In the beginning there was Nelson.  He liked to sleep on my desk while I worked.

The towel was not that comfortable

So I bought him a bed.

Nelson mostly fills up the bed

And he loved the bed.  Then came Luna, and there was conflict

Nelson just evicted Luna from the bed

So I bought another bed.

Peace in the kingdom

I even bought a large bed for them to share.


Luna is not a cat snuggler

The big bed was OK but snug little beds were much preferred.  Our foster kitten Max also loved the beds.


Max in bed

Again, sometimes there was conflict


Max is too cute to evict

Sometimes we put the beds on our bed at night so our cats could sleep in bed on bed but we found this too crowded so I built a cat bed at the head of our bed.


Bed bed bed bed

But they still preferred the snug little beds so we put the two cat beds on the cat bed.


Cats in bed on bed

Or current foster cat Winnie loves Nelson, and they both snuggle together in the little cat beds, even though they hardly fit


Winnie loves Nelson

Recently we have had only one cat bed at the head of our human bed and Luna has been sleeping in it.  Last night Nelson showed up first and settled into the bed.  Winnie showed up next and snuggled in with Nelson.  Luna showed up a little latter to find that her bed was full.  This was intollerable.  She hissed and glowered at them but they did not move so Luna left, making the huffing sound cats use to express disgust.  Sleeping somewhere else was not satisfying so Luna was soon back glowering at the boys.  Nelson, who’s on prozac, decided that a turf war was not compatible with a good sleep so he left to seek uncontested bedding.  Winnie, surprisingly, stayed.

I thought “I’ll chase him away so that we can all settle for the night”.  Now Winnie started life in a feral colony with out human contact.  He is comfortable living with us but has a strict no-touch policy.  When we reached out toward him he would skiddle away.  Recently though, when he is sleepy and snuggled next to Nelson he has let us pet him a little.  Winnie was not sleepy and didn’t have Nelson so I figured that I could chase him away simply by reaching out to pet him.  Instead, Winnie let me pet him.  And he purred!  We went through this exercise twice then I explained to Luna that Winnie was not leaving and she had to settle with sleeping on the big bed next to me. Winnie is slowly relaxing his no touch policy.


Peace is restored


This spring I’ve been bit twice while wrestling a cat. Compared to cats I’m slow and soft. My best successes wrangling cats have come from using my big brain to guide them to do what I want.  When I figure out how to do that is less stressful for me and the cat.

Our main role with Alley Cat Project is to hold cats for recovery from spay and neuter surgery.  They come to us in a carrier and we put their carrier directly into a cage along with food, water, and litter.  We open the carrier door and they have access to the necessities and a little room to move.  When it comes time to release them we have to get them back into the carrier.  Most feral cats will seek out the shelter of the carrier, making the task easy.  Recently, however, we have had a few cats who would not go back into the carrier and this has caused wrangling difficulties.  I applied my brain to this problem and came up with the cage to carrier tunnel.

Tunnel partway across cage door

The tunnel is mounted on a larger board which blocks the cage door.  You open the door a smidge and slide the board in from the side.  There is a point where you have to open the door wide enough to let a cat out but I think this can be done quickly enough to now allow escape.

Tunnel completely covering the door. It can be held in place with bungies.

The tunnel has a sliding door to keep the cat in until a carrier is in place.

Tunnel with door closed

Tunnel with door closed

I measured the doors of all the cages we have and tried to select a tunnel position that worked for all.

Carrier bungied to the tunnel

The carrier can be bungied to the tunnel for one person operation.  I’ll feel better doing this with two people, one holding the carrier, until we know how well it works.

Cat's view of the tunnel

I hope the cats will see the open tunnel and carrier as a possible escape route.

Transfer board between carrier and tunnel

Once the cat enters the carrier the tunnel door is closed and a transfer board used to cover then close the carrier door.

Hopefully it will work that well.

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Daddy Cat

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.

I Chipped a Cat!

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:

  1. Registering with the company that made the chip.  Registering with another company may prevent your contact information from being found.
  2. 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.

  1. 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.
  2. If you see a cat with a collar check the address.  If it is not near call the owners.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

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Winnie Burritoed

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.

  1. 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″.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Scruff him through the towel.  This is why you need a thin towel.
  5. Pull him out with the scruff and support through the towel.  Winnie still goes passive when scruffed so this is quite easy.
  6. 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.
  7. I then peel back the layers around his head.  Be careful as this is when they may try to escape.
  8. 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.

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Odel and Winnie take refuge in the bookcase

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.

I created a
flyer to post in pet stores.


Winnie with our crazy resident cat Nelson.

Winnie Being Pet

Winnie being wary

Update: Both these cats have gone to great homes!

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Jojo was our third cat, and he surprised us.  To explain how I have to tell his story.

We got Jojo as a foster transfer.  Another Seattle Animal Shelter foster family was asking for someone to take Jojo as he was harassing their elder cat.  We were looking for a buddy for Nelson and thought that could be Jojo so we took him in as a foster.

Right off he intimidated us.  He growled at our other cats through the door and growled at us.  Physically he is a robust cat and we were wary of him.   We thought he might eat little Nelson for lunch.  Jojo does not weigh more than one pound more than Nelson, but he just looks bigger.

The introduction to Luna and Nelson was slow but eventually they were all together.  Soon Nelson and Jojo were play buddies.

Nelson and Jojo playing

All Three Together

We saw an edge of aggression in Nelson’s play with Jojo but we figured that Jojo could stand up to that and otherwise things looked good so we adopted Jojo.  We now had three cats.

Jojo and a toy

However, neither Marie or I felt a strong bond to Jojo.  He seemed primarily interested in play with toys and other cats.  He did not display much affection toward us.  But, he needed a home, he was difficult to adopt, and he fit in with our other cats.  We could give him a good home.

We continued fostering and took in kittens Maxwell, Sabine, and Blanca.  Sometime during this the relationship between our residents soured.  Nelson started attacking Jojo and became less happy in general.  Jojo, in turn, got more play aggressive with Luna.  Soon we were isolating Jojo from Luna and Nelson.  To keep Jojo company we kept Maxwell with them – they were good buddies.  But they would spend most of the day in Marie’s office.  Nights we gave them run of the downstairs.  Max, however, would usually slip past the side of our barrier to join us upstairs, leaving Jojo by himself.

We thought that Max could be the cause of Nelson’s aggression so in August we redoubled our efforts and soon found a good home.  It did not solve the problem. Worse, Jojo was by himself most of the time.  Out of sympathy, Marie or I would sleep in the downstairs bedroom to keep him company.  

This is when he surprised us:  he turned out to be great company.  Jojo is a really sweet cat.  He likes to be with us and is interested in what we are doing, loves head rubs and play time, and sometimes crawls into our laps.  He is not exceedingly affectionate but very interested, interactive, and self-reliant.  A great companion.

Helping us clean the bookshelf

Meditating with me

Snuggled into my lap for a nap

We both came to feel a much stronger connection with Jojo so we increased our efforts to re-introduce him and Nelson.  In September We hired a can behaviorist who offered a lot of good suggestions.  Her program was to give Nelson a reason to like Jojo through positive association with food, treats, and play time.  When that alone did not work we gave Nelson kitty prozac.  When that did not work in January 2011 we added another anti anxiety drug.

Jojo and a foster kitten

By the end of January we admitted that it was not going to work and it was time to find Jojo a new home.  I made a web page [link], a listing, and kept Craig’s list postings up to date.  After a week a nice couple from Everett contacted us.  They seemed cat savvy and willing to have patience with Jojo’s slow adaptation to new situations.  They didn’t have any cats but did have a little dog.  Jojo and dogs were a complete unknown.

We wanted to give Jojo a good home but could not. We could at least feed him the best food we knew and keep him company as best as we were able but once we adopt him out we would give up control of that. I would like to explain all this to Jojo – why his whole world is about to change – but can’t. This is a time of feeling my limits but still trying to do the best for Jojo.

When we met the couple we liked them.  They appreciated both cats and dogs and the different type of companionship each provides.  They liked who Jojo was.  Jojo seemed to like them.  The only question was would Jojo like the dog, Teddy.

Jojo’s standard response to a new cat is to hiss, growl, and run away or swat at them.  We have introduced him to a lot of kittens and this has been his initial reaction to all of them, even Button, Ambassador to Cats.  Jojo gets over it but it takes about 2 weeks.  I thought if we got a similar reaction to the dog that was a good sign.  Back up, tail fat, full attack mode would be a contra indication.  Well, Jojo walked right up and sniffed Teddy’s nose.  No growl, no hiss.  He did lift his paw as if he was thinking of batting Teddy but then set it back down.  He was interested and calm.  Somehow dogs are in a different category – somewhere between cats and people. We all thought it could be a good match.

So we got their carrier, said last good byes, and away Jojo went.

Jojo and the dog Teddy

Jojo about to got to his new home

I find myself wondering:  how is he doing?  Is he scared?  Is he interested?  What is he experiencing?  Why don’t he write?  That is just it.  I would love to hear from Jojo himself – but I never will.

After a couple days we got this report:

Jojo is fitting in well.  We kept him in the bedroom the first night so hecould get used to his surrounding and our smell without the dog botheringhim.  When we let him out he looked around a bit and came right back tothe bedroom.  He sits in the window during the days and lays in bed withus at night.
We are glad to have a new companion and teddy seems happy to have a new friend.

We may get one more update but likely won’t know how the rest of Jojo’s life goes.  As the Buddha said:

From meeting comes parting
From birth comes death

This is inevitable and we are ultimately unable to protect others or ourselves from these experiences.

4/28/11 Update: We got an update!

hello tom!

Sorry for the lack of email we have been out of internet for a while.
JoJo is doing great. He loves playing with teddy and loves sleeping in
bed with us. I have not managed to catch a picture of him and teddy
together yet, they always stop playing as soon as I grab the camera. JoJo
even get along well with the two year old up stairs.

He spends alot of free time looking out the slider door where there is
squirrels and I think some frogs. As well as plenty of time in our
bathroom keeping an eye on our guinue pigs and hamster.

Im not sure what time you fed him at night but we have been wanting to
feed him and teddy both when we eat at 5 . However he is insistent that we
feed him at 3. So of course the pets now all eat at 3.

He still seems wary of coming out of the bedroom, but he also seems
content in there so we do not push it.


Jojo's original adoption blurb (from the shelter)

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While visiting Griz I checked out some of the other cats at the Shelter.  There are lots of great cats there right now.

Griz at the Shelter

Reaching out for more attention


From a horder. A little shy but friendly and soft fur.

I woke her from a nap



Note If you are Griz’s adopter we would love to hear where he ended up.

Griz was picked up as a feral cat by the Seattle Animal Shelter, pass to us, neutered and ear-tipped at the Feral Cat Spay/Neuter Project. As he was recovering in our basement I noticed that he did not seem as scared of me as a fully feral cat would so I started working with him. Two days latter he would come to the front of the cage to greet me, rolled on the floor as I pet him, and complained when I left him. I soon moved him up to my office where he prefers to hang out near me, sometimes in my lap. He clearly has lived with people in the past and somehow got separated from human society for a while.

Griz in my lap

Griz by keyboard

I named him Griz because his head was about as big as a grizzly bear’s. That and he looked a little grizzled: hair rubbed off nose from when he was trapped, scar on head, missing tail, tipped ear. Good food, daily brushing, and lots of affection have cleaned him up considerably.

The Seattle Animal Shelter was reluctant to take him back since he was acting very feral the first time he passed through their care. I took some video of him acting very friendly:

Love Bug in my Office

He is super affectionate, loving head, ear, chin rubs, and good back scratches. He likes human company and would do well in a house where people are around. He is athletic and explorative. I didn’t expose him to other cats but think it likely he would get along with them. Good litter box habits.

If you are the lucky adopter of Griz we would love to hear where he ended up. Pleas write via our feed back form.

Update: I visited Griz at the shelter a week after he was checked in. He is doing well and likes head rubs as much as ever. I wrote on his cage card under “Special Needs” the text “Head rubs, lots of head rubs”.

Griz at the Seattle Animal Shelter

First Video

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The Magician

We have a feral male who we call “The Magician”. Every time we bring him a plate of food, when we next check back he has made it disappear. This is common for true feral cats – those with out any human care takers feeding them. When food is put down in front of them they eat it.

Insulated carrier to keep the Magician warm.

He is also the first cat we had who knows what to do with a chicken neck. These were recommended to us as a way to keep our resident cat’s teeth clean. They have whole bones and chewing up the bones helps clean the teeth. Our residents don’t know what to do with them but the magician does – he makes them disappear. Another sign that he has probably been catching his own food.

Cats who live outside develop a thicker coat for cold weather. They will loose the coat if they are inside for too long so I moved him out to the garage. Gave him a well insulated carrier to snuggle in and a shelf with a view out to our back yard. For the first several days I think he mainly stayed in the carrier but recently I’ve seen him on the shelf. Today he goes to a barn home.

Clean cage in the garage


Magician enjoying the view

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