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Semi-Feral Kitty in Our Bathtub - A Soap Opera in Progress

post #1 of 9
Thread Starter 
We've been caring for a small colony of 4 feral cats in our backyard since late last summer. A momma cat showed up with three kittens on our patio deck in August and they melted our hearts almost instantaneously. Fortunately, I have a colleague who is active with the feral cat community in Washington, DC, and she was able to give me some excellent pointers on feral cat care and TNR. We discovered that our local humane society has an established TNR program that's provided to county residents free of charge, and we've been able to avail ourselves of the program for the momma cat (who we think is coming up on her 2nd birthday and is named Audrey because of her pure elegance like Audrey Hepburn) and her two little boys, Charcoal and Z. We've been unable to successfully trap the third kitty, Chocolate, and we've tried every trick in the book. We think that the siblings are currently just under a year old, based on the age estimates the humane society gave us when we brought the two males in for neutering back in October.

We were hoping Chocolate would turn out to be a boy since we had the other members of the colony taken care of, but, we received a confirmation that Chocolate is a she kitty a few weeks ago when she came into her first heat and a few male Toms who are not members of the colony paid her a visit. We're pretty sure that she's pregnant and that escalated the need to either get her to the humane society for spaying ASAP (and try to deal with the ethical issues of having the potential kittens destroyed) or bringing her inside to have the kittens. Out of all the cats in our small colony, Chocolate is the most social and trusting. She doesn't run when we come out onto the deck - often times she'll just stare at us to see what we're up to - and will also take treats out of our hands. She'll also put up with gentle petting, but, doesn't really seem to enjoy it. Thinking that she's probably more semi-feral than feral made us more game for the prospect of trying to socialize her inside.

Things took an interesting turn this weekend when the cat we believe to be Chocolate's father (who we named Harry, because he’s a long-haired cat and very shaggy) came looking for food. We can probably count on one hand the number of times we've seen him, but, he has such a striking resemblance to Chocolate, it seems that they have to be related somehow. On Sunday night, we set the trap for Chocolate and gussied it up a bit, hoping she'd have more interest, but, instead Harry walked right in. We decided to take him to the humane society on Monday morning for neutering, even though it wasn't our intention to trap him. Shortly after dropping him off at the humane society, we got a call informing us that he had tested positive for FIV, had a swollen leg and an enlarged kidney and that they were going to put him to sleep. After talking with the vet at the humane society, the vet we use to obtain medication for our colony, and my colleague in DC who has a bunch of experience with cats, the general consensus was that because Harry tested positive that there was a strong likelihood that Chocolate could test positive as well, and that we needed to bring her in from the outdoors and isolate her from all other cats. Now, rather than take Chocolate to the humane society to be spayed, in case she tests positive for FIV and they want to euthanize her, we'll instead be working with a vet who has agreed to do the spaying for another week or so (given our suspicions that she's about 3 1/2 weeks along in her pregnancy) and will give her back to us to live as an indoor cat regardless of her FIV status (there are no other cats inside the house). We really don't want her to have the litter if she turns out to be FIV positive as that could result in a bunch of sick kittens who will be very difficult to place into homes. Luckily, Audrey, Z & Charcoal will all be fine as they were vaccinated against FIV and FLV when they were brought in for spaying and neutering, but we do have a few interlopers that come around every once and a while and if Chocolate is FIV positive there's a chance she could transmit the disease to one of them.

So, on Monday night we prepared the bathroom that doesn't get used on a regular basis as Chocolate's new home. We scrubbed it from top to bottom and lined the tub with blankets and towels and put a mat over the tub so that it would provide some traction when she wants to go in and out. We also child proofed the room by putting covers into the electrical outlets and cutting the string on the mini-blinds. Yesterday afternoon I went out and got regular clay litter, a few toys that she can play with unsupervised and a carrier we can use to take her to the vet. We're planning on feeding her the regular Iams dry cat food that she was getting as an outdoor cat (with an occasional wet meal as a regular treat).

Last night, the big moment arrived. Since we knew the trap wasn't going to work, we got a large fishing net and sat on the deck with it until she was hungry enough to eat. We made a trail with wet tuna-flavored cat food that led up to my mom holding the net, and, as she got closer and closer, my mom slowly lowered the net over her until she was completely covered. Chocolate was so engrossed in eating the tuna, that she didn't notice that she was being trapped until it was too late. Then she started to fight. It was heart-breaking to watch, but, we really do have her best interests at heart. We were able to bring her inside without too much of a hassle and she was actually pretty docile and allowed my mom to unhook her from the net once we got her into the tub.

After we got her unhooked, we turned off the bathroom light (there's a small night-light on for her) and let her be. We did hear a little bit of thumping throughout the night and some noise with one of the towel racks, but, other than that, she seemed OK. The bathroom will be Chocolate's place exclusively except when my mom needs it to get ready for bed in the evening and ready for work in the morning. This morning, my mom went into the bathroom and Chocolate wasn't in the bathtub, but, rather sitting on top of the very large vanity we have in the room. We thought for sure that she'd bolt when she saw my mom, but, according to my mom, she sat there the entire time my mom brushed her teeth, put on her make up and did her hair. Each action was watched by Chocolate with a tremendous amount of scrutiny. Aside from when my mom needs the bathroom, the plan is to really let her be alone for the next day or so, so that she can get acclimated to her surroundings and feel like we aren't pressuring her. About an hour after my mom left for work though (I'm currently living and working from my parents' home while condo-hunting in Chicago) I heard some pretty loud thumping noises coming from the bathroom and Chocolate started to vocalize as well. They were very quiet meows. I went to the bathroom door and talked softly to her through the door and that seemed to quiet her down again. I guess my first question as someone who is very new to this process, is the recommendation really to try to minimize all contact with the cat for at least the first 24 hours? Would it have been better if I went in while she was thumping around and vocalizing? My mom and I are both experiencing tremendous guilt from separating her from mom and brothers and the only life she's ever known, so we want to make it as easy on her as possible.

I have to thank you all in advance for any guidance and suggestions you can offer. I've spent the last few days reading Lucky's story and some of the other threads on the board and the advice has been invaluable. Chocolate is our first furry pet and we really want to do right by her.

Our plan in the short-term is to let her acclimate to her space and hopefully the carrier we placed in the bathroom for her and take her to the vet for spaying and a check-up on Friday morning. In the long-term, I'll be bringing her to Chicago with me when I find my condo in a few months, as she can't have free reign of my parents' house due to my dad's allergies and severe asthma (we even feel like we're taking a huge risk with his health just by having her confined to the bathroom for the time being).

Thanks again for any advice, encouragement and support you can provide. We know this isn't going to be an easy process, but, my mom and I are really committed to making it work.

post #2 of 9
Hi Jen....I do think it is best to have Chocolate spayed, not only because of the posibility that she is positive for FIV, but also because we have had other individuals join this site with a pregnant feral cat and either the kittens all faded or mom killed them.

I think the best thing to do right now is to let her be. There is a LOT to adjust to...the room, the smells, the fact that she cannot find her siblings or mom and of course...you. It is best not to shock her system with too many of those factors all at once. Allow her to get used to your smell and your sound first. The last thing you need is for her to bolt from that room...so I would take it slowly.

post #3 of 9
Thread Starter 
Thanks, Katie. I really appreciate the encouragement. I spoke with the vet's office today and we are scheduled for a check-up and spaying first thing Tuesday morning.

All has been quiet this afternoon. I did check on her a couple hours ago to see if she needed fresh water or more food and it looks like she still hasn't had anything to eat or drink. I found her hiding under the sink next to the litter box, but, didn't want to get too close and make her feel like she was boxed in. I know that bringing her inside so that we could get her spayed and tested for FIV is the right thing to do, but, it's really hard to overcome the guilt of removing her from the only environment she's ever known.
post #4 of 9
First of all, welcome to TCS! Glad you found us!

Secondly - thank you for what you (and your family) are doing for these kitties!

There are a few things you can do to make her more comfortable.

You may want to try Flower Essences and/or Feliway: http://www.catfaeries.com

You may want to consider putting a radio in there tuned to a classical station. You can also put a CD player in there set on "repeat" if you can find harp music. Ferals seem to find this very calming.

And... at this point, I'd spend some time in there with her. I'd sit in there and read out loud. If you sing, do that. If you have a laptop, you can just work in there for a while.

The most important thing, to the extent possible, is to have a routine. Having a set schedule as to when people are in there, when you clean her litterbox, when you clean her water and food dishes, &etc. REALLY helps.

Does she have a hidey place? The crate? She should have something.

Also, get a t-shirt or something really sweaty. At regular times, leave treats out for her on it. This will help her associate your smell with good things.

I wrote a long reply to someone who brought in an older feral that had been in a colony they were caring for for some time. It may have useful suggestions for you: http://www.thecatsite.com/forums/sho...d.php?t=118850

You're doing such a wonderful thing! Just remember - time and patience are the main ingredient. It seems like Chocolate is doing really well, and she is so lucky to have found you.

post #5 of 9
Thread Starter 
Thanks for the encouragement Laurie! I spent an hour with her in the bathroom this afternoon. I parked myself up against the bathroom door so I could sit and wouldn't seem so large to her and started to read aloud. She's still hanging out under the sink and doesn't seem to have gone into the crate, or back into the tub even though we've put a couple treats and toys in both places for her. I'm hoping that she does find her crate soon, because I'd really like to avoid the drama of having to pick her up and put her in it before the vet appointment on Tuesday morning.

I got a small sign of progress, when, while I was reading, she moved out from under the sink to watch me a bit. I tried really hard to continue reading and pretend she wasn't there, but, I caved, and I did look up and over the tops of her ears and said "hello" before returning to the book.

I do have a smelly T-Shirt that I placed in the bathtub before we trapped her, but, I hadn't thought of putting treats on it. That's an excellent idea!

It looks like she'd finally drinking and has had a bit to eat. When I came in to read to her, I brought her some wet tuna-flavored food as a special treat. Even though she had a small accident on the floor, it does seem that she's becoming accustomed to the litter box as well. Baby steps for now.

Thanks again everyone!
post #6 of 9
Hey Jenn - you're doing great. I always forget to say it, but you're exactly right - sitting on the floor and getting down to their level helps too.

Also, if there are any more litterbox problems, you could consider adding a layer of potting soil (organic, no chemicals) to the top of the litter in the box. They're often more familiar with the soil, but slowly mix the litter in as they burty their pee and duty. When you need to add litter, you can add litter to one half and potting soil to the other half. This helps them get used to litter.

post #7 of 9
Thread Starter 
A quick update on Chocolate’s progress today...

First, I have to start with a funny story. We were eating breakfast this morning, when all of a sudden we hear a thump in the bathroom where Chocolate is staying followed by the sound of a flushing toilet. Our Chocolate Kitty has figured out how to flush the toilet! Actually, we think that she may have reached up to use the flusher as leverage to jump up onto the back of the tank, but, we've been joking all day long about how smart she is! My mom went to go check on her and by the time my Mom made it back to the bathroom, Chocolate had parked herself in the sink. It was very cute. (In case anyone is worried we are keeping the seat down. )

Today, Chocolate has figured out how to use her voice. She's not yowling, but, her meow sounds like a very sad cry. One meowing bout went on for almost two hours this morning. I went into the bathroom to talk to her, read her a story and tried some classical music, but, she just sat at the top of the vanity meowing up a storm. It was heartbreaking to listen to and nothing seemed to console her. When she does this, should we try to go in and comfort her, or do we try the tough love approach and get her to learn to soothe herself? This seems so much like taking care of a newborn!

At another point today, I went to sit with her and when I came into the bathroom, she had parked herself on the window sill (also sadly meowing as she looked outside). If she positions herself just right, we think that she can probably see her family if they are out in the yard. I don't know if we should continue to allow her up on the sill, given a cat's natural instinct to climb (she loved climbing trees when she was an outdoor kitty) or if it would be detrimental to her socialization process to see her mom and brothers outside. Any ideas about this?

My last concern is about the litter box. Aside from the small accident she had on Wednesday morning on the bathroom floor, I don't think she's either urinated or defecated since then. I've been checking the litter box once a day, and haven't found any evidence of her using it (although it does look like she's been digging in it). She was only eating small amounts until this evening when she had a nice-sized portion of wet food for dinner. At what point do I need to be worried about her not relieving herself? (We're seeing the vet on Tuesday morning and I'm hoping to have a stool sample by then so she can be checked for worms).

Thanks again for all the support. Have a great weekend everyone

post #8 of 9

If Chocolate has been living outdoors, she is probably not used to "litter". You may want to start her out with a flat pan with garden potting soil. This will mimic the dirt that she is used to using outdoors. Slowly add litter and remove potting soil over time until she is using straight litter.

post #9 of 9
When we brought Lazlo inside, he held out for over 24 hours. He slept on the pan of potting soil - until he got so desperate he finally used it. We scooped his pee out of the soil and put it into a litter pan. He got the idea - and jumped in and went poop. Never had a problem after that.

If it goes much beyond 24 hours, I'd consider a vet visit or call. I don't really know how long they can hold out. Lazlo was only 8 - 10 weeks old at the time. I think an older kitty can probably hold out longer, but I don't really know.


Oh - about the meowing. I don't really know what you should do. I do know that if you go to her every time she meows she will have a lot of power that you don't want her to. Cats are smart, and she'll learn that her plaintive cry tugs at those heart strings..... I do know that people who are training kitty to keep out of the bedroom are told to get ear plugs and ignore it or it just gets worse.

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