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other than being patient...

post #1 of 16
Thread Starter 

we recently became the lucky guardians of a stray cat. she was trapped by a friend and taken to the vet for vaccinations and spaying. we're not sure how old she is (the vet didn't say) but she looks, by my untrained eye, under a year but over six months. she seems completely unsocialized to humans. and we've taken to calling her 'piano'.

never having done this before, we're going a little bit by intuition and forum advice (thank you by the way!). basically where we're at is here:

piano has been with us since friday of last week (it's now tuesday). she is currently in a large dog crate with a litterbox, a food dish and some blankets. she was originally in a carrier but decided to use that as her litterbox, so i took that out and moved the defecation to the litterbox. since that time, she has only used the litterbox. she even announces when she's "done".

she is incredibly timid and will hiss if a hand comes near her (even one bearing delicious treats). she will not eat if someone is in the room with her though her appetite is good. she occasionally blinks slowly at me as if she knows i'm a friend; occasionally she looks at me as if i may strike her. we try to keep some noise about during the day so that she gets used to human voices. she doesn't move very much (or say anything really) except the past couple of nights, she has started crying after we've gone to bed. we have gone out to peek on her but she just looks at us as if she wasn't the one making the noise (hilarious!). it seems, like most of us, she has some pretty major trust issues. which is okay. we're happy that she's here.

so given that background, i guess my questions are these:
- she doesn't seem to be bathing herself. is there any way i can promote this behaviour?
- how do we know when we can let her out of the dog crate and allow her to move freely about the apartment?
- other than patience, what else can we be doing to help her along her way?

she really is a dear cat and i have every faith that she will be a loving friend some day. we really just want to do the best we can for her now so that she's able to thrive in the way we hope she will.

sorry for the long letter. thank you for any suggestions.
keep up the great work!
post #2 of 16
What a wonderful, wonderful thing you are doing! And you're right - she will be a great friend some day, and the bond between you will be just amazing.

But.... being a slightly older feral, as you already know, the main ingredient is just time.

However, there are some things you can do.

Is there a room you can release her into and close the door? Like your bedroom? I don't know if you want her in your bedroom - but it really is the best place to do it, because sleeping humans are the least threatening thing, and that can help.

But other than that.... I'd get some Feliway and spray near her crate (or around the room if you release her into a room). It is a synthetic hormone that mimics the "friendly" markers in cats' cheeks and helps stressed/scared kitties feel at least a little more at ease. I'd also consider some Rescue Remedy flower essences - these help some kitties and not others, but we've had good success with them with "new" ferals brought inside. It won't turn her into a love bug overnight, but may help relieve her fear. Both are available at

The next thing to do is to just spend as much time near her or in the same room with her - doing anything but trying to interact with her. Read out loud, sing, knit, sew, fold laundry, work on the lap top, watch TV.... just get her used to your presence, and communicate that you don't want a thing from her.

Spending as much time as you can at her level will help. Get out a mat and take a nap near her. Do stretching exercises on the floor near her. Lie on the floor and read out loud. Sit on the floor and sew or knit or whatever you do.

Get a regular routine going for her food, cleaning her litter box, and washing her water dish. The routine is really going to help. She knows when to expect things, and it helps her to associate you with those "good" things you're doing.

Get a couple of t-shirts really good and sweaty. Put one under her food dish. Put one in her crate at the same time every day with treats on it. You don't have to wait around for her to eat them.

The main thing here is to establish routine, spend as much time as you can near her but ignoring her. This is why it's best to let her out into a room with hidey boxes or let her hide under the bed (a very popular place for most ferals). The whole thing here is to gain her trust - and the first thing she needs to learn is that you don't want anything from her. You're just there to give her food, and that will make her plenty happy. She doesn't know what love or play is yet - that will take time.

But because she's older, it will take quite some time - that's why I'd recommend releasing her into a room you can close the door to if possible. It may be months before she wants to come out and watch what's going on. That's just the problem - you never know. It could be weeks, it could be months.

But you're angels for doing this for her!

post #3 of 16
Thread Starter 
hi laurie!

thank you so much for your wonderful advice! there have been a number of changes since i last posted, the main one being that piano left the crate she was in.

i had taken to leaving the door open while i was around, simply to remove the barrier between us. she was still hissing when i got close but i figured that it was worth a shot, and besides, she wasn't going to just up and leave, right??? wrong.

the other night, i was on the phone with a friend and she got up to eat her food (the dish being beside the open door). as this was a huge thing for her (to eat when she knew i was around) i didn't want to rush over to shut the door. so i just watched. and as soon as she was done, she just stepped over the threshold of the cage and disappeared into the corner of the room. she's now found two places she likes in the living area. the best thing about this is she's still coming back to her food dish and litterbox.

i talk to her a lot and leave treats for her near her hiding spaces but don't try to coax her out too much.

tonight, i'm eating sushi on the floor. i gave her a little salmon which she ignored until i turned my back and then gobbled up. i tried to pass her another piece but she's back into the corner and won't eat it until i leave it for her.

i'm trying to be really patient. she seems to be more comfortable with her surroundings and i believe she's starting to associate me with food...but who knows?

thank you for the rescue remedy recommendation. i had been thinking of it and wanted to give it to her but hadn't. now i have. every couple days, i put a few drops in her water. as for the feliway, we can't seem to find it in canada (so says the store around the corner). i may order it online but i think we'll see how she does for the next little bit first.

the woman who trapped piano had her eating out of her hand while she was stray. i guess that means there's some hope. but then, if a raccoon is hungry enough, it too will eat out of your hand...i guess we just have to see how it goes.

just a quick question though, what happens if she isn't bathing? is there a way i can teach her this behaviour?

thanks again for your advice.
post #4 of 16
Thread Starter 
oh yeah...
and the routine thing...well, we'll try. we have trouble giving OURSELVES a routine that works.
but then, as i type, she has snuck out behind me and i can hear her munching that salmon.
perhaps there's hope after all!
post #5 of 16
I'm sure there's hope. It takes lots of patience (and frustration!) on our parts - but it's always worth it.

As to the bathing thing.... if you can't really interact with her, I wouldn't do anything about it (unless she REALLY needs a bath or something). Either she'll start taking care of herself at some point - or you'll be interacting with her enough to be able to brush her and use some pet wipes on her.

I know what you mean about the schedule. But the closer you get to a schedule when it comes to her, the more it'll help.

Other things you can do: don't look at her in the eyes - this is perceived as aggression. Look at her forehead, or over her head. Also, looking at her forehead and then slowly closing your eyes - a long, slow wink is a good thing. Or "looking" at her with your eyes closed. This helps build trust. Many kitties do the slow blink as a sign of greeting.

Also, when you sit on the floor near her, sit sideways to her and move slowly. But as you're learning - food is your friend!

Also, at some point you may want to consider an interactive wand toy. If you sit sideways and make it move like a snake, or ziggy-zaggy - you may catch her interest. I wouldn't do the active waving it around in the air like a flying bird - more like a scared, darting mouse at first. Even just a long leather boot/shoelace with a knot tied in the end of it (in fact, I recommend this - it's one of our cats' favorite toys). But if she doesn't react to it after a couple of darts around, just put it away and try again in a day or two. Make sure you don't leave it out anywhere she can access it when you're not around - ferals love to chew on those things, and you don't want her to eat a piece of it and have to rush to the vet for surgery because of it.

I don't know if you can deal with harp music, but if you think you might like it, it often really helps.

Also - baby food on a spoon. Something that is all meat with no garlic or onion powder additives. Reach out to her slowly with it.

But I'd only try one "interactive" thing a day - and I wouldn't push it. Just letting her get used to the idea that she's safe is the first step. That's what socialization is all about - learning to trust.

post #6 of 16
Thread Starter 

well, we've been trying to be very patient with piano, but it's so tough. i just want her to feel safe.
so, i've been instituting as close to a schedule as possible (a vague schedule but close to regimented). and i've been trying to convince her closer with food. and it seems to be working.
she's now coming out of her hideout to eat while we're around. this is huge! she's also slow blinking at me often, and does so everytime i call her name. earlier this afternoon, i reached into the hideout with some treats. i convinced her within a foot and half before she decided she was too close!
now i have treats lined up all the way across the living room. she generally sneaks through the room as if she's some sort of renegade spy, and i'm hoping that this might slow her down a bit.
the rescue remedy seems to help, and but for an accident on a large chair, she seems to be handling the litter box just fine.
as i type, she has come out of her hideout and is eating a couple of the treats i've left.
this is all to say thank you to you. thank you for your support. i was feeling tentative the other day, but i'm now seeing that she's coming along nicely.
post #7 of 16
Yeah, it can be really frustrating. If you've ever got a few hours to kill, you may want to read this thread:

It's taken two years - but Jimmy's gone from the scaredy cat you have - to being picked up and held!

The funny thing is, it can feel like forever - but once that switch flips, things can move pretty rapidly from there. He was an older feral unlike your Piano and Jenn's being working with him for two years - but the length of time to gain his trust was the bulk of the time. Once he started to enjoy being close and could enjoy a pet - it was a much, much, much shorter time to enjoying pets in general and to tolerate being held.

So there's no way to know in advance just how long it's going to take. But being less than a year is working in your favor. Also, it will be two steps forward, one steps back - sometimes three steps forward two steps or one step back.

But we're here for those days you're celebrating and we're here especially for those days when you're crying in frustration - though I hope it never comes to that.

I'm so glad she's getting braver.

OH - quick bit of info here. If she went pee outside the box, if you haven't already cleaned the accident with an enzyme cleaner, you MUST do so. Anything else may make it seem cleaned or smell free to you - but it'll still smell like pee to her and may encourage her to not use the box. Nature's Miracle is an example of an enzyme cleaner sold in many pet stores and supermarkets. It's OK. Follow the directions - it may take a second application. We use Nok-Out ( I've also heard that Anti-Icky-Poo is a great one:

post #8 of 16
Thread Starter 
thanks again, laurie.
it's just nice to see some improvement in her. i'll read the thread about jimmy when i have a bit of time.
we used a product called TKO on the places she peed. the local pet store carries it and uses it all over. a number of their customers also use it for their pet soiled laundry. do you know of this product? it's a natural orange cleaner used for pet odours, horse stalls, and you name it.
we did a good dousing of it and i've yet to see her pee on the cushion again. if she does, i'll try the nokout and let you know the results.
and as for piano...well, she's sprawled out in her hideyhole, happy as a clam. no doubt she's waiting for me to leave so she can attack her food again. i've caught her playing when she doesn't remember i'm around so i'm feeling good about her liking it here. now we just have to convince her that the rest of the tenants are as good as the apartment is.
thanks again for all your support!
post #9 of 16
Originally Posted by new foster mom View Post
...i've caught her playing when she doesn't remember i'm around so i'm feeling good about her liking it here. now we just have to convince her that the rest of the tenants are as good as the apartment is.
thanks again for all your support!
That's so common when socializing ferals. Quite a few people have had kitties living under their beds in the guest room - and when they come in to "spend time with them" in the morning, all the toys are in different places.

I'm not familiar with the product, so no clue. But if it worked, that's what counts.

post #10 of 16
Originally Posted by new foster mom View Post
..... i've caught her playing when she doesn't remember i'm around so i'm feeling good about her liking it here. ....
Each little step is so rewarding, right?

I came on here when I started fostering two street cats, the beginning of January. Laurie's advice really helped (and reading everyone else's experiences). And I've decided to keep them.

I'm betting, with patience, Piano will just get more and more comfortable. My two are now out and about, purring, begging for petting. They still bolt, now and then, and I'm not holding out any hope that they'll be lap cats, but they're really, really comfortable around here now.

Piano's progress is great. I would love to hear updates!
post #11 of 16
Thread Starter we are making progress. you're right, nanner, every step is so rewarding.

this past week...
piano peed on the chair again. then i remembered that for the better part of a decade, our old cat used to sleep on this chair. marking territory??? anyway, washed, cleaned, deodorized with new product (designed specifically to alter the behaviour, though not ickypoo or nokout b/c i couldn't find them locally and quickly), and a giant pilates ball placed on top of the chair when we're not using it. fingers crossed on that one.

but the promising aspects...
every now and then, she hangs out on the windowsill while i'm around (doesn't bolt away). she sprawls out and closes her eyes. she's now sleeping on the sheet we placed in her little hideout. she came within a foot of my hand for treats without darting back. and then...the other morning while i was eating breakfast, she bold as day sat in the middle of the living room staring at me. i couldn't believe it. she hasn't done that again but she's certainly coming around. she even stayed out (didn't go into her hideout) when i had company over last night. just one person, but someone she hasn't experienced before and a tall man at that (i imagine that large dominant people can be intimidating in some cases).

we have a subletter moving in for a month today. i'll still be living here, but i'm hoping that this change will be good for piano's progress. i think it might be good for her to see and hear new people but continue with the stability of feedings and location.

it's good to hear about your streetcats, nanner...and laurie, you seem to have had incredible success with yours as well.

piano is a sweet soul, and so quiet (like her italian name...piano means quiet). it's been just over two weeks now and i think all i need to remember that she's come a long long way.

thank you for your continued support. i'll keep you posted on the goings-on.
post #12 of 16
Thread Starter 
well, jeepers, it seemed like we were just sailing along...
piano came up to my hand to eat some cheese out of it, not once, or twice, but three times over different days!!! amazing. she hangs out in the same room, sometimes coming over to check me out. i remain really quiet and still when she comes to see me, but she's getting used to my voice as well as her "schedule".
just the other day, she started hissing at me.
now, this is a cat that doesn't make a peep. literally. every now and then i think i might hear her do a little growling thing, but even then, it might be a passing car. she is soooo quiet. but just a few days ago, she started loudly hissing at me when i come into the room with her food.
the weird thing is, she knows the routine, she knows the food, the placement, the whole scenario. so why is she hissing?
it's often a loud hiss, followed by a very small meow. she then blinks slowly at me when i speak to her. i don't try to touch her, or corner her, so i'm not sure what's going on.
any thoughts????
otherwise, thank you for the support from the last six weeks. piano is such a tremendous character who is really coming out of her shell.
post #13 of 16
Well, Gary and I tend to be very paranoid kitty parents. But any change in behavior is usually seen as reason for a visit to the vet, because cats don't really have any other way to let us know there's a problem.

Since she knows the routine and you do this on a schedule, even though there may be nothing wrong, I'd take her to the vet just to make sure. The slow blinks are a sign of trust and a kind of "hello" - so I'd have to say the hiss is not anger or fear! Does she otherwise hiss? Have you changed soap or scents - or could you have the smell of another animal or cat on you? If you can think of nothing she could be seeing or smelling to cause this - then I'd always play it safe and make sure there's not a health problem.

Of course, we've almost lost two cats to 1) rare parasites and 2) an autoimmune disease. So we're paranoid about even subtle changes.

post #14 of 16
I have no advice, since it was already very well spoken, but wanted to say how wonderful that you brought this cat in!

I imagine after all the hard work, time and patience you will put in, the bond between you and Piano will be rewarding!

PS - welcome to TCS!
post #15 of 16
Thread Starter 
Thank you again, Laurie.
Piano doesn't make any noise at all otherwise. It's only in this situation that she's started it. She doesn't seem angry or fearful at all, so I agree with your take on that. However, she also doesn't continue this behaviour at any other time. She's still regular with her litterbox visits so no problems there. And she's becoming increasingly friendly outside of feedtimes. She's also playing and exploring more than before.
There isn't a new animal around at all, although there has been a new human friend spending time at the house. I haven't changed scents either.
So all this is to say...could it be that she's feeling more comfortable and therefore more assertive in her "territory"? Or maybe I'm moving to fast around her recently?
I'm sorry for the loss of your kitties. I will keep your suggestion in mind and take her to the vet if this keeps up, or gets worse.
Thanks again.
Have a great weekend!
post #16 of 16
Oh thank god we didn't lose them - but it was close for both. And the only change in behavior that Tuxedo exhibited was he started turning his back to us when we came into a room in which he was sitting. After a couple of weeks, instead of turning his back to us, he'd leave the room. He was otherwise eating and using the litter box and everything else like normal!

It could be that she's just feeling more comfortable and therefore more assertive in her territory - but it's her dinner! On the other hand, ferals almost universally were taught by their moms not to make noises. So maybe she's finding her voice. NONE of our cats talked until Flowerbelle. She's deaf - but not mute! The others learned that she got attention when she talked - and they slowly started talking. Their unused weird little squeaky meows were quite funny at first - especially when our aggressive alpha male had this prissy little meow! So it could just be that in her own strange way she's telling you she's excited about dinner - and just hasn't figured out she can't make noise without hissing! I think that's a stretch - but you never know.

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