Barn Cats

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Baby came from FCSNP clinic with a very bad upper respratory infection.  I set him up in the basement and began to explore how much handling he would tolerate.  If he was very feral there would not be much I could do.

He liked to hide in his carrier. I found that if I disconnect the top of the carrier from the bottom I can lift the top up just enough to reach in and can often handle semi-feral cats while they are in their safe place. I start cautiously with stick, then a golved hand, then my bare hands. Baby was a little squirrley but did let me handle him. Later he got wise to my taking the carrier apart and he would hide behind it. I would just move it then reach back and pull him forward a little.

I gave him:

  • Oral antibiotics by squirting some liquid down his throat
  • Eye antibiotics by squirting some ointment into his eyes
  • Subcutaneous fluids by sticking a needle under the skin on his back and letting fluids drain into him

That was a lot of handling and he was surprisingly calm – as if he knew that it would ultimately help him. I was most impressed that he let me administer ointment to his eyes. This can’t be comfortable. With one hand I scruff him and twist his head to one side. With the other I squeeze out a bit of ointment and then lay that across his eyeball. I then turn his head the other way and do the other eye. If I miss I try to massage it in a little.  Baby allowed all that handling and more.

I was always ready to pull my hands back, especially while giving fluids.  To help cats who are not eating stay hydrated we inject saline solution just under their skin with an IV drip.  As the amount of fluid builds they must feel discomfort or just strange and they start to resist little. Often, once I had the needle out, he would swat but he never got me.

After several days I could see that he was improving.

After several more days I began to rub Baby’s cheek after treatment. Soon after that he began to respond. Each day he was a little more open. Soon he would come out of his carrier and soon he was crawling into my arms. In the end Baby turned out to be just a big Baby.

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Baby was promised to a student house in Ravenna as a garage cat to hunt rodents. Since that time his status changed and he clearly wanted to live inside with people. They were happy to have him and gave him plenty of loving. Never the less I stayed in contact to be sure it was right fit. They said that Baby never showed interest in going out side or hunting anything. Ultimately one of the students adopted Baby as his own.

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.

The knights came to us from a horader in seattle. Cats from this site trickled through our garage facility for months.

Our group, Alley Cat Project, is a small cat rescue – about 7 volunteers – working on trap-neuter-release in the city of Seattle for the purpose of reducing cat population and the number of unwanted cats. In the past when the Seattle Animal Shelter (SAS) got a feral cat – any cat who was sufficiently warry of or even hostle toward people that they were unadoptable – the cat was euthanized. The shelter is great but they must accept all cats surrendered to them and don’t have the resources to deal with them all, especially the difficult cases. Fortunately the shelter is willing to work with our group so feral cats get transferred to us.

It is always our preference to return a cat to the site it came from but sometimes that is just not an option. We won’t just drop them in the country, no matter how wild they are, because they are not likely to survive and the people who live there don’t want abandoned cats. The best options for cats who can not return home is a barn home – some place were they are wanted, perhaps to control rodents, and allowed to keep their distance from people. Fortunately, a good number of people want barn cats, will accept them as they are, and take good care of them. The most feral of cats have no desire to be even seen by humans. Others are somewhere alogn the spectrum from feral to companion animals.

Tinker came to us in early September. He is young, perhaps a year, very active and very curious. He is approachable, but wary of being touched. If I can slip my hand onto his neck just right he likes the touch – for about 5 seconds and then is off. He also startles easily and shies away. Tinker was also mouthy. He likes to lick and nip. He would sniff my hand, then lick my hand, then gently bite my fingers. Most of the time he was very gentle but once, when I was feeding from my hand, he broke my skin. There is no aggression in this but never the less it is a bad trait for companion cats.

Now this is not completely unadoptable but you have to understand that the shelter is already full (and I mean full) of cute little kittens and super friendly adults who come to the front of their cage, meow for attention, and then are super loving. It takes a special adopter to recognize and want a cat like Tinker and it takes a long time for these adopters to show up. Tinker could not compete with these cats. If he stayed at the shelter he would languish for a log time, likely get a URI. If the shelter got over crowded he would likely be euthanized. So Tinker got transferred to ACP and ended up in our garage.

Tinker

R.H. Head Butts

We originally planned to pair him with a beautiful buff siamese who came from a different site by way of SAS. It was pretty clear why SAS found this guy unadoptable – for the first day with us he stayed in his carrier and growled when approached. But he then got very sick with a URI and pretty much stopped eating. While slipping food into his carrier I decided he did not look very menacing, checked, and found him touchable. Since I could handle him I could adminsiter sub-cutaneous fluids (to restore hydration to cats who are not eating). I named him R.H. which stood for “Radient Health” in the hopes he would be so restored. After 6 days he started to eat again and slowly returned to health. All the while I worked with him. He either decided to be friendly or, more likely, remembered his friendly nature and was soon front-of-the-cage friendly. We returned him to SAS where he has since been adopted. We have had a couple other turnarounds like this.

Soldier came to us in late September. We had him altered at the Feral Cat Spay/Neuter Project. As with other feral cats, one ear tip was removed to indicate they have been altered. (Tinker was altered at SAS and therefor not ear-tipped.) Soldier too came down with a bad URI and stopped eating. He was touchable so I was able to administer fluids and antibiotics. In fact he was so much like R.H. that I hopped he would come around to friendly and adoptable status.

Tinker also seemed close to being adoptable. Both were between the worlds of companion animals and feral cats. They had never lived outside enough to know how to do that safely but their previous “owner” never interacted with them enough to socialize them to live as companion animals. Because they lacked outdoor experience I did not want to see them sent to a barn home – too many unfamiliar dangers in the country. They needed some indoor time to give them an opportunity to find their friendly nature (and for us to assess them). I lobbied our group for someone to take them in. Unfortunatey everyone’s house was already full of other cats with equally urgent needs. (Marie and I could not take them in because of our resident Nelson who is very anxious around other cats.)

Snoggling Tinker

I worked with Tinker and Soldier as well as I could with limited time visiting them in our garage. Soldier showed some enjoyment of human touch by leaning his head into a cheak rub or raising his rear to a back rub but he never purred for it. As he got his energy back he showed more wariness and less enjoyment. With time Tinker became less willing to be picked up. I had to admit that neither met the criteria for companion animal adoption through a shelter.  (Video of Tinker).

It might have been possible for our little group to find a companion home for them – we have found homes for other difficult cats. The right adopter has always come along, but it can take time. I’ve decided it is important to not let effort helping one or two cats take energy away from TNR, which indirectly helps many cats.

Good buddies

Fortunately, about this time Monk responded to our ad for barn cats. Monk runs a rope factory in an old Seattle wearhouse where they make fine hemp rope for bondage. They and other tenants have a mouse problem. Monk grew up on a farm and knows that the green solution to rodents is cats. He, his wife, and all his employees are also cat lovers. Marie and I went down to visit and decided this was a very good fit for the boys. They will be indoors, the adopters want to interact with the boys but don’t expect perfect companion animal maners, other people in the community are on board with cats in the warehouse.

We dropped them off on an evening in late October.  That day I cleaned the garage.  Tinker and Solder were unsettled by all the activity:

Tinker

Solder - uncertain about moving

Monk and his wife had screened in the small sleeping loft in the back of the factory and planned to spend several nights with Soldier and Tinker. This will be an excellent introduction.

Tinker and Soldier's new home

Because Monk’s name is “Monk” his factory is named “The Abbey” and the cats who are protecting The Abbey are named “The Nights Templar”. You can read about their life at The Abbey on their facebook page.

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