Tag Archives: stray cats

Cats: Feral or Not? A Tale of Perry

So what’s a feral cat? According to Alley Cat Allies, the wonderful charitable organization that helps feral cats, “Millions of cats share our homes, but not all cats are suited to living inside. For many community cats (also known as feral cats), indoor homes are not an option because they have not been socialized to live with humans. They would be scared and unhappy indoors. Their home is the outdoors—just like squirrels, chipmunks, and birds. They are well suited to their outdoor home.”

Sounds simple, right?

But it isn’t. I suspect that a lot of cats that are assumed to be feral are merely strays. Feral cats are terrified of humans and view them as a real threat. But many cats when they are frightened may act the same way: cowering or running away, speechless (no mewing), or thrashing wildly if confined.

The gardener and I have been supporting the efforts of Alley Cat Allies for years as they try to promote TNR: trap-neuter-return. That keeps a feral colony from having more kittens, but doesn’t confine cats that can’t live inside.

But how many cats end up in feral colonies or merely dead because they are assumed to be feral, but are actually not feral at all?

Nobody knows.

Why am I bringing this up? Because of Prince Perry Winkle. Remember when we first trapped him? We got him neutered at a clinic and brought him to the shelter where he proceeded to act like a feral cat.

I told them that the clinic vet had said he wasn’t feral, but nobody believed me. They thought the vet lied, that I lied, or that the vet made a mistake. A big one.

For about a month I went to the shelter almost every day and read to Perry. It was the only time he got any positive attention because he hid in a cave and had staff persuaded he was a difficult and possibly dangerous (to them) feral cat.

The only hint anybody had that he wasn’t feral was that when I read to Perry he would blink at me. If you have a cat you know that blinking means I love you or I trust you. It’s a way of talking, communicating with a human. I would blink back at him so he knew I understood and trusted him, too.

If you read any of my bazillion posts here about Perry you know that he gradually warmed up to me, but it was really slow at first. When he learned the trick of “give me your paw,” it seemed huge. I didn’t know if we would get any further than that.

Well, now Perry is the biggest cuddle bug ever. I have never seen a cat as adorably cuddly. He curls up in my arms. rubs against me, kisses me, licks me, and demands I pet him by pushing his head up inside the palm of my hand. If I say, “Give me a kiss,” he kisses me immediately. This cat is not only not feral, he’s TRAINABLE. Like a dog.

And the other day I started letting him out to explore the house and meet the other cats, for less than an hour each day. Kana is shut up in a bedroom that Perry doesn’t know about. She will be the last hurdle. The other cats are fine, and so is Perry. Felix, friendly when approached. Pear, ignores him. Tiger, gives warning hisses to stay away, and so far so good. Sloopy Anne hides under the drape and peeks out through a gap she creates at the floor haha.

Watching TV with Mom

I found a mobile vet here in town who charges very reasonably and she came here (so as not to stress out Mr. Scaredy Cat) and clipped his nails (whew!!!!) and examined him. He’s healthy and about the age I thought (1.5 years) and definitely not feral at all. The vet told me that people dump domesticated cats at feral cat colonies all the time. IMAGINE A BIG SAD FACE HERE.

What if we had left Perry to fend for himself, assuming he was a feral cat and should just stay outside? He would have died for sure.

The only negative thing about his checkup is that this guy who was 9 pounds the day we trapped him is now 12.25 pounds, and he’s too fat. I take all the blame! I kept feeding him the same amount after the worms were gone that I did before. So now he has to lose a little weight. Like his mama.

He loves his hairbrush

To calm Perry for the exam, the vet put a little mask on him. I’ve seen those things before, and they work quite well. They are along the same lines as putting blinders on a horse or a cover over a bird cage. Or a blindfold on me for an MRI (no, I am not kidding). But the vet had to use a different mask than usual for cats because Perry has this cute little pointed rat face. (I love pet rats, so watch it). Very pointy all the way to his little pink nose. It’s hard to take a pic of so you can’t usually notice it in his photos.

I laughed about it and mentioned my comparison to a little rat face, and the vet told me it’s very likely that Perry is part Siamese. And as soon as she said it, I thought, YES, THAT EXPLAINS IT. It explains his chattiness. He’s always trilling and chirping to me. It explains his big smarts and trainability. And it explains his puppy-like behavior–the excitement and licking and all that.

It makes me sad when I think of how Perry was almost overlooked because it’s so darn hard to tell the difference between a feral cat and a scared cat. In a shelter or veterinary clinic, many cats are scared cats. If I hadn’t paid attention to his blinking and felt that it meant something, I might never have brought him home and learned the truth about him.

Lesson learned: I’ve learned quite a few from him, but the biggie is to watch for small, subtle signs of communication. That takes patience and time–something in short supply in busy shelters and clinics with overworked staff and volunteers.

If you sign up to read to cats at a shelter, you can be the eyes watching the cats for signs of communication!

For a little visit with Theo, here is a video of him learning his new activity. His mom found a free treadmill on the Next Door app (love that app!):

Hugs and prayers for all those affected by Hurricane Harvey. The devastation and flooding is horrific. My heart goes out to all those people and the animals, as well.

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Filed under Cats and Other Animals, Essay, Nonfiction, Writing

What Happened to the Cat Who Came to Visit?

A couple of weeks ago I told you the story of the cat who came to visit our yard and how we trapped him so he wouldn’t get eaten by a local predator. I had him neutered and took him to the no-kill shelter where Perry was put into the ISO room until he could be vaccinated and microchipped.

Although the vet and vet techs that did the surgery on Perry realized he was not feral because he was affectionate and even let them handle his family jewels (before the big heist), once he got put into that tiny cage in that little room right next to the big dog room (with their loud chorus of barking) he became withdrawn and very unhappy with humans.

The shelter began to wonder if somebody had made a mistake or even lied about Perry being a stray, but domesticated cat. Maybe he really was feral and, if so, what would the shelter that is designed for putting friendly cats in together until they get adopted into loving homes do with him?

I talked to the wonderful organization Alley Cat Allies that works to better the plight of feral cats and to the spay and neuter clinic that had done Perry’s surgery. It seemed clear to anybody not witnessing him at the shelter that he was not feral. I’ve gone to the shelter every day, but only for a short period of time, to read to him and (don’t tell anyone, please) sing to him. 

Perry’s favorite book

He seems to like the “Riddle Song” and “Billy Boy,” two of my specialties. I put an extra stanza in the latter that always seemed missing from the original. I am careful to show him the illustrations in the picture books and notice that his eyes track the images as if he is really examining them. I find that interesting . . . .

Using a soothing, but pleasantly expressive voice while reading to cats and dogs is very effective with them. It doesn’t get done often enough because of time constraints. Consider reading to shelter animals near you or bring children who are early readers so they can practice their reading skills out on the very nonjudgmental animals. In the Curious George book, Mr. Herb gets angry with George, but I am careful not to show that in my voice to Perry who can’t handle that kind of emotion right now.

The techs and volunteers couldn’t get Perry out of the tiny cage in ISO to move him to a big 3 story cage in the roaming room so that he could have better accommodations and get to know other cats and humans, too, and we don’t have a “cat den,” where a frightened cat goes to hide and the “door” can be shut so you can move him. But finally our cat volunteer and staff member ROCKSTAR Judy maneuvered him into a kennel and moved him to the new cage in the big room. I didn’t get involved in this for two reasons. One is that I want to be a safe person for him, one he doesn’t associate with grabbing and other mean shenanigans. The other reason is my primary lymphedema. Cat bites and scratches can be very dangerous for someone with lymphedema, so I am always aware when working and playing with cats that are not my own (and even my own).

Yesterday afternoon I was heartened that Perry was no longer in his cave. He was sitting in his litter box (hahaha) on the bottom level of the cage. I had put a skirt of towels around the bottom, so maybe that was why. I assume he was in the litter box rather than the soft bed next to it because that bed might be too soft compared with what he is used to outside. I opened the skirt in front and sat on the floor to read to him. Another new cat, Oreo (a very friendly guy), crawled into my lap and stuck his nose in the book. Although I used the book as a little shield between the two cats so Perry wouldn’t get spooked, Perry was quite good at Oreo being so close and even meowed once at him. He also meowed at me and gave me eye blinks, both good signs that he is thawing.

I don’t yet know Oreo’s story, but he and another cat share a cage (that he happened to be out of at the time) and both wear lime green collars. That makes me guess somebody turned them into the shelter because they couldn’t keep them any longer. 😦 New cats generally stay in cages inside the roaming room until they are used to the room and the other cats. Because the two cats are together and are wearing collars, they didn’t live outside like Perry did so they are more social.

Please send good thoughts Perry’s way that he loses his fear (terror) and begins to show his affectionate nature so that he can work his way toward the perfect home for him.

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With my son’s wedding coming up and other family matters, the only thing I am able to handle right now in addition to work is trying to do a little promotional stuff for Kin Types. Finishing Line Press is very good about providing a sample promo packet, along with sample press releases and the likes, but it all takes TIME, a phantom-like wisp that I have been chasing but not catching for a few weeks now. So although a few ideas for writing have crossed my mind (and disappeared into the horizon) I definitely

#amnotwriting

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Filed under Cats and Other Animals, Nonfiction, Writing

When a Cat Comes to Visit

Last week was busier than usual. Among a long list of other things (that may or may not include termites and breast cyst colonies–both those suckers travel in packs), the gardener and I trapped a cat that was hanging out in our backyard. I think strays and ferals see our cats through the windows and decide our yard makes a safe place to set up camp.

This one would come sit tall and proud on our pony wall and wait for his dinner. Yes, we had to give him dinners because underneath his long fur he was quite skinny. Besides, dinner is how you trap a cat.

Have you ever seen a cat trap?

They are scary looking, but when you cover it with a blanket, the cat can’t really see how scary it is. He only knows there is good food inside that he doesn’t have to rassle (wrestle for you grammar nazis) to eat.

We didn’t know if this cat was stray or feral. A stray cat will make a good house cat once he gets acclimated. A feral cat probably will not, although you have to take it on a case by case basis. This cat would look at us in the yard, which is unusual for a feral, plus we do not have a feral colony anywhere near. In fact, there are no cats outdoors as a general rule. That is because we have a pack of German Shepherd-sized coyotes and a large bobcat. People who try to have “outdoor cats” in our neighborhood end up inadvertently killing them. In fact, I contacted people through “Next Door,” in the adjacent neighborhoods, and they spoke of the zero cat population and how a Maltese was severely injured by the coyotes.

OUR HUGE BOBCAT

We didn’t know if the cat was male or female, but I was calling it HE and HIM. I had an instinct, but didn’t know if I was right.

After days of luring the cat farther and farther into the trap, we were ready to catch him. That meant that the gardener needed to “set” the trap as he was the one who got the instructions from a friend we borrowed the trap from. It had been a few years since we used a trap. He was busy with stuff and couldn’t be rushed, and I was worried Mr/Ms Stray/Feral would come for dinner too soon. He did. When we came out to set the trap, he was sitting there so proud and so skinny on the wall around our fountain. He watched us very carefully as I put the food all the way to the back and the gardener set the springs. Then we went inside to see what would happen. I worried he would be annoyed and avoid the trap because he saw the trap without a blanket on it and saw it being set.

At first that was true. I watched between the drape and the window frame. He circled the trap, trying to get to the food without entering the open end. Then he left.

Durn it all, I said to the gardener. You should have come out to do it earlier. Only I didn’t say durn.

I was nervous he would get killed before we could catch him. And I was a little anxious that I already had scheduled an appointment for him next day at the spay/neuter clinic. I didn’t choose them for the lower price only, but because they are used to handling feral cats. If he was feral, he would need that expertise. The receptionist asked me if I’d named the cat. I had not even thought to, but after that two names came to me: Perry for a boy and Polly for a girl.

Five minutes later darkness descended on the backyard. I couldn’t really make out the door of the trap. I asked the gardener to come look. He said it was sprung.

So I turned on the porch light and went out to see. Our little gray and white visitor was huddled up miserably inside the trap. The food was untouched.

In the garage I had put a thick blanket on the floor for warmth and then covered that with a Chux pad for potty needs, so I placed the trap there for the night. The spay/neuter clinic would open at 7AM, and the kitty would have to be in the cage all night. I knocked the food out of the cage so he would have an empty stomach for neutering the next day. Although I’d been up all night just a couple nights before (ER visit for the gardener for a kidney stone–I told you we had a lot going on), I got up early to drive “clear across town,” which means a long way through rush hour city traffic.

I’ll be darned if they didn’t do his surgery until after 4PM! Poor thing had to wait in that trap without food or water all that time. And I was so impatient because I wanted to know:

  1. Boy or girl?
  2. Feral or stray?
  3. Feline leukemia negative . . . or not?

PERRY turned out to be stray and negative for feline leukemia. Good news for him! So I brought him over to our shelter fresh off the operating table. What nobody warned me was that some cats act like maniacs while under the effects of the anesthesia. He threw himself against the walls of the cage. It was frightening because I thought he might hurt himself–and it sure seemed a different story than how lovely he was to the vet and vet techs before his surgery. That night in his cage in the isolation room at the shelter, he tipped over his litter box and got it all over, spilled his water all over, and didn’t pee or poo at all. However, he did eat all the kibble that was left for him.

Worried about him, I ran over there first thing the next morning and cleaned and reset up his cage and amenities and gave him a little canned food. He was calm, but scared.

Perry on the bed of the iso cage–the cage is much taller, but it’s underneath the bed

Please send vibes or pray for him, however you’re inclined, that he settles in, loses his fear, and finds a loving home!

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I hope that Kin Types will be ready for pre-order soon. Waiting to hear from the publisher about that.

I’m participating in the Great Poetry Exchange along with 65 other poets with books. In the month of March I am sending Doll God to one poet and receiving a book from a different poet. I can’t wait!

 

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Filed under Cats and Other Animals, Doll God, Nonfiction, Poetry, Poetry book, Poetry Collection, Publishing, Writing