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Help with my cowardly lion?

post #1 of 10
Thread Starter 
Over two years ago somebody dumped a cat outside of my house (either randomly or because I am this neighborhood's "crazy cat lady", which I don't especially mind). The cat was severely injured and hid under our porch and despite a vast neighborhood effort it took me a year to catch him (I'm very persistent). When I finally got him to a vet it turned out that he was probably beaten or otherwise abused... his back joints were fused together (from breaks that had healed incorrectly), all of his teeth were broken, he was completely deaf, and was FIV positive. If he had been otherwise sick or in declining health I'd have euthanized him, but after consulting with multiple doctors they all suggested that he would have a very good quality of life still with the proper care. He's not at *all* cat aggressive and neither are mine, so I'm not concerned about FIV transmittal, but I would like some advice on making him more comfortable in my home.

He's been living with me for over a year now and is still terrified of people. The first eight months he lived just in my large bathroom... I built a handicapped cat ramp and shelf so he could have a window and gave him a cushy chair and heating pad in the walk-in closet. For the first couple of months he growled at me, but then we settled into a routine where I would sit a couple feet away and put treats down and he would accept the fact that I was there. After six months he let me pet him but only grudgingly, and at the eight month mark (or so) he decided to live under my bed instead (I only kept him in the bathroom on purpose the first few months... he stayed in there on his own with the door cracked open). Now that he lives under the bed he comes out when he thinks I'm gone (which isn't always true since he's deaf) and he lets me reach under there to pet him, which he seems to enjoy. He always licks me when I pet him, which I think is more of a mutual grooming instinct. On very rare occasions when he's been out I've been able to pick him up and hold him, but after about ten minutes of this he turns into a "taxidermy cat" and is always relieved when I put him down (he then "speed walks" back under the bed).

Does anyone have any suggestions for making him feel more comfortable? Over a year is a long time for a cat to still live under the bed, in my opinion, but who knows what terrible things may have happened to him before. As long as he feels safe under the bed he's very affectionate, but it's important for me to check his health with the FIV and that's difficult to do when he hides all the time (except for that difficulty I'd just let him live under anything he wants, heh). I know he roams around with the other cats when he thinks I'm gone or asleep, and I know he's making progress, but I'm certainly open to suggestions...
post #2 of 10
My guy isn't handicapped in any way, but Seamus was found on the street and taken in by someone before he came to me... he was the same way and I thought I'd never have a cat who came to me... it seems like that time never existed, as it's been a good year and some since he was like that and now he's the complete opposite and can't be without me... but he was a nervous little guy... I couldn't even get a hand on him for about a year... keep doing what you're doing and offering lots of treats and love when he does come out, and it's a good sign that he lets you get a hand on him... maybe with the deafness he's afraid that since he can't hear he isn't as aware as he'd like to be out in the open, wants no surprises... try having the room relatively dark and quiet when you need to examine him, and try sitting for a while and not moving so he doesn't sense your presence... maybe then he'll venture out and you can get him up close to take a look? I admire your patience and your willingness to take him in and give him the life he deserves.
post #3 of 10
You have to remember the cat led a hardscrabble life on the street, was beaten within an inch of his life, and now has to deal with a lot of input coming in when he can't hear.

How much would you expect of a person under these circumstances?

He's doing great! Don't push him and force expectations on him. Closeness is there. Let him do things at his own pace, and bless you for doing what you have done. I know he appreciates it. "Normality" might be too much to expect of him.
post #4 of 10
Thread Starter 
Well, I would never expect "normality" from any cat... I have seven cats now and not one of them acts the same as any of the others. *chuckle* Like I said before, if not for the FIV and the need to monitor his health, I wouldn't really mind if he never came out from under the bed as long as he's comfortable under there. He also needs quite a bit of help with his grooming... he doesn't use his claws at all so left on his own they eventually curl around and grow into his pads. Also he can't reach anything past his front paws on his own, so he mats terribly and develops itchy dandruff. Luckily, when he *does* come out (on those rare occasions), he doesn't seem to mind if I gently pick him up and groom him for a few minutes, but then he gradually becomes scared. It's really as if he would like to be with me more but has a human phobia that he can't quite overcome (which of course is perfectly understandable given his circumstances).

I won't push him more than that (I can't let him hop around with claws growing into his pads) and I just keep reminding myself that no matter how his health is doing under the bed where I can't see him he's still much better off than he was eating garbage under our porch in the middle of winter.

Some things I was thinking about trying were the Feliway plug-in (although I didn't know if it would adversely affect my other cats that are already very, very mellow) and getting new furniture for the rest of my home that has more places to hide under so he can sort of furniture-hop around and still feel somewhat safe...

A photo of Apple from his bathroom-living days:

post #5 of 10
Aww... he's adorable... he has that "I've been through the ringer" look in his eyes... the poor thing... keep at it, he'll learn that you're not the enemy.
post #6 of 10
Thread Starter 
Haha... yesterday he purred for the first time and it sounded so funny I didn't recognize it at first. For one thing, he is completely deaf (which on one hand is good because my loud music doesn't even phase him, but on the other hand it's harder to try to comfort a cat without any soothing sounds) and I wouldn't have thought that would affect purring but apparently it does. The other possibility is that he has some physical trauma or improperly healed injury affecting the sound, as he has gone through a *lot* of physical abuse (his back joints are all fused together, he can't groom himself and hops like a bunny when he's in a hurry). Regardless, his purr came out like some sort of gurgled choking. Of course I immediately stopped petting him (I thought he was dying!) and the purring stopped as well, but then when I started up again so did he. Heh.

Also, on a side note, I did ponder putting this in the feral cat forum originally instead, but chose the behavior forum because he's not quite so feral anymore after over a year in my house (he knows this is his house and I am part of his family and he head-butts me and paws at me for more pettings as long as they happen *under* the bed). Also I had already done most of the things you do to tame ferals and was hoping now for something basic related to instinctive cat behavior that might make him feel more secure in general. I hope that was okay...
post #7 of 10
I don't know if you've done this, but how about a cat bed, or house that's closed in from all sides with just a hole? He may feel more comfortable. I'm thinking more one of those cat cube things because of his disabilities.
post #8 of 10
Thread Starter 
I did originally offer him cat beds of all sorts when he was in the bathroom... he never really took to them. The bed is kind of like a giant cat cube, though... it's an antique twin bed with carved wood sides that extend nearly to the floor (on the sides there's only about a four inch gap and at the end maybe eight or ten inches?) so it's kind of like his own personal cave. He has a heating pad in there for his joints and the other cats visit him under there (obviously just to visit him, otherwise they like to be out in the rest of the apartment).
post #9 of 10
I think you and he are doing fantastically! It sounds like you are the perfect caregiver for him, you know not to expect anything and just want him to be comfortable.

I think the Feliway is worth a try. It won't hurt the other cats. It didn't seem to do anything at all with a very aggressive cat I fostered once but I've heard others rave about how wonderful it is.

Good luck!
post #10 of 10
Thread Starter 
Heh... I finally figured out how to get him to come out at least briefly, don't know why I didn't think of this sooner. When I was first trying to gain his trust outside (which never did work enough to catch him... I finally had to nab him while he was asleep, since he's deaf) I offered him chicken baby food. This is really tempting to a cat and isn't *too* harmful (not compared to living outside without veterinary care) since it's just chicken and water. The baby food jar is very recognizable and eventually he'd come out when he saw it and would run up and eat it as soon as I was about ten feet away. I stopped giving it to him after I caught him, since I wanted him to be on a healthier diet.

Well, finally it occurred to me that he might remember the baby food jar, and boy did he ever! As soon as I pulled one out and opened it his little nose poked under the bed, and when I backed about three feet away and sat down he squeezed out and ate it up. I was sitting close enough to touch him, but of course I wouldn't since I'm trying to get him to feel safe.

He's come out for the chicken baby food once a day for the past three days now, so I think I'll keep going this direction. I also picked up some of the smaller Fat Cat brand catnip toys (my cats are of the opinion that their "zoom around the room" organic catnip really is superior to other brands) and he's been playing with one under the bed, which seems to calm him down even more (although he's always been calm and friendly as long as he's under there).

I'll try to get some video of him squeezing out and eating the baby food later on so I can screen capture some photos for you guys... it's such a big breakthrough.
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