I have a feline-related dilemma. I think I’ve mentioned before that we have four cats (we had five, until we had to have our sweet boy Sugar put down in November – he was diagnosed with cancer and declining rapidly). Three of those cats were completely feral when we took them in – a mom cat, Maxie, and her two girl kittens, Alice and Gracie. The babies were just a few weeks old and still nursing; they were born outdoors (we found the family living in the enclosed area under our deck back in 2006). Maxie was very clearly part of a feral colony in our area – not friendly to people at all, although she would come up and eat the food we set out for her (as long as we were nowhere near).
We trapped these three cats and set up a fenced-in ‘quarantine’ area in our garage while we had them checked out by a vet, vaccinated and treated for fleas (which they didn’t have) and worms (which they did). We had the mom spayed and once the babies were old enough, they were spayed as well. At that point we brought them in and set them up downstairs in our candle workshop to recuperate, since we knew they weren’t going to pass anything on to our current cats (Sugar and Sabrina).
These cats were so wild and completely didn’t trust us – in order to get them to vet visits, we would have to kind of shoo them into the cat carriers which we sat inside the fenced-in area they were living in. Once all the vet visits were over (and there were MANY) we gave them full run of the workshop area, and they spent a lot of time hidden from view. I spent some time trying to tame the kittens, which was just not happening – Gracie actually cornered me and SPIT at me while she was hissing. I never realized they actually did “hiss and spit”! One of the vet techs grabbed Alice up and cuddled her one time, and she just barely missed getting her eye taken out. These kittens wanted absolutely nothing to do with people.
We decided that our goal was not to force them to become lap cats or anything, but just see if they could acclimate to indoor living and be happy indoors. The mom, Maxie, was also recovering from a huge abscess that would have killed her if the vet hadn’t cleaned and stitched it up when she was getting her spay surgery. I was loathe to put her back outside and back in danger again, so I was hoping she wouldn’t start freaking out about being an indoor cat or have problems adjusting to our other animals (we also have a dog named Toby). Luckily, all three cats seemed to do just fine being indoors and all of our animals came to a truce fairly easily.
It took a long time – at least 6 months – before the Feral Girls got curious and went up the two flights of stairs to our living area. We would try to entice them, playing with them and getting them curious about the stairs – the kittens did love to play, as long as we didn’t try to touch them. Eventually they would come up to explore, and we would do our best not to scare them away. After a while, they were spending more time upstairs than downstairs, and Maxie was even sitting on the couch while we watched TV in the evening.
Fast-forward nearly six years later, and all three are a firm part of our household. Gracie is still the most nervous – she will often run out of the room if we come in, but sometimes we can get her to stay and let us pet her. Alice is kind of aloof but also has moments where she comes around and meows for attention – she especially loves it when Dave pets her. Neither of the girls will come up on the couch by us or sit on our lap. Maxie is probably the friendliest – she comes up to us and rubs against our ankles, she will lay on top of us if we’re lying in bed, and we can very easily pet her. She seeks us out for attention all the time.
HOWEVER…we cannot pick up any of these cats. And I fear this is going to be an issue when we move in the next year or so…hence, the dilemma.
I suspect we could probably pick up one of the younger girls and have them be startled enough that they would freeze while we popped them into a cat carrier. But the other two would never let us near them once they saw what we did to the first.
I’ve been trying to get Maxie used to the sensation of having hands on both sides of her – I’ll pet her back, then slide my hands down each side. Before I can get them under her belly, though, she drops down to the ground and tries to slink off. Keep in mind, I also can’t trim their nails so these cats have very, very sharp claws! That’s what stops me from trying to pick them up and get them used to it. I’m afraid I’ll be badly scratched as they flail around in terror, and I also don’t want to lose this very hard-earned trust that they finally have with us. So I am really torn…do I try to practice this with them, while we still have maybe a year before we move, or do we just go for it on moving day and chase them into the cat carriers?
Dave, of course, doesn’t waste a minute worrying about stuff like this. He keeps telling me it won’t be a problem, he’ll take care of it…and I’m sure he will. I just don’t want the girls traumatized because of it! I know it’s silly to worry about it so far in advance – our house isn’t on the market yet and probably won’t be until the end of the year or early next year. But still…
Does anyone else have a cat that refuses to be picked up? How do you deal with it? Or…have any of you successfully trained a formerly-feral cat in this area? Or…should I just have the vet give us some kitty Xanax on moving day?!