be escapable in case they get hung up. A good collar costs under $10.
If you see a cat with a collar check the address. If it is not near call the owners.
If you see a friendly cat with out a collar, try to find the owner. Ask your neighbors. Put a collar on the cat with a note to call you (this works!). Take it to a vet or shelter to be scanned.
Scared cats are not always feral. Many lost cats are scared and hide. You can’t distinguish them from feral. If you see a scared cat repeatedly contact a cat rescue group. (The group we work with, Alley Cat Project, covers Seattle).
You can consider any cat whose owner can’t be found through these methods to be unowned. If they are friendly it is time to find them a new home.
Steps 3 and 4 are not easy, which is why so few lost cats without collars are returned to their owners and those that are can take months. If you do take the time to help un-collard cats you see you may help neuter a feral, find a friendly cat a good home, or return a lost cat to their owners.
One technique for socializing feral kittens is to wrap them up in a towel so you can hold them close and they can not escape or scratch. They look rather like a buritto so it is called burittoing. Marie and I also call it snoggling. It took me several cats to figure out how to do this effectively. Initially they would escape out the front or the back. Even well wrapped I had to hold the towel snug around their neck to keep it secure. I’ve finally figured out how to make a secure buritto so I can snoggle a cat while working. Here’s what I do.
Select the right towel. It should be wide enough to leave 6 inches towel at head and rear and long enough to wrap at least twice around. It should also be fairly thin so you can scruff through it and the final burrito is not too thick. The towel I’m using is 26″ x 48″.
Have the kitten in a confined space. Chasing them around only enforces their feral behavior. Advice I’ve received is to keep them confined until you can approach and pick them up with out a chase.
Approach with the towel and put it over the kitten. Winnie still hisses when I approach but as soon as I get the towel over him he stops hissing. Eventually I should be able to pick him up with out the towel but last time I did that he fought fiercely reenforcing unwanted behavior.
Scruff him through the towel. This is why you need a thin towel.
Pull him out with the scruff and support through the towel. Winnie still goes passive when scruffed so this is quite easy.
Wrap him up. If you positioned the towel well you’ll be holding his scruff through the towel such that he is near one end and centered. Holding this scruff I wrap the towel under him, set him down, spread out the towel, wrap it over, wrap it under again, and back over. Hard to explain exactly but you’ll figure out a sequence that gets him all wrapped up. Recently he starts purring at about this point.
I then peel back the layers around his head. Be careful as this is when they may try to escape.
I identify one wrap that I can snug around his neck and then pin this securely with a clip. I’m using a small clamp (see photo) because it can be very secure. Things like clothespins are not secure enough.
Wrapped up like this I can now rest him in my lap and don’t have to hold the towel to keep him from escaping. Now that we have done several sessions of this he generally relaxes, purrs, and sleeps.
I use a small clamp to secure the towel
Winnie securely snoggled on my lap
Update: After about a week of burritoing Winnie I decided that it was not providing enough benefit to justify Winnie’s discomfort at being kept in a cage and forced human contact. Now Winnie is running wild in our upstairs and keeping his distance. Maybe in his own time, and with the example of elder cats he will come to enjoy our company. Burritoing may work for some cats but perhaps not for Winnie just now.
Odel and Winnie came to our house on February 18. Captured as ferals and already over 12 weeks old, they would prove to be a challenge to socialize. But after nearly two months indoors, they have been well fed, altered, and endured lots of human contact. When they first showed up, they just wanted to hide and hiss every time either of us came into their room. They often would take refuge behind my books in the bookcase. I would take the books out one at a time to see them pressed up against the wall, giving me the serious stink eye.
They continued to hiss and spit at us almost every time we came near them. We kept a large cage on the day bed with open doors where they could always run to feel safer. Also, that’s where we fed them so they learned to run into the cage for meals. Inside the cage was a small cubby where they could hide for extra security. After a while we removed the cubby, forcing them to be out in the open more. They became more comfortable outside the cage and would often snuggle on the pedastle near the window.
Odel and Winnie snuggle
In March we had three windows in their room replaced. A very traumatic week for them with all the banging and movement. Once the room was back in order, we removed the cage.
Winnie - the reluctant burrito
After the clinic, we separated them so they can become more bonded with people rather than continue to cling to each other. Winnie has taken up residence in Tom’s office while Odel keeps me company in my office during the day. I’m sure they miss each other, and we look forward to letting them play together in the future. We spend time each day holding the kits in a burrito to help them get used to us.
They love to run and romp. They both have climbing posts and toys. They both quickly developed great litter box habits, but Winnie has a way of kicking an amazing amount of litter out each time he uses it. Although we’ve heard many cats don’t like these, a covered litter box may be the ultimate solution for him. Their personalities are distinct, with Winnie being much more relaxed in general while maintaining his physical independence, while Odel is more intense, fiercely standing his ground when threatened, but who mainly is scared and just wants to be loved. Both prefer the company of humans to being alone. Even as I write this Odel is tearing around the room with his mouse toy, jumping over my legs and purring whenever I talk to him.
Both cats love to snuggle with Nelson
Coming from a feral background, both kittens also love the company of other cats. There’s lots of purring and following our resident boy, Nelson, when we let him into their rooms.
These boys would make excellent companions to a household with some feral experience. Winnie still does not and may never like to be held. He no longer hisses when you come into his room, but he will run away if you get too close. Still, his trills and play antics are a joy to be around, especially if he has his play companion, Odel, or other cats to romp with. Odel does not prefer to be picked up, but once snuggled in your arms wrapped in a blanket, he will relax and purr contentedly. But, he may not choose to stay long, especially if he’s in play mode. Both kitties love to play with toys on a string, mice, ball in a doughnut, and undercover mouse. I suspect, with patience, Odel will become more and more affectionate towards people while Winnie will always be curious but is likely to maintain his physical independence.
Odel wonders what the future holds for him
These beautiful boys would do great in a stable home with lots of room to play where there is little expectation for them ever being lap cats. They will continue to need socializing for a while and may not yet be ready for roaming freely in a large house. But as time goes on, I suspect their affection will grow as they feel more secure and settle into their forever home.