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Discussion Starter #1
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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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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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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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.
 

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Discussion Starter #5
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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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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Discussion Starter #8
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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:D 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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Discussion Starter #10
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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Discussion Starter #11
UPDATE:
Well, Myulchee had a bad day. All she's been doing is hiding under some linoleum flooring in the balcony closet. Seems like a depressing existence. She eats in secret and immediately goes back under the floor.

I was sitting out there with my laptop, and she poked her head out, but unfortunately, I accidentally looked over at her (instead of acting aloof or blinking) and she shot back under the flooring, as if scared to death of me.

My girlfriend went to try to pet her today, and Myulchee SPAT at her! Almost a surprised hiss and snap all at once. Granted, my girlfriend put her hand under the flooring towards her, but Myulchee is in a panic now and didn't eat any food all day.

I'm reading stories on here about ferals, and many of them seem much more social than Myulchee. For example, some meow or let people pet them. But Myulchee was always skittish, never let us pet her, and was very hot and cold, sometimes coming, other times leaving. She would follow us sometimes, and a few times looked at us happily and put her tail up, but she's so sensitive.

Has anyone ever had a feral this bad? And did it ever come round to being tame? We love her and spoil her food wise, but at the same time it's challenging and an emotional roller coaster ride. What can we expect and are we just expecting too much?
 

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You need to go slower! The more stressed she is the less she's going to settle in. To be honest you should just pretend she doesn't exist, don't look at her ever, don't try to interact with her, etc. Put food out, clean her litter box, but that's it. The more you try to force the issue the worse shell get.

You girlfriend made her feel trapped when she tried to pet her, that alone set you back a few days. The ferals you have been reading about have probably either lived with people at some point, or known their carer for years. True ferals are wild animals. They want nothing to do with people and expect us to act like predators. This is much closer to where your girl is, when you look at her or try to touch her she thinks you're trying to eat her.

To sum it up: GO SLOWER! she might never get to where you want, but then again she might come around with time. Either way she's not going to change at all unless it's at her pace.
 

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once again i have to agree with librarychick, go slower.

definitely to soon to try and touch/pet her. when i socialized pretty girl i had her in a dog cage that i set up in the back of my work and spent as much time as i could with her, including staying at night until at least 9:00 pm. i did not even try to touch her for well over a month, and when i finally did it was on her terms - she was trusting me enough to allow a pet. she still was in the dog cage for nearly 3 more months until i let her out to explore her "strange new world".

with the ferals in my colony yes, i can pet them. some actually seek out the loving that i offer, while some only allow a rub while eating. the thing to keep in mind is that the cats in my colony have known me for over 2 years. with seeing me 7 days a week, at least twice a day for that long they have developed a sense of trust with me. the 2 that allow me to pet/rub them (one even will curl up on my lap) have known me almost their entire life, when they arrived they were only about 6 months old. the others took much more time, one of them wouldn't even eat if was was within 50 feet for nearly a year.

remember, be patient, let her dictate what to do and how soon to do it.

you are doing a wonderful thing, thank you!
 

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Discussion Starter #14
You need to go slower! The more stressed she is the less she's going to settle in. To be honest you should just pretend she doesn't exist, don't look at her ever, don't try to interact with her, etc. Put food out, clean her litter box, but that's it. The more you try to force the issue the worse shell get.

...
Yeah, that's good advice, and I'll try to follow it more. I agree that's where Myulchee is now, offering zero signs that she'd like to be pet or even have me look at her. It's back to ignoring her, as hard as that is.

The sad thing is, she used to be fine with us. Coming within 6-12 feet and just sitting next to us and grooming after we fed her, then following us when we left. But since the trapping and vet disaster (where they let her escape and manhandled her and taped her up), she seems petrified of humans. I guess the only way is to ignore for now.

I did read somewhere (kitty boot camp sticky on ferals?) that you cannot let the cat set the terms. You have to push limits and then back off. Well, that's what we were thinking. But maybe for Myulchee that's a bit too much for now...

Although...when I leave food out, I usually make a clicking noise so she knows she's being fed. And I say her name in a high voice. Hopefully that's not too much for her...
 

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Her traumatic time at the vet, getting chased and caught and as you say, likely "manhandled" unfortunately has set her waay back from any progress little progress she made and reinforced any contact with humans as not being pleasant and very frightful for her. I know this won't be a popular suggestion, but since she's already spayed, if I was in your situation I would consider seriously to release her back to where you found her. imo she's just been too traumatized and would be happier being feral.
 

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Give her time. That is the best thing you can do. Let her pick when she will do things. Let her make all the moves. I know it is hard to keep your hands off your new pet, but it is the only way to "tame" a feral cat. Look at her, but don't stare. Say hello in a neutral toned voice. Tell her she is beautiful, that she is wonderful and such a wonderful kitty... Give treats when you see her. Lots of treats. Always acknowledge her presence when you enter a room, even if it is just by saying her name and telling her she is wonderful. That is the key. Time. Let them make the moves and she will be fine. I would not recommend getting another cat for at least four to six months and then I would get a three month old female or a two year old neutered male. Make sure the new cat is tame when you get them.
 

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Discussion Starter #17
Her traumatic time at the vet, getting chased and caught and as you say, likely "manhandled" unfortunately has set her waay back from any progress little progress she made and reinforced any contact with humans as not being pleasant and very frightful for her. I know this won't be a popular suggestion, but since she's already spayed, if I was in your situation I would consider seriously to release her back to where you found her. imo she's just been too traumatized and would be happier being feral.
To be honest, this goes through my head quite a bit and I have considered it. If Myulchee seemed happier or even neutral, I'd never release her, but if she's been that traumatized, sometimes I wonder too if she wouldn't be happier just away from humans. I want HER to be happy, that's the most important factor.

BUT...for now, I'll give her more time and see if she starts to show any more signs of mellowing out. She does get awesome food, and seems to like her jungle balcony with a view and her kitty tower. I witnessed her rubbing and scratching on it before when she couldn't really see me through the sliding door. Of course, when I come home, it's straight under the linoleum flooring for her.

One reason I'm very reluctant to let her go in the same place is because I don't know how much food she would get if I'm not around. I don't live on that campus where I found her anymore, and I'm leaving Korea for good at the end of the year, so after that she'd be totally on her own.

The campus is potentially an ok place for ferals; lots of trees and rocks and a pond with a water overflow hole.
BUT there are at least two big Korean Jindo dogs that roam the area and chase the cats up trees and they mean business. The owners don't lock them up despite calls to animal services. All it would take is for one cat to not notice them in time and it's game over if they can't get up a tree. One slip up could be the last.
Other dangers/issues:
-Maintenance men on the campus don't like the cats.
- If anyone complains about cats, they might "get rid of them". Cats are not very popular animals in Korea and are sometimes seen as unlucky, so I think the clock is ticking for any cat on that campus.
-For example, if one feral is seen with any health problem, they'd probably round them all up and kill them. Not many animal pounds here anyway.
- The other ferals there don't like Myulchee. She's at the bottom of the pecking order and they chase her from the best feeding areas (i.e. near the cafeteria).
-If anyone actually does feed the cats on campus (I doubt it), Myulchee would be the last to be fed as she is the most skittish of people. The other ferals are rather fearless and bully her out of her food even if people would feed them.

And I see it as a complex moral issue. Now that I have her and am feeding her, I feel strange about dumping her off. It would feel like abandonment. And even though she doesn't give much back, I love her and am happy to feed her and care for her.

Again, I want HER to be happy. For now it may still be in its test phase and I hope she comes around somehow. But it's harder than I thought and I can't work miracles. I'm really good with animals and grew up with cats so I feel I know what they need, but this is definitely an extreme case. If she can eventually get back to the cat she used to be...which is skittish and aloof but semi trusting, that's fine by me. But I don't want her to be miserable but that's what she seems like lately.
 

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Discussion Starter #18
MAJOR UPDATE:
Myul-chee has made some minor progress! AND we got a new kitten to try to make Myul-chee more comfortable. Very mixed results so far. Input or advice appreciated. Details below:

Went with some of the advice on here and started just ignoring Myul-chee and feeding her, instead of trying to give her attention and pet her. She comes in almost every night for food while I'm asleep (I leave a food bowl out) but NEVER wants to be seen.

We got a two month old calico female kitten. Her mom was a stray but is now very tame. The kitten's name is Gong-chee. She was the runt of the litter and the other kittens wouldn't play with her, so we thought she might be docile and non-dominant and perhaps a good friend for Myul-chee.

Gong-chee the kitten adjusted very well to the apartment and is very tame now, and has a very wild, playful streak. She's very adventurous and hyper. So far this hasn't worked out so well. The two cats can coexist, but Myul-chee hisses at the kitten a bit. The introduction went ok (hissing but no attack) and they can be on the balcony together. Myul-chee is interested in the kitten, and it made her come out of hiding a bit, so she could check it out and monitor it.

The kitten is hyper and plays on Myul-chee's house and sometimes pounces on her hiding place under the soft linoleum floor, which causes the occasional hissy fit, but we don't watch it, we just hear it. We don't want to watch and stress Myul-chee even more (better to let them work it out I figured). The kitten has gone under the flooring too and in her mini-house, so they have been very close without fighting.

Myul-chee has been coming out from hiding to enjoy the balcony occasionally. Looking outside, grooming, stretching... but only with the sliding glass door closed so she feels safe, and only for a few minutes! I lure her out sometimes with a tuna can, and she eats in ecstasy and grooms and then hides again, but at least I can see her once in a while. She still doesn't like being looked at so I'm careful about that.

If I open the glass door she always hides again, but once in a while peeks her head out to look at me for a minute. The huge step is.... I can now sit out on the balcony with a book, feed her in her closet, and she eats in front of me, about 4 feet away! She is partially hidden by the plants, but at least she is trusting enough to eat near me now (like she did before we trapped her).

As for the kitten (Gong-chee), she is very loving but growing fast. She isn't afraid of anything, and she recently ran full speed into Myul-chee's house, causing a fight that she quickly lost. But didn't really learn her lesson, and now she raises her back at Myul-chee in a threatening manner, and when Myul-chee sees her through the glass doors she goes and hides again. It seems she doesn't really like her much.

I don't want to create any jealousy or dispute, so does anyone have any strategic advice here? I don't want to rush anything of course, but now there are two problems to solve. Getting Myul-chee accustomed to humans, and the kitten as well. Yes, overall she's doing better, but I sense that the kitten issue will be growing in the future, and I want Myul-chee to feel she also has the run of the house so she can someday become a normal cat, and not just a wild cat on the balcony who feels shut out from everything...
 

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It sounds like things are actually going really well! Good luck and good job with all the work and effort you've put in. Even with the spats, it does sound like Gong-chee is being a pretty good go-between for you guys.

I don't have any advice really, and others here are more knowledgeable. I know the rescue here uses what's called a "petting stick" to get their ferals more used to human touches, scraches, and pats. It's something soft like a dish rage or old t-shirt wrapped around a stick like a broom handle. It puts distance between you but still lets you interact. Maybe something like that would help? I mean, I'm not advocaing poking her in her safe house or anything, but while she's a few feet from you and comfy it might help.
 

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Sounds like you're on the right track. :) It will just take time. Assuming that she was a pet before . . . since then she has a long history of not trusting humans--she will have to learn to trust again and that doesn't come overnight.

Best thing you can do is make sure that SHE comes to YOU (not the other way around), no matter how long it takes. My cat Lincoln was a confirmed biter when I adopted him from the shelter--I simply NEVER reached out to pet him, EVER, for the first year at least. He had to come to me. If he came to me and specifically asked, I petted him only 1-2 strokes and then stopped, b/c more than that triggered him. He would bite and run (I'm 100% sure that he had been played w/ roughly as a kitten and then, when he grew up and it wasn't "cute" anymore he was punished for what used to be OK and he learned to bite first and ask questions later), so the key was to not trigger the behavior.

Eventually he started sitting on my lap--I made a lap inviting looking and he came and lay down. I didn't put a hand on him, EVER, for many months. Our bonding was lap-sitting. Eventually I would pet him occasionally just a few strokes.

Important: When I messed up and triggered a bite I never punished him. I just moaned and groaned and got past it. Only happened a few times but I could tell he was surprised that I didn't attack him. He learned from that.

As time went on he trusted me more and more. When he passed away 2 years ago from mammary cancer (very aggressive in male cats--his was caused by being given Depo Provera at the shelter 7 years prior for his biting) he was the picture of a perfect companion. He loved and trusted me and we had an extra special bond b/c of how much we both had to endure to get there. :)
 
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