January 2012

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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.

Sammy and Maggie love to be together but this reduces Sammy

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.

Sammy on the pedestal. This is far enough from me for him to stay.

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.

Sammy on the desk. This is too close for him to stay.

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…

Winnie – Update

A year ago, beginning of 2011, we received two orange kittens who were very fierce.  We worked with them for a long time.  Marie lived with Odel in her office for about a month.  He eventually grew to trust her.  I worked with Winnie by snoggling him.  Eventually I realized that he did not like contact and forcing it was not helping.  I change policy and let him have run of the house with no attempts to touch him.  Turned out he was a super fun cat to have around – always interested and very affectionate with our boy Nelson.  Ready for play, interested in what I was doing.  He just had a no touch policy.

We tried to adopt them together, and did send them home with one adopter who returned both the next day.  One reason for the return was that they could not touch the boys.  I told them this quite clearly but they must have a believed they had superior kitten taming abilities.  Eventually Odel went to a great home in Edmonds leaving us with Winnie.  Winnie had a number of potential adopters call. I screened carefully for adopters who would have the patience to work with him and stability (less likely to have life changes that required re-homing Winnie) and ended up convincing most adopters to look at other cats.

I was just accepting that he may be our cat, an idea I mostly liked, and he was just beginning to get snuggly when the perfect adopter showed up.  She was looking for a companion for her cat, had experience with shy cats, had patience, and seemed stable.  I was sad to see him go.

Our current foster Sammy is a lot like Winnie.  Wondering how Winnie, is I queried Jill who sent this report.  His name is now Pinto, aka Bean.

Hi Tom,

Little Bean is fantastic. I am SO in love with him! He is such an easy cat. Yes, he is super loving (to me) and although he may always be skiddish, he sleeps with me on the bed, loves to cuddle next to me, lick my hands and even lets me curl my face up next to him and take a nap with him and yes, pick him up. He even sits next to me now on my chair when I am working and lets me put him on my lap (for a while).

He and Pacha get along great (he is MUCH friendlier to her than she will ever be to him but they are really good buds now, finally – it took 6 months for her to be really warm to him and even then she prefers my company to his). She is on prednisone for asthma and that makes her more irritated but he is submissive and follows her around like her kitten. They play-fight and chase each other at least 6 times a day, just like children. They go out during the day and I lock them in at dusk. Pinto changed dramatically once I let him do that. He became SO much happier and less demanding of Pacha. They hang pretty tight outside and when the weather is nice, he likes to stay out most of the day, sleeping out there and coming in for dinner and a few snacks during the day. They love to go for walks with me on the beach and Pinto chases the sand-fleas and seagulls!
Pinto went to the vet, yes, TO the vet recently. I had to trick him into his box but he was fine there and checked out as healthy as can be.
I think because I NEVER pushed Pinto and let him come to me in his own time, he learned to trust me and not fear me in the least. If there were kids involved or a pushier person, I am not sure it would have worked out as well. He has such a strong memory and is overall a scaredy-cat, that I am not sure he will ever warm up to strangers.
I attached some pics. Please know he is super happy and well-loved. Best of luck with your new kitties. I wish I could take more.
Walks on the beach:  sounds like cat heaven.

Winnie and Odel as kittens

Pinto and his new buddy Pacha

Pinto and Pacha

Pinto on the beach

Nelson’s adopters have written us several times with updates:

First night:

As soon as we got him home he did the low walking all around our place like you said he would. Then once he realized there were no other cats or people he instantly started acting like king! We spent the evening playing with the feather toy you suggested and his tunnel box! After a few hours he fell asleep on Dan’s lap while we watched a movie. He has been eating well already (I think you were right 3 oz isn’t going to be enough, we are going to stick to 4-6). More updates and photos to come later. Thank you for raising such a great cat! We promise him a fun, safe, and loving home.

Belly Time

Decembert 20, 2011

The king is doing fantastic! I was home sick for most of this week so we had some great bonding time. Now he follows me all around the apartment! I am never out of his sight! He “helped” me wrap christmas presents, and he was so helpful that I decided to build him a cat condo from the boxes I had left over.

Wrapping presents


Casa de Nelson

January 10, 2012

Here are a few pictures of the best cat on earth! I don’t know how he got the laundry basket to balance like this, but he is amazing! Hope you guys are having a good new year!

Laundry basket trick

It is great to hear from them and know they love Nelson and that Nelson is happy in his home.

Sammy and Maggie

Maggie and Sammy are two ordinary looking cats with special inner qualities. They both came from the same site and look like brother and sister but are several months apart in age. None the less, they are good buddies and play mates.

Maggie when she first arrived snuggled when held

Sammy when he first arrived purred when held

Maggie arrived first as a known friendly.  She was paired with Lewis, a shy cat, in the hopes that she would teach him how to be friendly. Sammy came to us as a presumed feral and so got ear tipped. I discovered that he purred when held. He went to a foster house and was joined by Maggie a couple weeks later. They went through a couple transfers, including some time in an All the Best Pet Care store for adoption before we received them. In the store they were too shy of people to be readily adoptable so we took them for more socialization time.

They are teaching me how cats communicate with each other.  I am learning about chirps, trills, and body language from them.

Maggie comforting Annabelle who was ill.

Both love other cats. When Maggie meets another cat she, purrs, arches, and rubs up against things. Then she falls on her side, makes air-biscuits toward them, and rolls over a few times. This is cat greeting for: we are going to be the best friends! Annabelle, another foster and a story in her own right, feels the same about other cats.  She too will do the rolls and air biscuits.  I now often find some combination of Maggie, Sammy, and Annabelle curled up together.

They have such good cat social skills.  When a cat does not reciprocate their interest, such as our mid-aged lady Luna, they will respect that boundary. I’ve never seen them hiss at or swat at another cat. Neither have the hiss, swatted, or nipped at me. Maggie would nip playfully at my hand but I only needed to squeak at her a few times. Each time she would pull back and look sorry that she had hurt me. She has not nipped at me since.

Maggie investigating little Nansen, who is a little uncertain.

Both are playful but Sammy is the supper athletic one. He knows that before bedtime I’ll get Da-Bird out for a good round of play. He shows up near me, tail up, rolling around on the floor to say – ready to play now! He is like a panther – speed and lots of power. He makes great leaps and shakes the floor when he lands.

In previous foster, Sammy would allow himself to be approached and held but Maggie would not. Here I isolated Maggie first – she spent the first week with me in my office and got comfortable with contact. I’m doing a long at-home meditation retreat in January and thought it would be a good time to work with shy cats. However, when I isolated Sammy upstairs where I mediate he would complain and call to Maggie. Then Maggie figured out where her buddy was and they both scratched at the door from opposite sides. Needless to say, meditation was impossible in those conditions so I gave Sammy free run of the house. Even so, in the two days with me he allowed me to approach and pet him. After retreat, when I’m more able to tolerate interruption, I’ll isolate Sammy again and work on his human trust issues.

Maggie and Sammy in a love nets

Sammy and Maggie snuggle while I meditate

Sammy is content with Maggie.

I’ve developed so much appreciation for these guys loving, gentle, and smart attributes I am tempted to adopt them ourselves. They are so very good with other cats they would not be at all disturbed by the constant change in the cat population. But their addition would bring us to 4 resident, which is a lot.

The two spend a lot of time playing together.

These are two cats I’ll be sad to say good by to.  We are looking for a good home for them.  I think they would do best in a house with patient people and some other cats.  They will get along with and play with just about any cat.  The adopter will have to have patience with their shyness but will be richly rewarded.

Sammy and Maggie together

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