February 2012

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St Francis House

In mid February Alley Cat Project got a call from Julie looking for two “barn cats” for St Francis House.  This is a day shelter that provides people with meals, clothing, and house hold supplies.  They are open 5 days a week and full of volunteers and clients during those times.  Evenings, nights, and weekends they are empty.  The building is full of supplies.  In recent years they have had a growing mouse problem and Julie convinced the board that some resident cats were the best way to control the mice.

We immediately thought of Sammy and Maggie.  This pair came from a feral colony in Shoreline and have been with us for about 5 months.  I felt particularly responsible for them as I made the call to not return Sammy to his colony.  Making decisions about the lives of cats is the most difficult part of this work.  I want all cats to have great lives.  Often we do find very good homes but I always agonized as we wait for the right adopter to show up.  We worked with Sammy and Maggie but they never reached fully adoptable status.  Sammy remained shy.  Maggie would always come to me for pets but was more interested in socializing with our other cats than with us humans.

I took them down to St Francis House on Tuesday.  There is an upstairs room with kitchen and back office that sees little human traffic most times of the day.  They get this as their sanctuary.  Once established there they will have full run of the building and get to choose how much they interact with people.  Though empty on the weekend, during weekdays the building is full of nurturing people.  Among the staff and volunteers there are several excited to have cats coming to live in the building.  Sammy and Maggie will have a large and interesting indoor space to live in, a job to do, and time to develop relationships with the people around them.

The upstairs room with back office at the far end.

It did not take Maggie very long to peek out from the office and start exploring

While Maggie was sitting in the door a mouse ran right in front of her! In the daylight! She got very interested.

Maggie looking for the mouse

Sammy is shyer and it will take him longer to settle into his new environment but ultimately he will be the real mouser of the two.

Sammy on the pedestal

This is a follow-up on my work to socialize Sammy.  During work days I isolated him upstairs with me for about a week.  Other cats could come and go but I made Sammy stay upstairs with me.  There was a pedestal in my office with a view outside and this became a favorite perch of his.  Every morning I would sit right next to this for over an hour to meditate.  He grew more comfortable with me near by and soon let me pet him.  Before long he was making a point of showing up on the pedestal before morning meditation so he could get pets.  Once he even followed me upstairs and jumped on the pedestal.

However, in other context he did not want to be approached by me.  He loved pets on the pedestal but not anywhere else.  I do believe that over time, perhaps a year, he would grow to accept pets in other places.  He is very affectionate with his buddy Maggie and I believe this would transfer to people, eventually.

After about a week I decided that Sammy was a long-term project.  He was not going to have a quick change of mind about comfort with people.  I wanted to prevent him from hiding from us and push his comfort level a little, but not too much.  And I wanted him to have fun.  Cat’s lives are fairly short.  I always want them to have as much enjoyment as possible.  I stopped closing the stairway door but continued to closed off our bedroom so that he could not hide out there away from people.  Sammy could be upstairs in my office or downstairs.  In both places he had to encounter people.  He was about 90% comfortable with this.  He and Maggie spent a lot of time running around our house with their tails up, looking for the next adventure.  And they spent a little time slinking under things to get away from us.

Sammy being pet the pedestal

Sitting on our cat bench

This beautiful young lady is ready for her new home.

A charming young girl

UPDATE

March 14, 2012
Sabrina was adopted by loving couple in Fall City.

Here is an article submitted by Kyle Smith about making warm shelters for feral cats using simple, cheap materials.  I thought the design was so simple and effective that I agreed to post the article to help spread this information.


Make a winter shelter for feral cat colonies. The winter and summer seasons are the hardest for feral cats. Cold temperatures, wind, freezing rain and snow can lead to frostbitten paws, noses, and tails. Food and water become scarce and braving the elements makes finding food harder. Feral cats exist in every city and small town. They number in the millions and mostly go unseen and unprotected. ASPCA recommends implementing a TNR program in any area where feral cats roam. This program helps capture, neuter and return cats to the colony, which in turn reduces the population and helps maintain the cat’s health. Most animal rescue organizations are willing help you join or set up a feral cat program in your area. If there are feral cats nearby you can help them have a warm place to hide out this winter by creating a “Roughneck Home”. Erubbermaid has created a not-for-profit program called “Roughneck Homes” where you can purchase or donate an 18-gallon Rubbermaid tote at wholesale prices. Spend a little time, today, to help your fellow feline this winter.

Cat Shelter

What you need to build a Rubbermaid Roughneck Feral Cat Shelter.

  • Rubbermaid Container (the 18-gallon size is pictured)
  • Styrofoam Cooler
  • Straw
  • Duct Tape
  • Exacto or box knife
  • Eight inch diameter pot lid or plastic lid
  • Marker of pen
  • Nail file

Make a hole in the front of container by using a marker to trace around the lid then carefully cut out hole with Exacto knife. File down any sharp edges. Place the Styrofoam container inside the Rubbermaid container. Mark inside hole by tracing around outside container with a marker. Cut out Styrofoam hole. Pack straw into the gap between the Styrofoam container and the Rubbermaid container. Place the straw inside the inner container. Place the lid on Styrofoam cooler and tape edges with duct tape then do the same with the lid on the Rubbermaid container.

For more information, step-by-step instructions and photos go to the Roughneck Feral Cat Shelter site.

The shelter pictured is an 18-gallon container, suitable for one cat or two small cats. For a larger shelter, use the 36-gallon Roughneck and a bigger Styrofoam cooler.

Getting feral cats to use the homes isn’t too difficult if you think like a cat.

Cats are cautious, like small spaces where they can hide. Place your home in a secluded quiet area where you’ve seen cats. Avoid open spaces, noisy populated areas, away from car fumes and chemicals and away from dogs.

Entice cats with food and water. Never place food inside a shelter that’s meant to be ‘slept’ in. Cats don’t like to sleep with food near them. Place a dish of food near the shelter to draw cats closer and boost their curiosity. If using food only visit shelter once or twice per day. Feral cats get nervous and will avoid something that attracts too much human attention. You can also create a separate shelter for food using just the outside container with no cooler in it. Place ‘food’ shelter in the same area as but not close to ‘sleeping’ shelter.

Patience. It may take a few days to a week for feral cats to trust the new shelter. If there have been no signs of habitation after 2 weeks consider changing the location of the shelter.

Additional modifications: Often, feral cats will be hesitant to enter a shelter with only one exit, since it leaves them vulnerable to predators. You may need to cut a second hole on the opposite side to encourage ferals to use your roughneck home.

For cold windy areas added protection from wind or other elements may be needed. Installing a door flap made of heavy plastic, vinyl or canvas to each entrance of your roughneck home easily does this. Cats don’t like change so its best to start your shelter with flaps rather than installing them later.