Socializing a feral who spent her kittenhood unhandled in a kennel - Cat Forum : Cat Discussion Forums
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post #1 of 11 (permalink) Old 01-01-2014, 09:35 PM Thread Starter
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Socializing a feral who spent her kittenhood unhandled in a kennel

Hello… and help!

I have two female shorthair rescues. They're litter mates, but one is an angel and one is… not. Let's call them Heaven and H***. Oops, the forum software won't allow that. Let's try Heaven and Heck.

As best I can tell, their history is this:

* Born feral
* Caught and caged around 6-10 weeks
* The county shelter gave them all their vaccinations and had them spayed.
* They received no day-to-day human handling. There was no attempt at socializing them.
* Heaven and Heck weren't adopted for months. Heck hissed at anyone who tried to draw her or her sister out of the litterbox in the back of their kennel, so people opted for the cats they could pick up. These two just huddled together in their own excrement.
* At about 6 months, I heard the sad story of kittens spending 2/3 of their lives in a cage, so I took them home.


Smash cut to a month later.


Heaven was slow to come around, but she’s now a sweetie. All I have to do is sit at my desk and make eye contact and she winds about my feet until she gets her face petted. She loves her face to be petted. She eats treats straight from my fingers, and is very delicate and careful about not nibbling my fingers, no matter how clumsily I hold food. But even if I’m holding a treat, she wants face petting first.

Heaven's become relatively well socialized. She hides if I stand up or walk about, but we're fine so long as I sit and let her come to me. I suspect that in time she'll come to understand that standing isn't an aggressive action, and that I'm every bit as wary of stepping on her as she is of being stepped on. She doesn't like being held, but some cats never do. I'm content enough to get her purring on the floor.


Heck is different.


Heck hides 24/7. She hisses, growls, then attacks when approached. Slow, fast, hand low to the floor, me flat on the ground, or even Heck up on a counter or cat tree, it doesn't matter.

Heck will never eat treats if I offer them, and rarely even if I leave them in front of her and then leave the room. Any time I make eye contact, she tenses. Slow-blinking, half-lidded, short glances, doesn't matter. She glares back. If I've made eye contact, then leave the room for half an hour, she'll find a new place to hide.

Heck's hiding places consist of corners, behind open doors, in cabinets, inside the media center, etc. She walls herself in, and in her mind I worry that approaching her has become synonymous with cornering her. I've blockaded most every cubbyhole, so she stays with corners or inside the boxes in her cat tree now. I suspect she's trying to mimic her kennel, where she was fed and left alone.

A few times, Heck has let me stroke or pet her. The whole time she stares me down, and there's no sign of enjoyment. The only time I got a purr out of her was after pinning her down briefly for a brushing, and then holding her to my chest a while. But ten minutes after I set her down, she was back to her old, hissing, distrustful self.

I count myself lucky that Heck uses the litterbox, at least. And she does come out to keep Heaven company once I'm in bed and quiet a while. But the slightest motion or noise from me and she sprints back into hiding. It’s always a full panicked gallop, never a quiet escape.


Any thoughts on where to go next? I'd like Heck to feel more comfortable and at home. We don't have to be best friends, but I want her to be happy. She can't be happy if she's living in terror of the big man bumbling about the apartment.


It’s been a month. Do I just leave her be a while longer, or will she become even more set in her ways?
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post #2 of 11 (permalink) Old 01-01-2014, 09:59 PM
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Does Heck see you and Heaven together? When I've tried to win over a feral cat, I usually put a food dish with something really good in it...something they love! Then I just sit on the floor (or ground) as close to the kitty as I can before it starts to get antsy. I never look at the kitty, just sit in the room with it talking to it or reading. After a bit, I say goodbye and thank the kitty for keeping me company, again not looking directly at it. Then I slowly leave it be. Repeat a couple times a day...slowly they have always snuck up on me. Heck may have been abused at some point....something happened to make her so distrustful....she just needs some time and to know that you aren't scared of her...and will wait for her. Give her a space of her own....maybe a box with a bed or blanket in it...and let it be her "escape" place where you don't talk to her or approach her.

...Always in my heart... Mocha....Nov. 13, 2002 - Dec. 6, 2013
.... Slave to Bengal Cats....Luna, Mystik, Simba, Komet, Meli,
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post #3 of 11 (permalink) Old 01-01-2014, 10:11 PM
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While reading your story, my mind went to a movie that I liked. It was a true story albeit Hollywood put it's slant on it. I believe it was "Murder in the First" starring Kevin Bacon. Anyway, the years of solitary took it's toll on an otherwise normal young man. Naturally, he was a different person due to the horrendous conditions he was in etc.

Now, with Heck and Heaven it seems that they both had the same confinement? Maybe, Maybe not. Maybe their brains are wired differently, like ours are? Maybe they respond differently to their environment and both don't follow the same plans of action? Many will offer tips and strategies to try because all would like to see a better adjustment to what you offer to Heck. I offer a big one:

Provide what you have been doing....Maybe a soft baby blanket with Heaven's smell on it put in a small basket and then in a cardboard box with an opening. How about a wire kennel like she used to be in but left open all the time? Let Heck have her solitude but also her freedom to come and go from her 'nests'. I would just avoid her...put out food and water somewhere, (she will find it), maybe place it on an item of your clothing that you no longer need but has you on it. Avoid trying to socialize her. Almost ignore her. She is safe and has more than she once had.
With time, lots of it maybe, see what happens. I like to give mine catnip at times, just because they seem to enjoy it. I don't see them going 'stoney end' on it....mostly I think they then lay down and dream. Who knows?

At least Heaven and hello spend some time together...better than in the human world.

Last edited by Cat'sHouse; 01-01-2014 at 10:14 PM.
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post #4 of 11 (permalink) Old 01-01-2014, 10:22 PM
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I have a feral that I have cared for for a few years now, although she has lived in my neighborhood for 5-7 years, our best guess. Someone got her TNR'd, thankfully. She would not even take food from me when I set it next to the garbage cans at night, for YEARS I tried. Finally, one day, she took the cat food. Then started coming back daily for the food, which I slowly moved closer to my door. The first time she came onto my porch to eat the food, I sat in a chair and she belly crawled to my door and shook all over the entire time, inhaled the food and fled. But she came back daily. Within about 2-3 months, she started to groom herself in front of me and sit down, she'd stay about 10 feet away from me and I ignored her, sat in a chair reading a book. Another few months, she started to come closer to me, rub her chin on the side of the house by the chair I was sitting in, wanting SO bad to rub against my leg. When she finally did, it was about 5-6 months after she began accepting the food, she finally did rub against my leg.

We made baby steps the entire way. Me, I just let her always come to me, I never made the first move to go towards her. It was probably close to a year before I could scratch her head and her chin, which she LOVED, but she would try to smack me if I tried to per her on her back. But one day, she finally let me. Now, I can pet her all over, even her tail, while she is eating. She does NOT want me to pick her up. When I tried once, she didn't try to scratch or bite me, but she freaked and squirmed to get away, so I don't try. She will let me sort of half-pick up her front legs, but it took a LONG time to get to that point. Like I said, the whole thing has been baby steps, with her being the one to come to me. If you keep feeding Heck some good stuff and just be patient with him, he will come around. Trust me, he will. He may never let you pick him up. But he will come around. You are so far beyond what I was with Arwen after a month. Heck will start to trust you more. A month is such a short time with a feral, they take a long time to gain your trust sometimes. Obviously, your Heaven is a little easier, but they are all different. I would just say, don't rush things. Be totally patient. Let him come to you. Let him know that it is all on his terms and you are not going to try to corner him and make him have any affection unless it is on his terms. Arwen hissed and growled at me for MONTHS when she would come up to my door for her food. She would hiss, growl, then scarf her food and run. I remember when she finally stopped hissing at me, and started mewing instead. Every step has been wonderful. I adore this cat so much, and would love to have her in my house, but she won't even consider coming in, and I have 3 inside cats already. She is allowed in my garage, but she doesn't usually stay there. Luckily, I am in FL, but I do have a heated cat bed for her on my porch.

I wouldn't continue to make eye contact with him. Not yet, at this point. You just want to sort of be there, non threatening in any way, even though you don't mean to be threatening, he probably doesn't know that yet. Just sit quietly around him, read or be on your computer and hang in the room with him. He will get used to you. I believe he will get to that point where he approaches you and wants to be near you and maybe want affection at some point, but it's going to take a while.

Now, more than 2 years since I started gaining Arwen, my feral girl's trust, she finally trusts my husband, one of my neighbors, and lets them both pet her as well, something I NEVER thought would happen. She used to only be seen on garbage days, at night, that was the only time you would see her.

Thank you so much for taking care of these poor little things. You will gain their love and trust one day and they will love you so much for it. There is nothing like the love I have for my Arwen.
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post #5 of 11 (permalink) Old 01-01-2014, 10:37 PM
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beautiful story...and what patience! But in all my dealings with animals I have always learned. It has to be on their terms, not yours.
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post #6 of 11 (permalink) Old 01-02-2014, 07:14 PM Thread Starter
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Thank you for the replies.

Mochas Mom, Heck has seen me playing with Heaven frequently, but she always appears to be looking at my face, not at the toy, and not at Heaven.

From a couple replies here, I suspect the frequent attempts to make eye contact may be a problem. I had read that looking at a cat half-lidded and blinking slowly is supposed to help express calm, but I suspect that Heck doesn't read it that way. Indeed, these are the times when she selects new hiding spots once I've left the room.

It's hard. I like stealing a glance just to ensure that both cats are okay, and to keep track of where they are. And hey, just seeing the two makes me happy.

I work from home, and I'm at my desk most of the day. What I'll do is choose a few of her hiding spots that are within eyesight of my desk, and perhaps create a few more. I'll never look at these spots. She can watch me work and occasionally see me play with Heaven. Hopefully she'll get used to my presence if she thinks I haven't noticed that she's close by.

And yes... patience.
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post #7 of 11 (permalink) Old 01-02-2014, 10:31 PM
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Here's a thought: You work from home and probably in one spot and like you say Heck can or will be able to see you. Keep a cat treat at your desk and when you leave, put it on your chair and see if it is gone...that is if no other cat can take it. That would mean Heck was a little curious. For more fun, get a nanny cam. They are relatively inexpensive now and see what happens when you are not in his sight. Interesting to note if he explores etc.

you are right...time is what it will take. maybe a long time but in the end it will be worth it.
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post #8 of 11 (permalink) Old 01-03-2014, 11:04 PM
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Great tips for socializing adult ferals and semi feral cats by Heidi. Hope this helps.

https://www.catforum.com/forum/56-fer...boot-camp.html
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post #9 of 11 (permalink) Old 01-03-2014, 11:47 PM
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that's awesome that you are fostering them to socialize them! that is such an important job. i am a total amateur at it myself. my husband and i have been visiting the same family of 8 cats that were rescued from a hoarder 1 year ago and we also do our best to try to slowly socialize them. they basically live in a house that serves as the office for this rescue agency so they do have people around them all during the week who help to socialize them, too. they are all so different. some were ready to be handled immediately, but there are still 2 of the 8 that have never approached us on their own to get pet. if they happen to be lying down already and we come over to pet them, they will tolerate it, but usually end up squirming away from us within 30 seconds. we don't push it beyond that at this point. but i tell you - it was so rewarding when some of the really shy ones actually started coming around. now we have a bunch of them who voluntarily climb onto our laps and run to the door when we come in demanding to be loved. it's an amazing thing.

anyway, kudos to you for working with these kitties. it's only been a month which is definitely a very short time for one as skittish as Heck. sounds like you're on the right path though by doing less eye contact and knowing to really let her come to you on her own terms and in her own time.

my only fear for you is that you end up getting too attached to both of them because of the time and effort you are putting into socializing them and end up adopting them yourself! ha ha! ok, kinda funny, but it would be heartwarming, too, wouldn't it. the only downside is that it sure makes it hard to foster OTHER kitties maybe.

good luck!!!
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post #10 of 11 (permalink) Old 01-04-2014, 07:19 AM
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I agree, it definitely has to be on their terms, not yours. When the kitty feels comfortable, he/she will advance to the next step. I've been working with a semi-feral stray for the past couple of months, and he has made HUGE strides in recent weeks (most of them since I TNR'd him). He used to run the second he saw me come outside and wouldn't let me anywhere near him, but now he actually comes running when I call him, will snuggle up to me, purr, etc. One thing that seems to really help with him is having a routine/schedule. He gets fed twice a day at the same time, and I always pet him and snuggle with him after feeding to get him into the habit, and to associate the affection with food. He gets a little more and more affectionate each day, and now seeks out affection even when it's not feeding time. He still won't come inside, but I hold out hope that I can get him indoors at some point. Patience, patience, patience...
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