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.