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Socializing a feral: The story of Lucky

post #1 of 369
Thread Starter 
A friend of mine from another state recently sent me this e-mail. I am not real experienced with ferals, although we do have a few roaming about our farm, but I know that some of you would have much better advice to give her on this, so I am going to copy and paste her e-mail here, and then give her the link to this thread so she can come and check to see what advice you all have given. Thanks! I really appreciate this!!! Here is the letter:

Hi Deb,

Well, I know you're the cat expert and I also have a 17 year old stray cat that we rescued (she chose us by walking into my inlaws home on Halloween 17 years ago, while my father-in-law was fixing the door) and she's very happy here with us. She was about 5 months old when she found us. We had posted signs and put an ad in the newspaper to make sure no one had lost her - but seeing as she was infested with fleas, made us believe she most likely was out for quite a while.

Anyhow, some kittens had been born behind our garage under my husbands old fishing boat. It's a fairly large solid 8 foot fenced in area (ie - "Safe"). Anyhow, that was earlier this year. Now, one of the kittens (approx. 4-5 months old? maybe) is still living back there and has an opening in the bottom corner of the fence to get through back and forth. I've been putting cat food out for her/him and water (just because we're animal lovers and we want her to be healthy and not starving). My question is - how in the world am I to gain her/his trust before it gets too darn cold outside? Everytime I get too close (about 5 feet away), it runs. It doesn't ever go too far, but it's obviously a survivor and doesn't trust anyone at this point (smart kitty). Give me your thoughts and feedback on this. I actually bought some cat food today for it. (See our present kitty being 17 and all is on that special K/D food for kidney health). I know we've all been told not to feed animals, but isn't that because people end up stopping feeding them after a while. We intend to keep feeding this kitten until we hopefully gain enough trust and see if it will want to become an inside cat.

Gosh, I really get long winded. I was going to just give you a call, but I know you're really busy with the new baby and all. Just when you get some free time, give me some of your ideas on what we could do to speed along the process. We'd hate to use a live trap as I don't want to freak the poor little thing out, but I don't want it to freeze to death as winter approaches either.

Thanks for any help,
post #2 of 369
What an Angel!

Hissy's the real expert here, but she's tied up with the Craft Show this weekend. Here are my thoughts.

I've only been involved with cats really since June. A litter of ferals turned up near us. I came to this site and as a result started feeding the whole family right away. The kittens were probably two months old when we started feeding them. It took about two/three weeks before two of the kittens wouldn't run away when we came out with food, and let us pet them while eating. It has taken until several weeks ago to be able to pick up and pet two others. One still hisses, arches his back and runs. We've had all but one neutered now. We waited until the kittens were about 3 1/2 months old to have Mom spayed. She has pretty much disappeared since.

It sounds like you've been feeding kitty for a while. If you want to wait for the trust, here are shelter suggestions. Is the boat upside down? Then all you'd really have to do is buy an old palate from Home Depot or something, put it under the boat with a pile of straw on it. Kitten can snuggle in, and it won't get soaked in rain if slightly elevated. If fattened up enough, it would actually keep him warm enough to probably survive Winter - but you definitely want him in before then! So...

Here are several links within the forum you will probably find very useful, both for integrating the little fella, getting him used to you, and shelter/feeding (while still outside) suggestions:




Since you want to adopt him, my guess is that Hissy would recommend trapping the little guy right away, spending time socializing him, and introducing him into the household. I do suggest waiting for her input. Until then, the first thread link above has her great suggestions on getting him used to you. I'll find more "introduction" (to new home, your other cat and you) suggestions in the Behavior forum and post links here.

To trap him, your local Vet probably has a Have-a-Heart type trap. Ours let us borrow theirs. Actually we've got so many cats around here, they just let us keep it and call us when they want it! LOL! Some may make you leave a deposit until you return it.

I'll post another reply with trapping hints, because they don't exist in a concise format in this forum. I just ran a bunch of searches and checked. I'll copy and paste all the relevent helpful info into a new thread, and then provide a link.

This is a very lucky kitty! He may not know it yet, but it sure sounds like he is going to love his new kitty home!!!

Don't hesitate to register to become a member of The Cat Site! It's easy and free, and then you can ask away!!!!

Please keep us posted! (Hope you don't mind, Debby!)

post #3 of 369
Here is a link to hints on trapping:


Again - good luck!

post #4 of 369
First, I'd like to thank Debby VERY much for getting on this problem as quickly as she did! We've currently moved the food dish and water dish closer to our back door and I got a couple of pictures of her/him. My husband wants to trap her in a live trap (as I believe LDG mentioned above) and I was worried that this might traumatize her/him and cause distrust of humans???

Another concern I have - obviously being a feral cat, it has not been vaccinated against anything - so we'd have to get her to our vet ASAP before bringing into our home so our present pets don't get infected. If the cat bites or scratches us - what then??? Provided it is infected with anything?! I'm sure she probably has worms and fleas and the normal outdoor type things, but this can be fixed as soon as I can get the poor thing to the vet.

LDG - Thank you for your prompt response as well! I'm looking forward to checking out the links you posted and appreciate all your advice!

I'll definitely keep you all posted on what transpires.

Oh, btw, the boat is overturned (upside down) so if we can't gain the cats trust - we will put hay under it as LDG advised and keep the poor thing warm. We haven't seen the mother cat in a very long time. I think it's funny how this cat knows just where to go when she gets frightened. I'm glad we have a place for refuge!

Thanks again!

post #5 of 369
Here she/he is.
post #6 of 369
Sandi, Hissy is the real expert here, and I'd even consider sending her a Private Message if I were you, althout she'll probably check in here anyway despite being real busy with a Craft Show and meowhoo.com right now. The problem you have is there are two choices.

1) Trap kitty, get it to vet, and bring it inside. Quick.
2) Gain kitties trust, get it to vet, and bring it inside. Takes time.

BTW, what is it's name? Have you gotten close enough to tell if it is a boy or girl?

Being that it is five months or so old, you should get him neutered right away anyway.

My thoughts. If you have a room where you can keep kitty separate and spend short periods of time with him/her, you should consider trapping. Yes, it will be traumatic. But kitty will get over it with love and care.

Here's what I would do. Can you contact your Vet in advance and ask if it would be possible to bring him in for an "emergency check up," no set time, when you trap him? Our Vets here are open until 9:00pm, so when we trap kitties at dinner time, we can rush over for de-worming, a check-up, shots, etc. and they'll always squeeze us in. To trap scaredy-cats we leave food in there at night. We check the trap. When we get one, we open the door to put in water. We cover most of the trap but make sure there is air circulation, and then we take the kitty in to see the Vet in the morning. Other than the feral mommy which hasn't come back after being released, none of them have been too upset for long. Of course, not being in the trap overnight is best, but I don't know what his feeding schedule vs. your vet's hours is.

This way you have no contact with the kitty before he's been checked out, had his shots, etc. If there's any way you can manage to trap the little guy in the morning, that's even better - any way he could be neutered same day? If he's not sick, just fleas and worms, you can get it all done at once.

When you bring him home that evening, you release him into a dark, closed room. Make sure it is safe, and that there are places for him to "hide," and, obviously, that there are food and water there. While he's at the Vet, get a sweatshirt of yours and hubby's that you can afford to get rid of. Both of you work out, run and work up a BIG sweat. Leave these in the room with him. He will get used to your smell. Of course, make sure he's got food, water and a litterbox. Put dirt in the litterbox.

If he's anything like our little guys, he will cower, hunched up scared, on the dirt in the litterbox. There is a long discussion (and I mena LONG), about how to do this here:

He will be scared. It will be more traumatic to trap him than to gradually earn his trust. But he's much safer in your home than outside! He'll be much happier without fleas and neutered than not!

You can spend time in the room, reading to him. Leave a radio playing with soft classical music in there. Get a loud tick-tock wind up clock, and wrap it in a towel, and put it with your sweatshirts for a snugly place to sleep.

It'll take a few days (or more), but he'll warm up to you! Most importantly, do not let the two cats meet each other until the little guy isn't scared of you. Socializing will take some time, and you'll have to operate on his schedule.

Of course, the other option is to let him stay outside and just give it time. Then you can just shut him in a crate, and take him to the vets.

But I'm leaning towards GO FOR IT!!!! He wants to live with you, he just doesn't know it yet!!!

post #7 of 369
Thanks Laurie,

Well, last night it rained and thundered terribly - and all I could think of was that cat. But she/he will have adequate shelter in back of the garage. Under the overturned boat (where they were born) and there are several other places to hide.

I must say, the little stinker is coming out more and more, though. She'll run if we get too close, but both my husband and I are talking to her/him softly saying it's okay and she's safe. We've been calling her Lucky as that will be a good name for a male or female. I believe it's a female as I didn't notice anything that males carry. I had a male cat way back when (the greatest cat ever, I might ad) so I have a bit of experience with that.

I think we are going to do the trapping method and get her into the vet right away. I'm even going to see if they can board her for a day or two so I can get the room ready for her. It's tough as we have other pets and the hedgehog is in one room, the dog roams all over, as does our 17 year old cat. But, we'll figure out a way!

It's so bizarre - we love her already (even hubby)!!! I'm feeling pretty positive about this, and my thinking is - the sooner we get her - the safer she'll end up being. Every night she's out there could be her last - due to predators, cars, etc. We're planning on doing it during the day and I'm calling our vet tomorrow to see about the "quick - emergency type visit" without an appt. We've been going to him forever - so maybe he'll make room for us in that situation. If not, there is another vet close to our home and we'll go there. I'll definitely keep you updated.

Again - Thanks Laurie, your enthusiasm for this matches mine, and if possible, helps me feel more positive about this whole thing. I really appreciate it!

post #8 of 369
Thread Starter 
Sandi! I'm so glad to see you registered here and that you have gotten such good information!! Thanks Laurie! And thanks for looking up all those links!!!!!!!!

That is a very beautiful cat, Sandi, I am anxious to see how it goes with taming him/her, and I think Lucky is a very appropriate name!

Keep us posted!!!
post #9 of 369
Oh Sandi - YEAH!!!!

I expect your Vet would be willing to take her in and spay her as soon as they can (next day even, if not same day). She IS much better off, especially if you are in an area where there is a danger from cars. She will have a loving home, even though it may take a little while for everyone to adjust. When we had Rocki spayed, because she was an outdoor kitty, she stayed at the Vet's for three days and we had them use dissolving stitches so we wouldn't have to bring her back to have the stitches out. Consider asking for dissolving stitches, so you don't have to scare little Lucky again!

I'm so happy for her and for you. YIPPPPEEEEE!!!!!!!! :tounge2:

Keep us posted! They can be hard to trap! Good Luck!
post #10 of 369
oooo - one quick clarification. When I said Lucky should stay in a dark room, I didn't mean completely dark, even at night. Use a nitelite for her! Thanks!!!!

post #11 of 369
Sandi! Bless you for caring for this little bundle. Her pic is beautiful, I might add! Trapping her will be traumatic for her, but cover the cage with towels, etc after you get her in there - the darkness with give her some security.

I have trapped 10 feral kittens when they were about 4 months old - and their momma finally! She had her last litter of 5 here inside in the kitty condo she was then occupying. (that is what I lured her into {with chicken} and trapped her in)

Your little Lucky will be scared and will not like you very much for a while. BUT - the day will come when she will sneak up behind you and give you a kitty head butt. It is all worthwhile!
Let us know how you make out!
post #12 of 369
I called our Humane Society today to get some more info on all of this live-trapping, etc. Anyhow...the gal there said that now that this cat is 4-5 months old - it will most likely never be a cuddly, overly friendly cat. Most likely, she'll just be one to hide all the time. True??? The woman was really a large help, but also stated that we might decide to keep her as an outdoor cat and they would spay her and tag her ear so people would know she's being taken care of. I would prefer to welcome her into our home, however.

Today, Lucky actually allowed me to be about 4 feet away while she ate - although I could tell she was a little unsure of my presence there. Funny, I put her food out around 2 PM, and 5 minutes after - here comes Lucky. So, it almost appears she is depending on us for substinence.

I know I can't hurry this process along, but ohhhh, I so want her safe inside.

post #13 of 369
Sounds like Lucky is a lucky little cat indeed! Is she a torti? It looks like that in the pic. If she is, then she is almost definitely a "she." Has to do with genetics (which I don't really understand), except that for that color combination of torti or calico, there has to be XX chromosomes. (Added benefit of hanging out here - you can sound so smart even if you are just saying what you learned here!) If Lucky is a she, then you have definitely made the right decision to take her in right away. The last thing you want is for her to get pregnant that young when she has her first heat.

Good luck, and keep us updated on little Lucky!

Keep us
post #14 of 369
Just read your post, and I think that lady at the Humane Society is full of it! Just ask Hissy, she can tell you of wild cats (older than Lucky when she got them) that eventually turned into some of her biggest lover cats. It is a possibility that she won't be a big lovey-dovey kitty. My Ophelia, that we got when she was about 5-6 weeks old, isn't all that lovey, except on her terms and generally with Daddy. Age has much less to do with it than personality. She's scared right now, and very cautious. It will take a while, maybe a very long while, for her to completely trust you, but she will. She may not be a lap cat, but she will show you how much she will love you in her own way.

One other thing, rescue cats generally have a very, very strong bond with their human. It is a relationship like no other, very special.
post #15 of 369
Thread Starter 
I agree with Heidi, I don't think age really has anything to do with how loving she can become, I think it just depends on the cat. I know Hissy will have better information on that than I do, she has rescued ferals for years, so I am going to PM her and ask her to help you out with this!

Keep us posted on how it goes!!!!!!
post #16 of 369
First off- thank you for caring about this terrified critter. Sorry I wasn't around but you are getting excellent advice from the members of the board, and not such great advice from the Humane Society lady. But that is not her fault, she probably has your best intentions at heart, she just doesn't work with ferals or understand them.

I have been successfully socializing ferals for a long time now. Someone asked me once, how many I have socialized and re-homed, and quite frankly I lost count at 500 years back. So I quit counting. I have only had two failures in the 10 plus years I have been doing this, and both of these cats were quite old and had been so harshly treated by people they had lost all trust in anything that walked upright. Both cats eventually were put to sleep because of aggression issues.

Your kitty is not aggressive- he she, I will just refer to it as a she for ease of talking about her, is just terrified. She has been on her own for so long now, and more than likely she has been the brunt of some sort of abuse from someone, and that is why she is so afraid and she runs.

You can socialize and love these ferals no matter what their age, but what you have to learn is to reset your internal kitty clock (and what I mean by that is you have to stop thinking of this kitty as a lap kitty, purr bug, wants to lap milk from your hand) and approach her on her terms, and work with her slowly once she is captured. You have to allow for her to be afraid, you can't lose your patience with her and you can't rush her to "conform" to what you want her to be. If you can do all that, then you have what it takes to help this cat.

There is an article i wrote for TCS on the care page on the site called Caring for Ferals and once you trap her, if you use this as your guideline, you will have a lot easier time of it.

You are welcome to email me anytime with questions, I haven't been on the boards as much as I should, but there are capable people here who can also help you and who are helping you now. But you can reach me at maryanne@thecatsite.com if you need me.

Again, thank you for caring, as there are so many people who do not- board members not included in that statement!
post #17 of 369
Thank you, thank you, thank you!!! You guys are the absolute greatest. I will definitely keep you all updated on what's happening with this kitty. I'm not really sure if she's a torti or not Just that to us she is beautiful! I'm just glad that my hubby is as excited about her as I am. We do think she's a girl, but it isn't a positive at this point. We're willing to take whatever amount of time necessary for her to "adjust" to us once we get her (hopefully sometime this week or upcoming weekend). It's exciting, yet scary...I think a lot of you know exactly the feeling we have at this point.

I thank you in advance Deb, for contacting Hissy, who I haven't had the pleasure of meeting yet due to her busy schedule (which is very understandable). I look forward to her thoughts and advice on this matter as well.

Here, because I've always had a cat or two, I figured I knew pretty much about cats and along comes a feral one I know zilch about.

Again - Thank You to the greatest cat people around!!!

post #18 of 369
Glad to meet you, Hissy. Thanks for your information. I plan to check out that article about trapping ASAP. Thank you! I've heard many great things about you and was happy to hear from you and I also want to express my gratitude to all who've helped this far. I am so glad this site is here to educate people who need help or who have been misinformed about kittens and cats in the past.
post #19 of 369
Nice to "meet" you as well, and yes your little girl is a tortie dark- and quite striking at that. Here is the link to my article, and again if you have any questions, this is the board to find the answers on! Good luck!

Handling Feral Cats
post #20 of 369
Here she is again
post #21 of 369

Thank you - the article is very informative.

On the one hand, I'm ready for the challenge - and on the other I'm scared to death. I think because we have the other animals and I don't want to freak them out it makes me more nervous than I would be otherwise.

We will definitely figure something out (to her benefit, of course). Isn't it strange - we already consider her "ours" and we haven't even captured her yet. Isn't it also funny that she's already wormed her way into our hearts???

Oh, boy...but with friends like all of you - how can we fail?

post #22 of 369
Sandi, she will love you and your family. She'll be scared at first, but once you get that purr motor going, it'll be all over for everyone. She may always run and hide when someone walks into a room. Lazlo got over that after about two weeks. Now he runs to the door when he hears us unlocking it!!!

I'm so glad others have found there way here - now you know you've got lots of support. Everything will work out just fine. You don't need to be nervous, what you're doing for Lucky is best for everyone!


post #23 of 369
Thread Starter 
Keep us posted Sandi! I'm really excited to hear how it goes!!! Good luck!!! She sure is a pretty cat!!
post #24 of 369
Sounds like Lucky is a lucky little cat indeed! Is she a torti? It looks like that in the pic. If she is, then she is almost definitely a "she." Has to do with genetics (which I don't really understand), except that for that color combination of torti or calico, there has to be XX chromosomes.
OK, I just had to put my degree to use here...

Coat color genes are on the X chromosome. Each X can carry a different color gene. In female mammals, one of the two X chromosomes is inactivated in each cell of the body (with a few exceptions). This process is random, so it's a 50/50 chance as to which color is expressed. That's why torties have different color patches.

Males are generally XY. They only have one X, and therefore only one coat color gene. Rarely, males are XXY. These males can be tortie, but they are sterile (in general, any male mammal that is XXY has extremely low fertility or is entirely sterile).
post #25 of 369
Sandi - I just want you to know that ALL of Goldie's feral babies (captured at about 4 months of age) have turned out to be the most loving kitties to everyone who has the joy of owning them. Your little girl will be just fine
post #26 of 369
Well, wish us luck. We're going to be setting the live trap and hoping the kitty will go for the food and be on her way to a happy, healthy life. Today was funny as the cat was sitting in our driveway looking into the window on our enclosed porch (screen room, florida room - whatever you want to call it)...anyhow...my cat was laying on the table - so this stray was probably watching me petting our cat. I was telling the stray - see, this could be the life you could have. She still is very cautious, but my husband doesn't think she is really scared as she sticks around pretty good. I thought Lucky was a cool name, but after seeing her day after day - and her brown, cream and orange coloring - I wonder if the name Autumn might not suit her better. We'll see. First things first - we've got to get her into that live trap and then it's off to the vet to have her spayed, and checked for parasites, feline leukemia (sp?), and have her shots and all that fun stuff. I know you are all pulling for us and I will let you know how it all works out ASAP. Please - send your good vibes our way so this works out quickly - it's rainy and cold here today and I worry about her out there every night.

Talk to you all tomorrow (possibly with good news???). Positive thinking.


PS - Thanks for the info on the chromosomes and all - it was very interesting to know. I will have more questions about that kind of thing in the near future - I'm sure.
post #27 of 369
Thread Starter 
Oh I love the name Autumn!!! Especially if it is indeed a female! I am saying a prayer that she will be trapped very soon and that it all goes well! Can't wait to hear!!! Good luck!!
post #28 of 369
I'm just catching up - hope all went well, OR, Good Luck! Either way, you, hubby and kitty are in my prayers.

BTW, I love the name Autumn, but it sounds so sedate! You can always give it a few days and see which one fits her personality better. She sure is lucky to have found such a caring family.

post #29 of 369
Okay - here's what happened. All these days we've been putting food out for the cat and leaving the live trap about a foot or so away from the dish so she would be used to it being around. This AM - very early my husband set up the trap and put the food in it. I think the only mistake he may have made was changing the type of dish we've been feeding her from. He used a small Country Crock container instead of the lower Glad container. She did go into the live trap around 11 AM, but didn't get in all the way to trigger the thing. She just sniffed the tip of the country crock container. So, I went out and put her food back into a gladware container and am hoping she will try again. We were SO CLOSE!!! She was extremely cautious about going into the trap, but since it didn't snap closed or anything - I'm hoping she'll think it's safe to go into to eat. It's pretty chilly outside today. I think they're calling for rain tomorrow - so I'd like to get this done with.

I did speak with another person from the Humane Society yesterday and will post about that at another time. I've got to get going for now.

post #30 of 369
Thread Starter 
Wel that's good that she went in there!!! Even if it was just part of the way, at least she may feel like it is probably safe to go in and eat, and I'm sure when she gets hungry enough, she will go in to eat! I hope that happens very soon!!!!!
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