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post #1 of 15 (permalink) Old 02-10-2007, 03:19 AM Thread Starter
 
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Feral Cats - What Now?

Several months after my 15-yr-old dog died, a young mother cat and her kitten started hanging around my fenced, wooded backyard. Both of them looked well-groomed, but poorly. After a week of watching them catch bugs and lizards on the patio, I put out food. At first, I had to go back into the house before they would approach the bowls. That was in Sept 2006.

A few days later, a big male, who has the same markings as the mother showed up. He laid around on his back doing a “oooh, baby” slither along the patio toward the mother cat who slapped him when he got near her. I figured that sooner or later (hopefully, when I wasn’t looking) that Mother Nature would betray her and she’d have no choice in the matter and then my yard would be overrun with a litter of kittens. That was last Sept. and no kittens. Not sure what happened, but I’m delighted that this colony is still a manageable three.

When the weather got colder, we constructed a makeshift cat house just off the patio. The mother cat, whose name is now Libby, and her definitely male kitten, Grin, run out of the house each morning to eat. I’m guessing the “kitten” is probably about 8 or 9 months old by now. If I’m late with the food, both Libby and Grin aren’t shy about stretching up the back door or jumping onto a window sill. Libby used to hiss but wouldn’t move very far away when I opened the door. Grin, the kitten, even when he was running away would make traditional kitten "feed me" meows. The larger male cat, whose name is Todd, is either waiting off the patio or shows up later to eat. I don’t think he uses the cat house.

I don’t know if they are feral or strays. I left the back door open months ago and Libby, the mother cat, came in and rolled around on the carpet for several minutes, then trotted around the house. I shut the back door and she went crazy. She howled at the windows. Even after the back door was opened again, she seemed disoriented. Since then she has wandered through the house and has even ventured upstairs several times. The kitten, Grin, came in and had a similar first experience. Once he thought he was trapped, he went crazy, bouncing from one window to the other and howling until he found the way out the back door. He still doesn’t venture far from the back door.

The strangest has been Todd. He’s definitely an older male and was very weary. He used to sit outside and watch as the other two went in and out the back door. If I moved, the phone rang or any noise he ran from the patio. This week Todd came into the house, just inside the open back door for just a few minutes. Then, he stayed for about 10 minutes on the rug inside the house. Tonight he came in, sat on the rug for a few minutes, then walked around the kitchen. I moved and he ran across the kitchen table, then ran onto the counter and hid behind the coffee maker.

I opened the door wide and put food in the bowl outside on the patio. Libby and Grin ran outside but Todd acted like he was invisible behind the coffee maker. I had him trapped there and he actually let me touch him twice before he made a break for the back door.

Are these cats feral or strays or freeloaders? My big problem is that I have to sell my house next year. Libby, the mother/female cat is most at risk no matter what happens with me. So, I know I have to figure out a way to trap and spay her. What if she’s someone else’s cat? Is that okay to do? I don’t know why she didn’t have kittens when I saw Todd trying to be amorous with her in Sept. If she’d gotten pregnant then, she would have surely had kittens by now, right?

I don’t think these cats will make great house pets. I grew up on a farm and had disastrous results trying to make barn cats into house cats. The times that Libby and Grin have been in the house they’ve tried to rip up the carpet next to the back door. Not intentionally I’m sure but it felt good to them to do it. I can't take these cats with me when I move and I can't leave them behind.

Any advice would be appreciated.
thanks!
mel
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post #2 of 15 (permalink) Old 02-10-2007, 11:25 AM
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Wow, Mel...that's quite a story about your outdoor friends!

Are you in the states? It would help to know what country you are in to help direct you to resources such as low-cost spay and neuter clinics, shelters, TNR programs, etc.

Your cats are feral -- they are not socialized and are therefore frightened of human contact and confinement, which is why they go nuts when they feel shut in. Ferals can be tamed, with lots of time and patience. There are other members of this forum here who have done so successfully.

I'm not sure what to say about your move. I think if you took them as outdoor kitties, they may just try to go back to your old home. Hopefully, someone else here can better address that question.

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post #3 of 15 (permalink) Old 02-10-2007, 10:43 PM
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Hi, Mel. How kind of you to care for these cats! I think the most important thing you can do for this little group is to contact an organization that will neuter them. There is a list of organizations by state at the top of this forum. If you're in the UK, there is also a source for information and help.

If the kitties aren't socialized, they can't be adopted, so you have two choices, one of which is to netuer them and very gradually tame them, which is possible.. with patience, time, and reward, and then turned in to a no kill shelter with the hopes of an adoption. A home is, of course, the ideal solution.

The other option is to have them neutered and returned to the wild. You will still be doing them a great favor. Please read the stickies, that is, the list of informative threads at the top of the forum. There is very good information in these articles which will help you with either option.

If you can socialize the cats, that would be ideal for them. Forgive me, but I think you rushed this a bit. First, they must trust you, and that is a very gradual process. They might never have been touched by a human being, and you would look quite large and frightening to them. Sit quietly and make no moves toward them. Put the food where they can see you, and speak very softly. Move the food a bit closer periodically, still sitting quietly. Treats, gentleness and food will help immensely. If you don't rush matters, they will learn to trust you. Talk gently and make every contact a pleasant one.

When the weather permits, can you limit them to one room, so they don't panic? If you can move them and the food indoors and sit quietly while they eat, moving the food closer and closer, bit by bit, and interactive toys, (eventually) they will learn that you are not going to grab them.
If they know the door is open and close, they will not be quite as nervous. Often, after neutering, toms will be more gentle and easier to work with.

Eventually, if they want to continue eating, they will approach the food, even when it's very close to you. Please don't make the first move towards contact. It is important that the feral cats make the first moves. (although you are leading them to that point! ) It would be easier if you could put one of the kitties at a time in a quiet, small, dimly lighted room. However, they must lose a bit of their cautiousness with you first. If they continue to panic inside the house and have not come to you for contact, this will be much harder. However, it's not impossible, if they have learned that you can be trusted not to grab them. Obviously, if they are climbing the walls, they're not ready to stay indoors.

Try to build trust outdoors and in that one room with the door open, so they know they can go out whenever they want, and there is nothing in their way. When they want to be touched (their idea), they will let you know...by rubbing up against your hand. You must still touch them only gently, and never grab them. Hopefully, with time, they will welcome your gentle touch and the treats that they get. You want all contact with you to be pleasant.

When they get used to you and the house, you could try to tame one in its own quiet and dimly lighted room. Now, it's very important to sit quietly in that room several times a day, reading or listening to soft, calming music, and your gentle voice. Use the same techniques mentioned before, moving the food a bit closer periodically and having treats and interactive toys ready for them. Many people have tamed ferals this way. It takes time, but is very rewarding! If you decide to do this, our members can help you with advice.

So, first trap and neuter them, covering the trap so they don't associate you with this frightening experience. Skip a day's food so that they are very hungry, and camouflage the traps. Put food in the trap that has a strong, fishy odor. Stay nearby, so they can be taken to the shelter, humane society, or no-kill shelter (that you have found on the lists I mentioned before) as quickly as possible. Alley Cat Allies is a great resource for advice in all respects, and I'm sure our members who do this frequently will offer some great advice. If you borrow several traps, this would be ideal. There is financial help available and organizations who care about feral cats!

You are very kind to care for this little group. I hope you can prepare them for your move. Please remember to be patient and allow them to make all of the decisions about contact...with your encouragement. And please keep us informed.




Jeanie

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post #4 of 15 (permalink) Old 02-13-2007, 09:36 PM Thread Starter
 
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Feral Cats - What Now?

Thanks, Lisa & Jeannie for the advice and the links.

I'm in the USA in North Georgia. I'm considering using CatSnips for spay/neuter. They will loan me traps with a deposit. Compared to the vet charges, this is very inexpensive. Still costly, though. I'm trying to scrap together the minimal charge of $140 if I catch all three cats. I'm shooting for the week of Mar. 5th when the mobile unit will be within a few miles of my house.

I've been reading everything I can find about how to trap and have found some useful information on this forum and with the links. Wish me luck that I catch all three on the same night. And that they don't hate me after I release them into the backyard.

I was really confused about whether to trap & neuter first or tame, then neuter. I realize now that I might never be able to tame them enough to pick them up and put them into a carrier for the trip to the vet.

Thanks again for your help. I'll let you know if the trapping is successful.
Mel
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post #5 of 15 (permalink) Old 02-13-2007, 09:50 PM
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Thanks, Mel. The reason for trapping first is, of course, to keep them from having more kittens. We have so many kittens and cats waiting for homes! Thank you in advance for keeping us informed. If all three will be neutered for $140 total, that's a really good price, although it's a lot of money, not to be laughed at. You are doing a wonderful thing. I hope you can foster them until they're ready for homes. That would be ideal.




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post #6 of 15 (permalink) Old 02-16-2007, 01:56 PM
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Do you have a spare room you can clear out ??? if so perhaps you could try this .

After they have been spayed/neutered and are still groggy put them into a spare room with NO furniture .... give them a blanket to lie on ....give them toys.

make sure you have food available.... when they come around they are going to be confused and scared ..just sit with them and talk to them ... keep this up until they look less scared..... then get some nice very smelly fish food .... get them to come and eat in front of you ..... once they are doing this comfortably ....let them look at the rest of the house for an hour or so a day .....

then .... using the same smelly food they now have to learn if they want a treat they must allow you to touch them..... do it with the youngest cat first.

It took me 7 months and I have three lovely cats two still wont be touched but they lie on the couches , on the bed and are comfy.

They dont have to be so tame BTW .. just used to you and your home ...

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post #7 of 15 (permalink) Old 05-08-2007, 12:19 AM Thread Starter
 
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Feral cats What Now?

Even with great advice from this forum and my best intentions, life (and its circle) got ahead of me and I wasn't able to get Libby, the feral/stray fixed before nature's calling.

My best guess is that her kttens were born 4/29 or 4/30. Thankfully, she had them in the makeshift box we provided off the patio last winter. The day after she didn't show up for breakfast or dinner, she arrived hissing all the way to the food bowl and was obviously no longer pregnant. She hisses everytime she sees me, which she had stopped doing about three months after I started feeding her last Sept.

When the kittens were 4 days old, I started feeding her smelly can food. Her first kitten, Grin, also arrived to eat this new cuisine, so she was distracted. I was able to look into the box and see that her litter contains 4 kittens. Two days later, I gave the smelly, can food to her and went to the box to check out the kittens. I got out one kitten and put it on a towel. She went beserk. Came across the patio, hissing at me. I put the kitten back and waited until she went in the box before I moved. When I did move, she came out of the box to attack me.

She hisses at me everytime I'm near. When and how do I check out the kittens again? I have 2 people that say they will take a kitten. So, I'm 50% on finding homes for the newborns. When can I take the kittens from her? When can I trap her to be spayed?

Thanks, again.
mel
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post #8 of 15 (permalink) Old 05-09-2007, 11:36 PM
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I hope she doesn't move the kittens. They're so young. I would try to gain mother cat's trust, as you did from the beginning, with great treats and gentle talk--closer, bit by bit. She needs lots of good food to make milk for the babies--kitten kibble and canned food. Put water out also, of course.

You could take the chance that she won't hide the kittens, and then trap her when the kittens are ready to eat soft food. That usually happens between 4 and 5 weeks. The problem with this is that she could get pregnant. She can get pregnant while still nursing. Also, the longer the kittens are without the touch of a human being, the longer it will take to tame them. However, it's much easier to tame a kitten than an adult.

Your other choice is to trap her now...with the vet's approval, and have her spayed. Then you would care for the kittens for a couple of days. They are small enough that they shouldn't hurt the incision. I was forced to do this when a stray I took in had to have a C section to deliver the last kitten of a large litter. Of course, I was able to keep her in the house. Do you have a garage where she could recover, give her a different kitten or two each time to nurse, and bottle feed the rest? They would not lose her scent that way, and one or two small kittens should not bother the incision.

I like to see mother cat raise the kittens, but rather than have her get pregnant again, it would be better to have her spayed soon, even if you have to hand raise the kittens. I doubt that would be permanent, unless you don't have a safe enclosure.

Just a couple of suggestions. Think it over and perhaps one of our other members will have an idea for you.




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post #9 of 15 (permalink) Old 08-28-2007, 11:30 PM Thread Starter
 
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Feral Cats - What Now?

Just wanted to thank everyone again for their help and give an update on Libby and her kittens.

As Jeanie predicted, Libby moved the kittens at 3 weeks & 2 days old. I tried to track her and had given up hope of seeing any of the kittens again when 2 wks later all 4 arrived back to the box where they were born. I spent a week trying to find them homes, then a week talking to agencies. No one would help me. I wasn't aware that June is kitten month. Finally, the local Humane Society offered an owner sponsored adoption. I paid for the kittens testing for feline leukemia and aids plus 1st shots and took them to a mall location on Sat. & Sun. On the 2nd day, a male & female were adopted. I had to go out of town for the next two weekends and wasn't able to take the remaining two kittens, both males with stumpy tails.

First Sat. back at the adoption center, the male tabby was adopted. I took the solid black male back on Sun. and when I brought him back home, my hubby & I decided it was too hard for everyone to take him back there. So, he's now the inside cat. My hubby is a dog person and this kitten fetches toys and comes when called and is enough dog-like to fit in.

We trapped Libby, the mother, two weeks after we trapped the kittens. It was like storing a mountain lion in the garage overnight. She was spayed by CatSnip, a mobile unit that comes to my area once a month.

So, I started out with 3 feral cats and then had 7. Now one, Grin, is semi-feral. I can pet him when he eats. Libby and Todd are still weary but at least Libby can't have more kittens. I hope to get Grin and Todd, both males, neutered by CatSnip in Sept. & Oct. 3 kittens have found good homes elsewhere and 1 kitten is turning into the dog we lost.

We are a success story. Thanks again to everyone on this forum who offered advice and for all the stories that I've learned from to give these cats the best possible life. I'll probably post again when I need help when I move next year.

Thanks again.
mel
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post #10 of 15 (permalink) Old 08-29-2007, 12:17 AM
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I thought that was a wonderful update, thanks for keeping us informed about the happenings and progress!



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