Challenges of a Semi-Tame Cat

What do you do when you have a semi-tame cat and you have to move to a new place?

As I wrote about in Behind The Scenes, when I first met Night she was so terrified of humans that she would run across the street to hide when I put food out for the other stray and feral cats.   She has come a long way since then but I still cannot pick her up even though she has now lived indoors with us for almost three years.   (She has learned to love her indoor comforts though.)

Formerly feral cat, Night, has learned to love the comforts of being an indoor cat
Once completely Feral, Night has learned to enjoy the comforts
of being an indoor cat.  Here she is sleeping on a bed I set up for
her in my home office so she can relax in comfort and be near me.

So how do we deal with having a cat that we cannot pick up.    It does mean we cannot take her to the vet for regular checkups and annual shots.  Since she is 100% an indoor cat now, we are less worried about her shots than we would be if she was allowed outdoors.

Would we like to take her to the vet for annual visits?  Of course, but

We originally caught her in a Havahart trap and got her to the vet that way to be tested for FeLV (she is positive, as is Johnny), spayed and get her shots. Unfortunately there were some complications from the spay and she had to go back again.  That was a disaster as far as both getting her into the carrier and what happened at the vet's office when she panicked and escaped.    When we finally got her caught and back home, she was so terrified that she literally would not leave my side for six hours.  She stayed cuddled next to me on the bed and would not move at all.    I have not tried to take her back to the vet since then.

Her terror of being put into a cat carrier again after that presented a major problem when Jamey ended up permanently confined to a wheelchair and we had to move to a wheelchair accessible apartment two years ago.   The one thing I was worried about through all of the move preparations was how we were going to get Night from the old apartment to the new one.

So how did we handle the move?

I started preparing her by putting out a carrier (with the door propped open and bedding in it) a couple of months in advance.   Thankfully, she began to use it as a bed on her own.    The day the move was scheduled, I kept a close eye on her starting at 4 AM.   Folks were not coming over to help us move until the afternoon but when I found her in the carrier at 5 AM, I swiftly shut her in, woke Jamey up and told him "we are moving now."  

Johnny was rounded up and put in her carrier and both cats were transported to the new apartment and released from their carriers into one of the bathrooms (set up in advance with a cat litter, food and water and bedding).    They had to be locked in there all day as we could not risk them getting out when people were coming in and out but at least we knew Night was safely there.

Where we are now

Since then, I have continued very, very slowly trying to get Night used to the idea of being picked up. I began by trying to move her about half an inch while petting her, once every few weeks or so and then stopping  as soon as she started to panic.  When I began, she would panic and run off as soon as she felt my hands go around her to try to move her.  When that happened, I made sure to just stay where I was talking quietly to her but not going near her so she did not feel threatened.

Eventually, we reached the point we are at now where I can move her up to an inch or so before she starts to get upset.  Note that now she gets upset instead of going into full "flight or fight" panic mode.   That in itself is major progress in her case.

If I stop immediately as soon as she starts to get upset, she will usually calm down and I can resume petting her without her running away.    I still have a long way to go with her but given the panicked fit she used to have if I even put my hands around her body, let alone tried to move her even a fraction of an inch, this is progress and I am glad for it.

Another thing I have been working on with her is "squishing her."

I cannot do with her what this vet does with the cats but what I have been slowly getting her used to is having my body wrapped around her.   I sit next to her and pet her and then when she is happily purring, I slowly lean forward, with one arm on each side of her and lightly rest my upper body against her back.   This was another long slow process as when I began to do it, she felt trapped and started to panic. Now she has reached the point where she seems to find it comforting as long as I don't do it for too long and don't cover her head with my body.

This is a step towards being able to someday be able to pick her up and hold her against my body without her panicking.    Getting her from there to where I can put her in a carrier without her trying to tear me and anyone else within reach to shreds is going to be another long slow process beyond that but with enough patience and love, I do believe a day will come when that goal will be achievable.

Each formerly feral cat is different.  Some can be handled comfortably in a much shorter timeframe while there are some who will never learn to trust any human enough.   The key to working with any formerly feral cat is the same though, a lot of love and patience and giving them as much time as they need.   Watch their body language carefully and don't push them beyond what they are comfortable with and no matter what happens, do not show anger at them.    You are working to gain their trust.  Consistency is the key.   We do regular posts on this topic in our We Love Rescue Cats Facebook group too.

In the meantime, I will continue to enjoy watching this once terrified cat be so comfortable now that she regularly takes over my bed and pillows.

Formerly feral cat Night has learned to enjoy luxury
Formerly feral cat, Night, has learned to enjoy luxury.  
Here she is laying on one pillow while resting against a second.

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