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post #1 of 4 (permalink) Old 02-12-2009, 04:30 PM Thread Starter
Join Date: Feb 2009
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Socializing Wild Kitty

We adopted Tasha 6 months ago (shes now 10 months) and when we picked her at the pound because she was mewing in her little cage and seemed quite friendly; she's a great actress!!

Since we've gotten her home she's become completely wild!

I've had lots of cat who are shy in the past and I've always just left them alone until they've come to me for pets and that has always worked, not with Tasha. She will come up to me if I'm sitting in our bed alone, but if she hears my DH's foot his the stair she's off in a flash. She's completely terrified of him and won't let me ever catch her!

She's bonded very well with our two dogs as well as with our other cat, and is even less scares of our 10 month old son then the two of us.

What can we do to help her socialize? I don't care if she wants to follow me around all day and lay on my lap - but at least if I could come up to her and pet her every once in a while, that would be nice.

I'm very worried that she could get outside sometime this summer (as she did for an entire day in the fall) and won't come back in! In the fall I had to send the dogs out to pin her down (they are collies, they don't hurt the cats but they will hold them in a corner for me if I ask) so I could grab her and get her back in the house.

Should I lock her in a room alone with us?
Or just leave her until she sorts this out?

Last night my husband went to pet her when she was under the bed and she pooed she was so scared!

nes is offline  
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post #2 of 4 (permalink) Old 02-12-2009, 06:38 PM
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Re: Socializing Wild Kitty

Welcome, and I'm sorry you are having such trouble with your new kitty. She is lucky that you adopted/rescued her, and even luckier still that you are asking for help for her.

I think your kitty hasn't been properly socialized. I think, for her, it was a mistake to let her loose and wait for her to come to you. I have tamed and socialized many feral cats/kittens, both for adoption and to keep for myself. Most kittens have gone to adoptions, but every adult (except for one) has remained with me for further socialization and all of them have turned into great, relaxed housecats.
It hasn't been easy. Some tamed quickly and others took a very long time.
Malibu took 5mo between TNR (trap/neuter/release) before she would let me even touch her fur for the very first time. Several months after that I was easily petting her and picking her up to my lap and shortly after that she became an indoor/outdoor cat. In late 2006 she became very ill and almost died. I had to nurse her intensively and it changed our relationship from aloof semi-feral to MY cat who sleeps against my chest or on my head every night. Husband calls her my 'hat'.
Pretty was my biggest challenge. She took 14mo between TNR and that first touch. It was probably another year and a bit that I worked on getting her to let me touch/pet her, maybe another 9mo I worked on picking her up and setting her on patio furniture and then onto my lap. Another year offering to let her come in the house at the back door. At first she only stayed in 5-10mins before she got too nervous and wanted out. After about a half year she was much better and began to stay in overnight and use the litterbox. Now, she has been very comfortable in the house for several days at a time for the past year. She will sleep on the furniture, snuggle with me, let me kiss her nose and me and hubby can walk past her without her bothering to wake up to watch us or hide.

Socializing cats is a sort of dance you have to do with them. You need to push them beyond their comfort zones, little by little. Expanding their comfort-zone with each encounter as you show them it isn't 'bad' and it can actually feel 'good' as they relaxe more and more. You have to work hard to not allow anything negative to affect the dance and you have to watch the cat closely to be sure you haven't pushed her beyond what she can take...but it works.
For me, socializing cats is sort of a boot-camp where they learn: I will handle them, I will not hurt them, I will respect them and I will be consistent. They can resist all they like, but it will be done. It may not be done in big strides, it may take a lot of baby steps...but we will go forward together.

To start, I always keep the cat in a small room with only one place to 'hide', but I have access to that hiding place. In case there is an emergency situation or I must be able to get the cat in a carrier and to the vet, they are not put somewhere they can get completely away from me. I visit them often. Most times I bring lots of irresistible food treats, like cooked chicken stirred into a can of Cream of Chicken Soup and I hand feed them. Then I begin feeding them canned food next to me. Slowly I begin to pet them. I don't dab hesitantly at them, I pet them like it is no big deal. I also don't stare directly at them, because they take that as a challenge. If I catch their eye, I will smile with my lips (it also makes your eyes smile) and blink and/or slide my gaze away from them. That is 'cat body language' for: I trust you enough to NOT watch you every moment I am with you.

After they have begun to let me touch them, I begin to place them on my lap. I usually start by doing that on the floor with a towel over my lap. At first, I have to grab them by the scruff and set them on my lap facing my knees. This is where you have to watch them closely. Keeping the scruff hold, I use my other hand to pet/rub their head and shoulders for 5-15 seconds. You need to watch the cat to see how much they can tolerate.
Here is a tricky part of the dance:
I don't want the cats to run from me, I would prefer they go away from me slowly. This will take time to work towards, but there are things you can do to help gain that goal. IF the cat relaxes on my lap, I will loosen the scruff and rub their neck to remove the 'memory' the hold and I will let the cat step off of me as they wish and even step back onto my lap if they like. IF the cat does NOT relax, after the 5-15 seconds of handling, I will set the cat off my lap and towards the cat carrier "hiding place". I don't look at the cat, I don't want them to look back at me and catch me staring (aggressive) I want them to think I think it was No Big Deal. Eventually, the cat will begin to relax when they realize the handling doesn't hurt, it feels good and it doesn't last with me restraining them forever, I will always let them go.

When the cat will come to me willingly is when I begin to let them explore more of the house. This still has to be coupled with periodic and regular handling sessions to reinforce and build on the bond of trust created with the earlier handling. I do most of this myself, and after the cats have reached this point is when they begin to get used to my husband. Almost all of them have been wary of him in the begining, and I don't understand why most cats behave that way, though I suspect it is just because they are more familiar with the person who spends the most time with them? Same things apply though, as long as he is consistent, trustworthy and fair towards the cat, eventually the cat should become used to their presence and begin to allow contact. This is the stage we are working on with Pretty, getting her used to letting my husband pet/handle her.

Anyhow, this has become a book. There are several good reference threads in the Feral Forum and that may be a place you could search for more information.
Best of luck and let us know how it goes!

Heidi n Q is offline  
post #3 of 4 (permalink) Old 02-13-2009, 10:13 AM Thread Starter
Join Date: Feb 2009
Posts: 36
Re: Socializing Wild Kitty

Thank you very much for the info Heidi.

I guess I never really thought of her as a feral, but she was found stray at the side of the road and she may well have been born wild. She just has such a Jeckle/Hyde personality - she was fantastic when we took her to the vet for her spay, calm and well behaved; I was even able to let go of her scruff and she stood on the table waiting for the vet. Also when I'm sitting on our bed at night and she comes up to me she's the biggest hog for pets! I've tried to hold her when my husband is coming up the stairs, it takes both hands and I was really concerned that my catching and petting her was making things worse, but if that's your recommendation I will certainly keep doing it!

I know at least a little of the running away from us like a maniac is a game to her because it the same one she plays with one of our collies (the noise those two make!!).

This just went so smoothly with our last cat who make in from the cold (we are still unsure if she was someone's house cat, but she was in terrible condition and had a twin who was completly feral) she just adopted DH and that was it, she's been one of the best cats I've ever had.

Tasha does follow Miss Kitty EVERYWHERE (ALL day long - it's so cute!) any suggestions to how I can take advantage of that? Tasha has certainly seen me pet, pick up, feed Miss Kitty.
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post #4 of 4 (permalink) Old 02-13-2009, 10:52 AM
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Re: Socializing Wild Kitty

Originally Posted by nes
Tasha does follow Miss Kitty EVERYWHERE (ALL day long - it's so cute!) any suggestions to how I can take advantage of that? Tasha has certainly seen me pet, pick up, feed Miss Kitty.
Actually, that is what helped me withtaming Pretty. Dusty was the semi-feral tomcat I TNR'd later that summer. He tamed very quickly and I think he helped me considerably with Pretty. It also may very well have been true that if I hadn't had Dusty there for Pretty to feel comfortable with (because he was comfortable around me) that I may never have been able to tame her. She would see Dusty eating next to me and would creep closer/closer until I was able to reach over Dusty a I pet him and pet her occasionally, too. She would always dart away, but she would keep coming back to eat next to Dusty because HE wasn't alarmed.
I think your Miss Kitty will be able to help you with Tasha the way Dusty helped me with Pretty.
Good luck!

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