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Pumpkin and benign neglect


This winter we rescued and inherited a feral kitty, with the help of a local rescue group that has a Trap-Neuter-Release program. They trapped, neutered and were about to release, as he was deemed to be too feral and hostile to be sheltered. This may sound cruel, but it’s not. Many feral cats do not take well to shelter life, take forever to socialize, and are difficult to adopt out, making their stay at shelters much longer than most, and stressful to boot.  Feral cats outdoors often form colonies, often assisted by volunteer caretakers, that allow them to live out their natural lives without the trauma of forced ‘rehabilitation’. 





However, we were in the thick of a brutally cold winter, and as far as we could tell Kitty had no colony and his life on the streets was no picnic. I don’t know how many times we watched him limp to the front door into his heated box suspending his injured or frostbitten paw, or show up with an eye swollen with a gash, or watch him try to gulp down food before it froze. (In the end we worked out a system where he’d get his meals in small chunks).  He was cautious, colorful and notoriously hard to trap. Until we did, and took his terrified self over to the vet.





Upon hearing he’d be back on the streets, we promptly asked that he be returned to us, and set him up in the guest room in our basement. For about three days we didn’t see hair nor hide of him. He stuffed himself flat under the pillow on the bed, and you’d never ever know there was a cat there.  Eventually he emerged and stayed on the windowsill of the room, hissing furiously when we brought him food and water.  But we had an unusually busy winter – father was rescued out of Libya, brother had an unfortunate appendectomy, grandmother passed away, exams had to be written, new jobs found, etc. etc. and we didn’t have a lot of energy to dedicate to Kitty.


So we pretty much left him to his own devices. After about a month or so in isolation in the room, I began leaving his door open for a few minutes each night so our curious and hostile resident cats could meet him.  Our ‘special’ champion and patron saint of weirdoes was the friendliest, his sister cautious from a distance, and Alfie surprised us all by hating him on sight. The reason I was surprised is because she too is a feral, one that took a couple of years to get socialized, and I thought she’d have some sympathy and understanding for his plight.  Evidently she did not, and took to chasing him back to his room if he ever ventured a paw outside it.





Eventually the door was left open longer and longer, Pumpkin went exploring further and further, and finally he wormed his way into the household with virtually no help from us. His early explorations were fraught with peril – he’d slink out one paw at a time, ears flattened, ready to bolt back to his room at the first sign of trouble, squealing with fear and often being chased back by Alfie, who’d whistle like an angry teakettle. But Pumpkin was nothing if not persistent, and Alfie must have gotten tired of playing ‘vigilant guardian’, because now he prowls the house freely, often naps on furniture, eats pretty close to everyone, and lets us walk within two feet of him provided we are not looking at him.


This picture was taken last week, when for the first time he walked into our bedroom while I was reading in bed, and plopped down for a spell.  I betcha it won’t be long until we’re kicking him off the bed at bedtime. 🙂 And that’s my story of how we pretty much ignored all socialization advice and let the cats do their own thing. And how I’m becoming a crazy cat lady one rescue at a time.





P.S. As to why we called him Pumpkin – once upon a time this winter, we were leaving our house and got onto a busy highway which is two blocks away. We live right on the edge of town, and this highway while close to our house, is still pretty rural looking. As soon as we turned the corner, we saw a curl of orange on the side of the ditch and immediately assumed the worst – that Kitty had met a car. This is not improbable, as I’ve seen him almost get smoked by buses and cars more than once while navigating the icy neighborhood streets.  We circled back for a closer look, but the curled shape looked too familiar against the white snow. We practically had to get out of the car to see it for what it was – a rotting, squished pumpkin.




10 comments to Pumpkin and benign neglect

  • Awwww…I love this story. I swear I felt my heart grow bigger as it swelled up in my chest from sheer happiness. This is a lovely story, and it reminds me that “you should never give up that easily”. I think Pumpkin (and I love that name!) is going to be fine. That last photo is proof enough that he is working his way closer and closer to you. It’s on his own time, and in his own way, but he’s getting there. My little Mocha was a little feral when we brought her home (jumped at her own shadow), and with patience, love and encouragement, she’s coming along wonderfully. We just let her be, the same way you’re doing with Pumpkin, and she’s finding her way to that comfortable, safe place she needs to be.

    Thank you for the update about this sweet cat. I’m so happy he has found a loving home with you. You are good people 🙂

  • admin

    Awww Martha, that’s the sweetest comment ever. We literally did nothing with Pumpkin – like I said this winter was very busy and kind of stressful, and we had very little to give barring food and a warm house. He did everything himself, and his persistence was wonderful – undaunted by fear and hostile housemate he just stuck it out. I throw kind words in his direction and feed him, that’s all. Leaving them be seems to be a good way to let them do stuff at their own pace.

  • JeannieD

    Yay for Pumpkin and persistence! That last picture is such an encouragement. His ears aren’t flattened and he looks at rest and at peace. He’s beautiful and I’m thrilled for you both. Love you CRAZYCATLADYFRIEND!

  • admin

    I know! He looks good there, hey? All plopped down and relaxed. He is a beautiful cat indeed, and we’ll see how he does as time goes on. Love ya too!

  • You are such a nice person 🙂

  • admin

    I have my days. And then I have my OTHER days. 🙂

  • I really enjoyed the tale of Pumpkin. Your patience and love has paid off 🙂 So sad what so many animals must endure in their all too short lives. You are to be commended for bringing relief to even one of these creatures.

  • admin

    I think there are a ton of people doing their part for wee critters. I know most of the MEOW foundation staff are volunteers who log in hours that are insane helping cats all over town. They show a dedication that is truly astonishing. But if a cat shows up on our doorstep, and we feed it, and it keeps coming back cause it has no home – well I doubt anyone would not help if they could. I know I have friends who do the same in their area too, and well, we just do what we can. I do wish I could shoot negligent owners and people who don’t spay/neuter though. 🙂

  • Amanda

    I have a “Pumpkin” in my house named Mackie. Also orange, but a younger cat. It has been really hard to keep up the benign neglect, but it is starting to with him.

    When things get rough, or Mackie hits a plateau, I come to your blog to remind myself that it just takes time.

  • admin

    @Amanda – you’re an angel, hang in there. 🙂 Benign neglect is great – they’re always watchful and are waiting to see what you’ll do, or how close you’ll approach, and when you simply DON’T have time, they learn that your attention is not something to fear, and paradoxically get braver and braver. I also find it reaaaally helps that we have such quirky social cats – when Pumpkin sees them squawk with love when I come home and talk to them, he wants to get in on the action. Even though he’s too scared to be touched, he circles the cats like a shark rubbing against them, and all this is around my legs of course. So he’s on the periphery of the circle of love, but not quite there yet. 🙂 I don’t push him, he’ll get there. With Alfie it took almost two years, so no rush.

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