Sunday , 20 August 2017

Lesson 3 of Socializing Feral Kittens: Even MORE Patience, and Positive Role Models

Ooh boy, it’s been over three months since I last explored the history of Cedar and Redpath (part 1 and part 2 for those who missed them). There have been a lot of changes in my life, which would be the excuse for taking so long to write this “Where are they now?” post on the feral boys. But before we get to where they are, let’s consider where they came from…

While Cedar had happily left the label of “feral” behind him, Redpath was a work in progress. I can’t recall which happened first, but two things worked in our favour to bring Redpath closer to us:

The first one, of course, was food. Yes, more food. Food is the ultimate tool in socializing any nervous animal, because really…who doesn’t love food?? Since cat food was only accomplishing so much for Redpath, my dad brought out the big guns. And by that I mean he would set aside a special bit of his own dinner for Redpath every night. A little bit of turkey, chicken, salmon…whatever was on the menu. And Redpath liked it so much that he would literally eat out of my father’s hands – now THAT was progress! Since Redpath probably wouldn’t share the same fondness for my veggie ground round or rice and beans, I stole some leftover turkey from the fridge to bribe Redpath too. I was amazed that he would accept food from my hand. Now if only he would venture out from behind that bed to get the food! But we had to force ourselves to be patient and take things one step at a time.

Before long, we would sometimes catch Redpath purring. He would be doing his own thing, ignoring us, maybe feeding off of Cedar’s positive energy (that little guy couldn’t get enough of us humans!), and his loud rumbling purr would fill the room. In the midst of this progress, the second thing that worked in our favour to bring Redpath closer to us happened:

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Cedar and Redpath had baby brothers. The first reaction to this is of course, “Greaaat, more unwanted kittens. Worse yet, another pair born of ferals.” Thankfully these boys were spotted at a much earlier age than Cedar and Redpath were; the younger brothers, named Thor and Lionheart, were around 2 months old when they stepped into the trap cage – that is at least two months younger than Cedar and Redpath were when we caught them. Phew, I thought; I’ve socialized “wild” kittens this age before. We just had to hope that the lingering nervousness of their older brothers did not negatively impact the socialization process for the younger two.

WP_20150915_16_44_03_ProWP_20150915_15_06_07_ProFortunately, the opposite of that worry happened. Cedar remained his newfound confident self, an attitude which Lionheart adopted quite readily. Thor took more time to come around to people, but he could be handled very easily, whereas I still wouldn’t dare to push myself onto Redpath for fear of taking steps backwards. Having three social cats around as an example was better than Cedar alone. Redpath took a liking to his baby brothers and was often found where they were; so if they were relaxing on the bed, Redpath would relax on the bed too…until a human walked in, at which point we would see a big orange blur dive onto the floor. The only thing I wasn’t happy about as far as progress went was that Thor and Lionheart were weirdly attached to Redpath, as if he were their mother. And by that I meant they were suckle on him as if he was lactating. And he would let them. And he would PURR the whole time, paws kneading the air like motherhood was the best thing ever. It was just weird.

With their quick socialization and—let’s be honest here—ridiculous levels of adorable, Lionheart and Thor found homes in no time. The confidence-building that they instilled made a lasting impression on Redpath, though. He could be coaxed onto the bed for mealtimes and sometimes he would just come up to chill and get some good head scratches.

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But no matter how much progress we made, there was a looming question: would they be able to adapt somewhere else? What were we doing with these guys? We had initially been thinking they might be trap-neuter-return candidates, and somehow they had adapted to life with us. We now knew they could be housecats, but it would take a very special, patient, understanding, cat-savvy individual to take them in and remind them that humans ain’t that bad.

Now, I will happily call my boyfriend patient and understanding, but cat-savvy? Not even a little. He had never had a cat. But he had gotten to know Cedar and Redpath, and was alarmingly cat-less, and he had me as a personal coach. Given that Cedar was the more outgoing of the two, he had the honour of becoming my boyfriend’s first cat. It was a difficult transition for him; unsurprisingly, he found some very clever hiding spots in the small apartment space. He ate the food that was offered to him, but didn’t want anything to do with offers of affection—until I visited about a week after his move-in, and Cedar was sooo happy to hear a familiar voice that he came out of his under-the-bed hiding spot. Things got better and better beyond that day and… well… see for yourself:

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After he was left alone, we began leaving the bedroom door open for Redpath to explore the rest of the house. He was a dawn-and-dusk type cat, making brief appearances to whoever was the first to wake up and whoever was the last to go to sleep; the rest of the time he stayed hidden under the couch. But then he started visiting me all the time. The first time it happened I was the first one awake, bumming around on the computer, and then I felt paws on my lap. My brain went to T.J. by default, my usual lap cat, but when I looked down…Redpath! He let me get in some good head scratches and then he went off on his merry way. As time wore on, every time I would sit down on the couch or the computer chair, he would appear out of nowhere and help himself to a place in my lap. My parents were jealous, but really, he was doing well with them too. He would always appear for his meal times, and would creep around the table when the humans were eating too. He was making himself at home. And even though we still had more cats than the average family, my childhood cat had passed away in May and there was a vacancy for a handsome male cat. Redpath officially became a member of our family, and I think he’s been doing okay:

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So operation “capture, socialize, rehome” was good up until step three, since we kept the boys in the family (I’ll be marrying Cedar’s dad in a few weeks and really hope Cedar doesn’t find good hiding spots in his new Nova Scotia home…), but I would still say it was still a success. I love these challenging foster cats, as there is nothing more rewarding than those little breakthroughs, and eventually helping them find their perfect forever homes.

We might have made these guys a little too bold, though…

food thieves

Oh, and I can’t neglect to finish this story with the best “happy ending” of all. The feral mama cat who was populating the neighbourhood was caught, spayed, and returned–only to hang around on a daily basis and become so bold that she now goes inside the home of the couple who had been feeding the strays! I guess socializing feral cats doesn’t have an age limit after all; even the simple interaction at an early age of having a human feeding them can leave a lasting impression, and create a lasting opening for socialization.

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