Update at 7:25 PM EST
Cliosfanboy sent a picture of Mom Cat across while I was at the gym, so here she is in all her glory!
Commenter Cliosfanboy has sent in a request for cat acclimation advice. Here’s the details:
Hi all. My wife and I have been taking care of a feral cat colony since 2010 with help from Alley Cat Allies. It started with a batch of kittens born to a single feral in a collapsed shed in my neighbor’s back yard. (the neighbor, and the shed, are long gone now) By coincidence my wife knew the President of Alley Cat Allies. She lived nearby so she gave us advice and help. AC Allies recommends Trap/Neuter/Release (TNR). You catch the cat via a humane trap. You have it neutered, tested, and vaccinated by a vet. They notch one ear so animal control and vets know it’s been fixed and vaccinated. Then you release it back to its home. Many ferals are not adoptable because they’re too wild, and more ferals will move in to take their spot if you just remove them. Once they are fixed they tend to be calmer, so there is much less fighting between cats. So far its worked for us.
In the past eight years we’ve had numerous cats living on our property. We bought specially made insulated cat houses so they have shelter during cold and wet weather, and we feed them every day. Some have moved in and then moved on (or passed away). One neighbor had problems with cats using their garden as a toilet, so I gave them some cat repellant which seems to have worked. Two of the original kittens survived to adulthood. One moved to a nearby house and was adopted. Another was killed by a wild animal. That one really saddened me as he was my favorite.
Why this post? Well, we have two cats now and my wife and I are thinking of moving. We’ve outgrown our little post-WWII Cape Cod and are looking for a larger place. But we took responsibility for the cats so we’re not going to just abandon them.
One of the two cats, Mom Cat, we think is adoptable. She comes out to greet us when we get home and keeps me company when I work outside. She lets us pet her, will sit next to me when I am sitting outside, and has even climbed into my lap. In the past we’ve not let her inside for a couple reasons.
- My wife is (probably) allergic
- We had three dogs and they are not all cat friendly.
Now, however, things have changed. My wife thinks that her allergy may be to only longhaired cats (long story) and Mom Cat is shorthaired. (you can see her photo on BJ calendars). Also, we are down to two dogs. Our eldest, Rocco, passed away in August. (God, I miss him). We actually thought the other two would be a bigger problem, but Mom Cat was recently in our house briefly and our Sonia did not bother her at all. (Mom Cat snuck in while I was carrying in groceries) That leaves our dachshund Spud. If he can be trained to leave Mom Cat alone we think we can try to start to acclimate her to inside life a bit. That means when we move we could bring her along (hopefully) or she could be adopted by a cat person.
OK, here is what I want to ask of the Balloon Juicers.
- We need suggestions/advice on how to introduce Spud the Weiner Dog to Mom Cat. Neither Spud nor Sonia bark at the cats and they’ve sat and simply watched when I’ve gone out the door with Mom Cat waiting for me outside.
- How do I best slowly acclimate Mom Cat to the indoors. She will likely not want to live indoors all the time.
- Are there any other BJers in the northern Va/DC area who is a cat person willing to try to see if they can work with Cat #2, AKA Gray Mom? Gray Mom does not let anyone pet her, nor can we get close to her. She may be permanently feral, but if there is a cat whisperer around here we’d love for their help. . My wife would prefer that we find a home for Mom Cat too.
I should note that neither my wife nor I had cats growing up, so I am not sure how to even pick one up! I can’t find the handle anywhere!!! But we’d appreciate help. Thanks.
You all know what to do!
Dogs will listen to cats if you introduce with the dog on a leash and insist on politeness.
Gray Cat Mom might do okay with a barncat situation?
Click on my nym for my cat blog.
Seconding WereBear’s advice. And the cat will really appreciate it if you continue to insist on politeness from the dog once the leash stage is over. I highly recommend WereBear’s blog. In my household is one 10lb cat and a more recently introduced 6lb dog. We started by gating off spaces with baby gates so they could see each other but not interact. We now have one permanent short (about 20″) gate between our kitchen and living room so our cat can always eat and drink in peace.
ETA I forgot to mention that I successfully moved a barn cat indoors with me in my younger years. No dogs were involved. She happily settled in once spayed. I started out leaving a window open so she could come and go until she was fully comfortable indoors.
And if I was going to answer it would be to ask our in house cat whisperer Werebear. Fortunately, she answered first ?
Definitely try to get Mom Cat acclimated as an indoor/outdoor before you move. Moving an outdoor only cat is a tricky proposition. They have a tendency to go back “home” unless they are very attached to the people. I assume you are feeding both cats? If so try moving her feeding station closer to the door, then inside. This may be a little easier said than done since there are the two of them but if you can start associating feeding with the house, Mom Cat will be a little easier to switch to indoor/outdoor. It might help Gray Mom be a little less leery as well.
I concur with WereBear on introducing with dogs on a leash. I would start by putting the dogs in a back room and letting the cat in to explore for a while at first. They’ll all get used to each others’ scents in the house. Make sure Mom Cat is not in any way cornered when you actually introduce them (i.e. leave the door open so she can scarper if she needs to.)
If Gray Mom does not become more human oriented during this process, she’s almost certainly going to stay mostly feral. I think barn cat is a good option for her if you know someone looking.
I wil say that it sounds like Mom Cat has bonded to you a bit, so if you can work on acclimating her she’s probably going to be happier if she can move with you. I watched the neighbor’s outside (and neglected) cat, who had bonded with his next door neighbors, sit on their porch for hours after they moved, waiting for the kind people to come back.
That’s when I started to work on making his life a bit better, because he clearly was sad his friends abandoned him.
Edited: and his owner is a dick.
For what it’s worth, my advice for taking in cats is to keep them inside because it’s better for them. Ultimately, they’re fine with being inside, and it facilitates litter training, which is harder if they spend time outside where there aren’t any litter pails.
We’ve taken in a fair number of feral cats over the years, most more or less where you describe Mom Cat being – acclimated to people but still largely untamed – and we usually start by putting them in a cage, where you can keep an eye on them, where they can learn about litter, and where they can get acclimated to other household pets. Mind you, we’re a cat-only household, so it may be different with dogs.
Also, Animal Allies is awesome. We donate to them regularly and have gotten cats through them.
@Mayken: Agreed. SUPER important that any cat needs to be kept indoors for at least three weeks after a move, since it takes this long to reset the “homing device.”
And she might like the indoors life. I’ve had outdoor rescues who lost interest.
@randy khan: my own cats are inside only, but a lot of people allow cats to roam here. It seems to be an excuse to not have to do more than put a bowl of food out every once in a while. Right now I feed cats that “belong” to other people, but seem frantic to eat when I walk outside with food.
Pisses me off with their “owners”.
Actually, given enough room and time, you could take both cats. Mom Cats sounds like a fine prospect who wants human companionship. Gray Cat can stay in a room by herself (since you are moving to a bigger place) and see how it goes. Even if she is let back out after an adjustment period she’s still better off.
Here’s my post on moving procedures for cats. It’s basically shrinking their territory down for the move, then expanding it again.
@WereBear: Good point about her perhaps losing interest in the outdoor life. I’ve also seen ferals make that transition and as Randy mentions above, indoor only is certainly best for many reasons.
The vet can prescribe some high quality organic CBD oil. It really calms them out. Feliway is a spray you can buy at chewy.com or any pet food store. Also calming.
@satby: I would have taken the cat!
@Mayken: I far prefer indoor only, but if the rescue is insistent, it’s not always possible.
One person I worked with found her rescue was happy with stints outside while she wore her harness and leash.
Catios are the best of both worlds, especially if they want to get away from the dogs.
Let me say that I don’t have advice – except provide access to the outside at the beginning. I tried to keep a friendly feral inside overnight before she was ready and she cried all night, would never come near me again, and ended up adopting the couple next door who did not try to keep her inside.
You and your wife are angels for all the work you’ve done for the colony, keeping the neighbors sweet, and worrying about Mom Cat and Gray Mom when most people (I like to think they are all Twitler voters, but they aren’t) would blithely move without giving them a second thought.
Sounds like mom cat could be fostered with a cat pro to see if she can be placed in a home. Gray mom cat sounds like she would be a perfect barn cat. Rural humane societies offer that option for farmers who could use some feline help with rodent control. The cats get guaranteed food and a nice, warm barn to make their home in.
I think you just introduce them (with restraints), give them a boat load of time to settle, and if they can’t settle, just accept that it’s not happening.
I’m not saying they need to make nice, just that they can relax in each other’s contained presence. If that can’t happen – the pet combo can’t happen.
And when I say “a boatload”, I mean as much time as you’re willing to give it. If you’re not willing to go further – why should the animals.
Thank you for not abandoning the kittehs. Sounds like MomCat is ready to be adopted. We had never even touched ANY of the 6 kittehs in the family we saved before we brought them in. So you’re a bit ahead there. I know not everyone can do this, but do you have a room to “sacrifice”? Because you can get a feral cat to accept being indoors. You may have to be willing to accept a few…. tantrums… until the cat gets used to it though. Our rescues went from trap cage to vet to big dog cage to sacrificial bedroom to the rest of the house. Four of the cats did just fine – the other two not so much at first but they are calm enough to chill in front of the fireplace now. That sacrificial bedroom is now a litter room because the kittehs did a number on the carpet and blinds while in quarantine. I got nothing when it comes to adding a dog or two to the mix.
Lots of good advice already.
TinyKittens has had lots of success with moving feral cats inside ~ not sure how much detail the website currently has, but it can definitely be done. Shelly, the woman who runs it, has really worked out a system. She’s posted intake videos at YouTube to show what she does.
@Mayim: She’s awesome.
Just these two ferals we’re discussing shows a range of comfort with domesticity. I’ve had cats born in my home who never were quite on board, and ragged strays who stroll in, throw their hat in the air, and declare they will book a room for the rest of their life.
I’m sort of where cliofanboy is. I somehow got roped into feeding local ferals about six years ago and I have two of them who are possible candidates for taking in. One spends most of his time sitting beside my deck door and allows me to pet him. The other is likewise very pet-able and spends a lot of time on my deck. The first has been living in my backyard from the start; the other for about two years. (I also feed at least four other ferals on my deck and a bunch once a week down at the beach.)
My issue is my dog (who delights in chasing the intruders on his deck) and my very old toothless, clawless cat. Obviously both ferals are survivors but I feel bad when the cold weather comes. I’m just not sure how bringing them in will work with my other animals. I appreciate the info about the websites and will look at what they say.
@WereBear: working on that, unfortunately the cat loves his stupid owner and the owner would know I did it.
The other two may end up with me, though one has a new collar so she belongs to someone. The last one has become very friendly to me, that will be ruined when I capture him for neutering. Oh well.
One of my dogs is cat-unfriendly, and my own old male is a bully, and ‘m out of isolation rooms that aren’t my bedroom. But I am plotting ?
@khead: yeah, a lot of rescuers have a isolation, aka “sacrifice” room for new arrivals to adapt and be kept away from the rest of the household pets until the newcomer has all it’s immunizations. Not everyone cat manage that though.
I took in two ferals. They figured out I was food source and my work schedule. Would be waiting morning and evening. Started sleeping on my patio chairs sometimes, although due to roaming toms, they normally slept in trees. They were frantic when I brought them in, mom cat was jumping up to see out of windows. I locked them in a no window bathroom at first. Acclimated them to my cat etc. 1 week in and mom cat decided she liked couches and no danger. Never tried to get out again and my sister took her. She was a chest cat as opposed to a lap cat. Kitten stayed bold and tried to get out pretty often, but I would catch and bring back unless I had time to wander with him. He wasn’t that wild, just young enough to I guess be a little romantic about the outdoors. He liked my bed and attention though. We had a screened porch he loved. I remember him as a kitten, following me around the garden and the first time he got close and let me touch him. He was so visibly surprised at how nice being petted felt. I knew I had him then, and would soon be bringing him in.
Outdoors are actually scary. Once they adapt, ferals can be determined to never go out again. They act adapted to it, but they can be seduced. Don’t romanticize it yourself.
J R in WV
Much good advice. A tame cat you can just scoop them up with one hand under their middle and one under their chin; then squeeze them like holding a (an American style) football with both hands. A tight hold seems to keep them calm as they’re more secure feeling that way.
A less than tame cat you can use a thick towel and wrap them up with it, and hold them tightly inside the towel. Also like a football, but with the towel to keep from being wounded, and the tighter the grip better… of course not to break things or keep them from breathing.
Smaller cats and kittens can be picked up by the scruff of their neck, which seems to have a switch to calm them down as that’s how mom moves them as needed while they’re nursing kittens.
@satby: i was referring to the cat’s friends who moved away. It would have been the perfect crime!
I know you will do what you can.
It is always so bizarre when people won’t take care of their pets but won’t let anyone else do it, either.
@J R in WV:
On picking up cats – some ferals are so surprised to be picked up that they don’t struggle at all. Of course, you can’t tell until you pick them up.
As @Gvg: says, some people have a romanticized idea that cats need to be outside and roam, and on a practical level if the cat is outside no litter boxes need to be kept. Actually taking care of the cat is a deal breaker for them.
@randy khan: but if you’re wrong the wounds can be severe.
@satby: It’s a real issue for me. There are feral’s all over and they roam in and out of our fenced yard and shit all over. The last thing Lil Bit needs is to ingest cat shit and have it go to her lungs.
In an ideal world where there are no cars and no predators and no poisons and birds could easily stay out of reach, we know that our oldest cat Keaton would love to be the benevolent ruler of a neighborhood where every neighbor on the block would tell him how handsome he is and give him scritches and treats all day long.
But we don’t live in an ideal world, so he is indoors-only. Less heartbreak and terror involved for all of us.
@Raven: Same here. Tons of ferals and not just ferals but cats that are owned but people let them roam them outdoors.
I love to garden and there’s nothing like getting ready to work in a vegetable bed only to find buried cat shit. Ugh. I’ve got plastic-coated wire fencing that I cut to fit flat across the beds if I don’t have something in them or have just planted seeds so they look bare. It’s the only way to keep the cats from pooping and then digging in the beds. They don’t like walking on it. It works reasonably well but there are always some spots I can’t cover.
@Yarrow: There’s a really nice young lady who is trapping, fixing and clipping their ears but then she lets them go.
@Raven: Duh, I guess that’s what the post is about.
@Raven: Yeah, we’ve got that happening too. See a lot of cats with clipped ears. My neighbor cares for one of those. That cat is on my cat sitting list–feed cat on porch. Sadly, another outdoor neighborhood cat died last year. He was a sweetheart but also big pig who knew how to work the system. He’d come to one neighbor’s house and eat and then go to another neighbor’s house and eat again because both of them fed him. He was living the life!
I had a similar situation to you; I’d moved somewhere with two feral mom cats and kittens. I trapped/neutered/released the mom cats, was told by the vet that one had pet potential, but the other had zero. I found homes for the kittens, The moms lived outdoors, with access to shelter, and I provided food. Then I moved. I couldn’t leave them behind, so I took them with me. We built a ‘catio’ made of chicken wire and wood, with wooden shelves so they could sunbathe, attached to a room with a cat flap, so they could still experience outdoors, but in a safe environment where they couldn’t disappear. I had a bed in the room and loved hanging out with them. I had a litter box & bucket in the room, and also periodically picked up dried cat shit from the dirt ground in the catio: not a big deal. Both cats became very affectionate, even more than many of my non-feral cats. Wishing you all the best!
She’s a beauty!
Man, she looks great for a feral! Or for any cat, really!
The way I pick up cats (tame cats, who trust me at least a little) is to put one hand under the hind ankles and one arm under the front legs, so the cat can effectively sit up in my arms. The point is to do whatever makes the cat feel secure. Many don’t like to be held for very long, and that’s ok.
Oh my, she’s quite the looker isn’t she. My hand is already itching to pet her lovely fur!
thank you all. My wife is MUCH more interested in finding new homes for them both so if anyone here lives in the general DC region let me know. Adam has my email.
I will continue working to acclimate her to short periods indoors. They eat and sleep on our front porch (non-enclosed.) And the cat shelters are next to our deck. Mom Cat likes to sit on the outside window sill and watch us.
My aunt in Florida took care of a colony of feral cats–capturing them, getting them fixed, finding homes for the kittens–really dedicated. But then coyotes moved into the neighborhood and started killing the feral cats. She wound up keeping two of the older males on her back porch for years. They loved sitting on the warm dryer when it was running. They died in the past couple of years, having reached the ripe old ages of 17 and 19 if I recall correctly. Anyway, pretty old for feral cats!
Have I told you lately that I love you?
I have no advice.
@CliosFanBoy: I have a feeling placing Mama Kitteh won’t be too difficult.
Cute cat! Glad to see her being taken care of.
We have three big lab mixes so my wife has always been adamant about not getting a cat until…. Over Labor Day weekend we were visiting friends near Salem OR and were driving back to our motel late at night on a rural road. We stopped at a RR crossing and as I started to move ahead I spotted two little glowing eyes in front of the car. I slammed on the brakes, thinking it was a rabbit or possum or something, but it turned out to be a tiny, tiny kitten sitting in the middle of the crossing. We assumed it was feral but when my wife got out to see if she could coax it to her, it leapt towards her and jumped into her arms. Needless to say we now have a 12-week-old cat named Spike. There have been few concerns about the dogs because Spike rules the house and the dogs live in terror of him. He freely bats their noses and plays with their tails and they look at us with misery in their eyes. His favorite game is to perch on the back of an armchair near the front door when we get ready to takes the dogs for a walk at night. He takes advantage of the kerfuffle over leashes and pecking orders to get in a few good whacks. ;-)
Mom Cat is very good looking! Not much to add except I fully agree MC is a great candidate to be an indoor cat. I too have rescued ferals that got down with being indoor cats with very little angst. Soft beds, safety, pets. What’s not to like? Particularly not having to sleep with one eye open alert for danger.
@Grover Gardner: demanding at least a pic if not full vid of Spike vs big lab mixes
@Grover Gardner: PICS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
@WereBear: Your blog rocks.