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post #1 of 47 (permalink) Old 05-14-2012, 09:57 AM Thread Starter
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Feral Cat in Korea: What would you do? (Advice Please)

Hello all,
I've just adopted a feral or semi-feral cat. Her name is Myul-Chee (which means 'Sardine' in Korean). I'm having trouble with her and would love any advice. It's been a month and a half and it's been an up and down time for all of us.

We tried a TNR but failed the first time as she escaped the trap and hurt her leg. This ruined her trust in us somewhat but she'd still come around for food, and we trapped her the next week. Our plan was to do TNR, shots, leg repair/checkup, and then have her heal at our home for a few days.
We found out that she had already been fixed! So this led us to think she was maybe a pet at some point, so we decided to try and adopt her or at least see how she'd adjust with us.

One detail is that the vets let her escape the cage and had to hunt her down again inside, taking 4 guys to capture her. She ran up the wall and hissed at them apparently. I'm sure this was a horrible experience for her, as she is scared of humans more than ever now, even my girlfriend and I. I'm pretty sure they had to manhandle her and roughed her up a bit. When we arrived back at the vet, they had taped her feet up 'for our safety' but I told them to take it off her while she was still asleep.

So now she acts very scared and panicky whenever we are near, and she really doesn't want to be around us, even though she used to want to be around us before we trapped her, although we've never been able to pet her.
She's always been skittish, but she's worse than ever now.

She has a small covered balcony with a cat tower and lots of plants and a covered house, but she only comes inside when we are asleep. Other than that she hides in her house or under some linoleum flooring she digs up. The balcony is narrow, so she might feel cornered whenever we go out there to feed her/check her. She can usually come inside if she wants, but she only does it at night when I'm sleeping. I live in a fairly small apartment so even that would be a big adjustment for her.

We've now been able to touch her while she's under the linoleum, petting her side. She just freezes, but sometimes suddenly panics and runs into the house to hide. She's tried to escape out the window twice after the failed pet sessions, so we've backed off a bit.

We just want her to be happy and not be scared of us. We just don't know how to communicate that to her. I never stare at her directly, but when I see her, the look in her eyes is of fear and 'don't come any closer'. She doesn't have an aggressive nature, but the look in her eyes lately is not one you'd want to mess with.

She eats like a queen, uses the litter box, and is very healthy, but we worry about her emotional state. We know she may never be a lap cat, but we want a civil, comfortable relationship with her where she can be happy. Any advice or further questions for details would be appreciated.

Some optional background: For the last year I had been working and living in an education center in Seoul, South Korea. It is a nice campus with lots of trees and forest around, and a few feral cats hanging around the dorm and cafeteria trash areas from time to time.
One of them would sit on the steps and watch people walk by, so I started to feed it whenever I walked by. For the last year my girlfriend and I would make noise to call her and she'd come to eat. She would tolerate us around her area, but never too close. Her safe distance was always about 5 yards or so. Any closer and she'd usually back away. Gradually she got friendlier, even greeting us with meows occasionally and coming much closer. And she'd follow us around to our dorm, even after she ate, and just hang around outside the door. We always thought about adopting her but figured it was impossible as we couldn't pet her and she was so skittish. But she was a total loner and it seemed she liked just hanging around us, even if she didn't interact much. The other cats didn't really accept her and would chase her from the trash area (food source) so we took pity on her, feeding her lots of treats and cat food whenever we saw her (every few days).
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post #2 of 47 (permalink) Old 05-14-2012, 10:21 AM
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Congrats on the new companion. And you have to remember it has ONLY been a month and a half. Giving her recent trauma with the vet handling, I would definitely give her time. This is not going to be a fast fix. I would give her a safe hiding spot. Put a carrier/crate/storage box out in her area with the front covered most of the way so she has an enclosed, dark, "cave" she can feel secure in and feels like you can't see her (even if you can). when feeding her squat or sit to bring yourself down to her level thus being less threatening.

don't pet her immediately as she get used to the new space. sit near her space with a book, watch tv, bring your laptop, or talk on the phone. Let her see you move about normally (maybe a bit slower), talk to her about your day, toss her treats occasionally if she is watching you calmly.

If you can get one try a feliway collar on her to help calm her.

Basically go slow, and easy. And give her time. Let her explore on her own time.

I wish you luck and I am sure others will give you ideas I missed.
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post #3 of 47 (permalink) Old 05-14-2012, 01:10 PM
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First things first, thanks for helping this poor kitty and keeping her best interest at heart!

When I used to feed a colony how I interacted with the cars was up to them mostly. I found a few tricks that helped a ton, and it got to the point that I could briefly touch most of them.

I don't know if you've heard of this, but we do love blinkies with our cats. This helps build trust, and can be one of the best ways to interact with a cat you can't touch. The first step is not to stare at the cat. Keeping that in mind, look at her then slowly blink your eyes. My colony cats liked it best when I made my whole face sleepy and held my eyes shut for a bit. Basically pretend you're about to fall asleep. This shows the cat that you trust them enough to look away from them, a big message for a scared kitty.

It's very likely that she's quite food motivated, so use that to your advantage. If you're feeding dry food leave that with her all the time, and use wet food (or something yummy like chicken) for this. Put the yummy food on a plate or in her bowl, take it out to her. Put it just outside her hiding spot, then go as far away as you can while still being in her room (the other side of the patio for example), sit down facing away from her. Bring a book, or something else quiet you can do. Ignore her entirely. Eventually she'll want the food, and since you are being as nonthreatening as possible (not looking, sirting still and quiet) shell go ahead and eat. If you do this regularly shell start thinking of you as a good thing, the non-stressful bringer of yummies!

This will go slowly, but be patient. I used to sit outside with my outside cats for an hour each day, reading and ignoring them. They LOVE being ignored. It makes them feel safe.

The biggest tip I can give you is to go at her pace. There will come a day when you go out with the yummy food, and she'll stick her head out from her hiding spot, then another where she'll meet you at the door...maybe eventually shell sniff you, or let you touch her. With ferals you have to notice and celebrate the small steps, because to the cat they are huge signs of trust.
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post #4 of 47 (permalink) Old 05-14-2012, 08:46 PM
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BotanyBlack and librarychick summed up pretty much any advice i could offer.

i will stress one thing that librarychick mentioned, go at her pace. my former feral was in a dog cage for over 4 months before i felt she could be let out and that was after i had spent a significant amount of "bonding time" with her while she was still a member of my colony.

keep it up, you are doing a wonderful thing and the rewards of your work will be so very worth the time and effort.

"In studying the traits and dispositions of the so-called lower animals, and contrasting them with man's, I find the result humiliating to me."
--Mark Twain
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post #5 of 47 (permalink) Old 05-14-2012, 09:14 PM Thread Starter
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Thanks so far for the replies! We'll try to slow the process down a bit, but it's hard sometimes. Here's my attempt at a photo upload of her...

If the image doesn't work, you can see her at the link below:
Let me know what you think of her! We'd like to think her nice winter coat is from us feeding her so well!

?????1 | Flickr - Photo Sharing!

Also, does anyone think getting a kitten for her to play with is a good idea or a bad one? A friend mentioned it. The apartment isn't that big but it's doable. I just don't want to stress her more, but on the other hand I've read that it can brighten her spirits and she'll see the kitten trusting us, and maybe come out of her shell. On the downside, maybe she wouldn't bond with us much after that, or even worse, attack the kitten and stress out even more? If we did get one, would a female kitten be better? Not really wanting a male. Not set on it, but any more ideas?
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post #6 of 47 (permalink) Old 05-14-2012, 09:23 PM Thread Starter
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Having trouble posting pics from Flickr. Here's another try. Still new to Flickr...
멸치1 by MJS-7, on Flickr[/IMG]

Last edited by Myulchee; 05-14-2012 at 09:26 PM.
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post #7 of 47 (permalink) Old 05-14-2012, 09:37 PM
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Another cat might be a good idea at some point, but not too young. If you got a very young kitten (under 4-5 months) there's a risk that the kitten bonds to her very strongly and then she would teach it to be scared of you...rather than it teaching her that you are nice.

She's very sweet looking, and that lovely thick coat looks great!

Go slow with her, it'll be worth it in the long run!
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post #8 of 47 (permalink) Old 05-15-2012, 09:15 PM Thread Starter
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Good news!
I tried the blinking/sleepy/ignoring look on her as per the advice. It worked wonders! Instead of instantly running and hiding, she stayed out on the balcony and scratched on her cat tower, stretched, and rubbed her face on it, marking it.
This was the FIRST TIME I actually thought she might be comfortable and happy here at the apartment. Granted, I could only watch from behind the glass door of the balcony but it's much better than only seeing her run away on sight!

Also, does anyone have any experience with Feliway on ferals? I'm thinking of ordering some from the U.S.
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post #9 of 47 (permalink) Old 05-15-2012, 10:40 PM
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great news! glad she is feeling more comfortable. I have heard feliway works great with ferals, allthough I can't speak from personal experience about that.

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post #10 of 47 (permalink) Old 05-16-2012, 10:24 AM Thread Starter
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Yeah, maybe we'll try feliway soon.

Also, if we do get a kitten, would it be better to match her with a boy or a girl kitten? Which is less likely to be problematic?

I'd rather not get a boy cat, as it might try to be dominant later, or spray...
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