A year ago we fostered two fierce orange tabby boys. I worked to socialize Winnie and used that experience to write about how to burrito (snoggle) a cat. We currently have a semi-feral cat, Sammy, and I’m going to some of the different techniques I use working with him. I should say up-front that I’m no expert at this. I have some advice from experienced people and am learning as I go.
It turned out that burritoing Winnie did not provide any benefit. Initially he would start to purr as I wrapped him in the towel and seemed to relax after 20 minutes. 5-6 days later he would purr less and escape more. I decided that I had mis-read the purring. Cats purr when they are comfortable and happy but also when they WANT to be more comfortable and happy. It is also called “stress purr”. Winnie was purring because he was stressed by the contact. As he got more comfortable with being burritoed he purred less and asserted his desire to be free more.
Forced contact, of which burritoing is one technique, may work well to overcome fear of humans in cats who have had little human contact. If you can hold them long enough they will tire out, may realize they like human touch, and that conclusion may stick. It did not work with Winnie because he had already come to the firm conclusion that he did not like human touch. Repeating the process did nothing to change that conclusion.
So I changed tactics. I let Winny run free in our house and made no attempt to touch him. He turned out to be a great house mate and I really enjoyed him. Eventually he allowed some touch. Soon after that he got adopted. His adopter continued the program. Now he snuggles with her.
There was one time when I tried to pick him up. He was eating out of a some one else’s food bowl. We were at that point so comfortable around each other that I forgot about the no-touch policy. I walked up behind him and picked him up. He immediately turned into a ball of sharp claws and won his immediate release. I apologized profusely and the incident was forgotten long before my scratches healed.
Sammy, who came to us as a young adult. He purred when held so I assumed he was friendly. We sent him to foster where he was reported to like pets. He came to live with us in December and has slowly become more feral. I now thinking that his purr is a stress purr and he really does not like human contact. That is not entirely true because he did like pets in the other foster and, at times here has shown enjoyment here. He has mixed feelings about human contact.
Helping him to overcome his discomfort with touch will make him more adoptable – make it more likely that we’ll find good home for him as a companion animal. And, if we do place him as a companion animal he will be more comfortable in the company of people. The alternative is to place him as a “barn cat” where is primary job is rodent control.
Letting him run free in the house may eventually work. He will have constant presence of me and Marie, play time, treats, and meals to help him build positive association. Given 6 months or a year he may decide that we humans are OK. But I’m going to try to speed of the process by isolating him from the other cats in the house. Sammy is very social and accustomed to a lot of contact with Maggie plus others. If I deprive him of that he may be more willing to overcome his discomfort for the reward of my contact.
There are problems with isolation. He misses his buddies, calls out to them, and acts depressed. I believe that on-balance the benefit is worth the short-term discomfort for him, but there is discomfort.
I work from home in an upstairs office. It is easy to isolate him in two upstairs rooms: the landing and the office. He has some choice. He could stay out in the landing, in a completely separate room from me if he wants that much distance. I’ve made the perches in my office more appealing. If he wants to use those he has to share the same room.
At this point he has been with me one day. Already I can now approach and pet him. He will lean into my hand and show enjoyment. I set up a pedestal in my office by the window. It is such an appealing bed that he now will stay in the same room as me.
I also set up a bed on my desk near where I work. He has already discovered that, but it is too close for him to remain while I work.
In a couple days I’ll take away the post and make the desk bed the most appealing place to be.
Meanwhile, I approach him as often as I can and offer some affection. If he stays and relaxes I pet him. If he shows discomfort I give him space.
At night I’ll let Maggie and some other cats upstairs so that Sammy gets some cat society time and they get to sleep in their accustomed places. I believe this will lengthen the process but feel that the benefit to everyone is worth it. If I find that Sammy reverts too much I’ll change that tactic.
One very effective technique would be to bring him into a small room with me to sleep at night. Already he sleeps on the bed with me, often nestled against my legs. I don’t think he realizes they are my legs though…