Feral Cats

Working with feral cats

20120402-063616.jpg

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.

20120402-064524.jpg

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.

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…

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.

Tags: ,

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

Tags:

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.

Tags: , ,

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.

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.

Tags: , , , ,

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!

Tags: , ,

Griz

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

Tags: , , ,

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

Tags: ,

« Older entries