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What's in the best interest of our stray/feral?

post #1 of 10
Thread Starter 
Three weeks ago, we adopted a 3 to 4 year old male stray. We named him Gabriel. We immediately took him to the vet, had him neutered, shots, shaved (terribly matted, poor guy!!), ticks removed and bathed. The vet indicated that he has a lot of broken teeth and is likely a stray, outside for anywhere from a few months to a few years, and not truly feral. Gabriel had to be anesthetized in order for anyone to touch him.
We brought him home after a few days of bordering him at the vets. We also have a 12 year old alpha Maine Coon male named Joshua who has ignored Gabriel.
We placed Gabriel in a small, kitty-proofed bathroom (we did a LOT of research and reading before we brought him home) with litter, food, water and quiet. We have no children, live in a single family home in a nice neighborhood and a large yard.
For the first few days, we shut the door and just let him be. He was very quiet, ate really well and used his litter box. He urinated on the kitty bed, so we pulled it.
We put up a kitty door with bars. Three days after bringing Gabriel home, he squeezed through the bars at night. I found him under the couch. Maybe we should have left him alone, but he hadn't interacted with Josh and from what we've read, it's best to keep the new cat, especially feral, confined until they're comfortable. It was traumatic getting him back in the bathroom. That was two and a half weeks ago. He retreated to the carrier, but has since come out and often sits in the sink where we can see him. We have now put up stacked baby gates and we leave the door open.
My husband works at home so Gabriel can hear him in the family room but not see him too much. We have the radio on for him. I'll spend time with him at night, reading and just hanging out outside of the bathroom. It's a very small room so I can't actually get in there. I'm sleeping downstairs in the living room outside of Gabriel's room where he can see me, if he wants. Josh has been sleeping with me and doesn't seem at all interested in Gabriel. The only time Gabriel has meowed is in response to Josh yelling at us (he's a wonderful and bossy guy!!). We've also heard Gabriel "sighing" at night a few times. He gets active at night by getting on top of the toilet and trying to get out of the window, which is securely fastened.
I'm wondering if we're doing the right thing for Gabriel. He often just sits in the sink with his head down. I've done a little research on cat depression and it is quite possible for cats to become depressed. He is eating and using the litter box. Of course, we know he is plotting his escape, as they all do.
What's in Gabriel's best interest? Is it best to continue to try and socialize him? We know it will take a long time.
Is a feral colony best? We don't want to re-release him to his old neighborhood (three miles away). The neighbors said they would feed him but that Gabriel would run if they tried to approach him.
When should we increase his territory in the house? The cats are not interacting yet. I've played the feather game with Josh outside of the bathroom (baby gates up) so Gabriel can see us playing. Gabriel is not interested in feathers, strings or any of the toys in his sanctuary (bathroom).
My husband has a large cage, designed for dogs, set up in the family room. Is it a good idea to try and get Gabriel in the family room where my husband works during the day? We'd have to wait for Gabriel to be in the carrier, which he is at times.
Please help!
post #2 of 10
Hello, and welcome to TCS!

Originally Posted by gabriel View Post
What's in Gabriel's best interest? Is it best to continue to try and socialize him?
Actually, it doesn't really seem like you've even begun to socialize him yet.

Even though he was medically treated and cleared early on by the vet, he has still spent pretty much all of the last 2.5 - 3 weeks all alone in a very small bathroom, with minimal direct interaction with you and your husband, and virtually no contact with your other cat. From his perspective, it's probably like being at a shelter, just with a larger "cage". You suspect that he is depressed, but could you blame him if he were?

You wrote that you heard that "it's best to keep the new cat, especially feral, confined until they're comfortable." And that's true. But when in your mind will he be be "comfortable" enough to no longer need to be so confined? What behaviors must he show in order to demonstrate comfort? From what you have described, he has not shown any aggression while in your home, and he has been eating well and using his litter box reliably for the most part. Maybe that doesn't signal total comfort, but it certainly doesn't indicate discomfort.

You and your husband will never know what you have in Gabriel unless and until you begin to integrate him into your household, particularly Joshua. I think that enough time has elapsed where the introduction process can begin in earnest, and there are plenty of threads and stickies in this forum, the Behavior forum, and this article from the "Cat Behavior" link at the menu at the top of each page. I don't know if you have any experience with cat introductions but I urge you to follow the procedural recommendations as much as possible to give the cats the greatest likelihood of at least being able to tolerate each other, if not becoming buddies. Other members and the Search function are your friends if you wind up having specific questions, so feel free to use one or both.

Your main concern is Gabriel's best interest. If being in your home is not in his best interest, believe me, he will let you know in his own special way.

Thank you for caring for him!
post #3 of 10
Thread Starter 
Hey Robert M.

Thank you SO MUCH for replying! What you say is very encouraging. We've read in several sources to go VERY slow, but of course, the time frame is different for each situation.

We'll check out the article and keep everyone posted.

This is not our first feral. 13 years ago, we rescued a feral kitten off of a busy highway and Moses became the love of our lives for 12.5 years until we lost him last Fall to a viral infection.

Thanks again for your quick response and for caring!!

post #4 of 10
You're very welcome, Suzanne.

I re-read what I wrote. I hope that I didn't come across as too judgmental in tone. Believe me, that certainly wasn't my intention at all. You're absolutely right that "slow and steady" wins the race, especially when it comes to introducing a new cat to a resident cat. It just sounded to me like things with Gabriel had never really gotten off the ground and progression wasn't being made, despite Gabriel's signals that he wasn't inclined to be a problem child.

The biggest potential challenge now will be getting Joshua to accept Gabriel. To me, the smartest approach is to take your cues from the cats' behavior. Hissing, growling and batting is normal and is to be expected. Be around to supervise, but don't interfere as they work on their relationship. Screaming, fur flying and blood drawn will require your intervention, but thankfully things like that are rather uncommon. The fact that Joshua lived with a least one other cat in his life, and did so until very recently, is a good sign. An even better sign is that he doesn't seem fazed by Gabriel's presence.

I am sorry about Moses.
post #5 of 10
I would definitely see if Gabriel is interested in coming out of the bathroom while your husband is working. I rescued a feral girl that was pregnant and brought her home. I had gotten her to the point where I could even carry her around, though, before we did that.

Surprisingly she just walked into the house and plopped down in the kitchen, and basically ignored the present cats and dogs. 3 years later she's still here.
post #6 of 10
Thread Starter 
Hey Robert!

No offense taken at all! It's clear you are VERY caring and your cats must be the luckiest on the planet.

Sounds like it's time to take the baby gates down? Let's hope Gabriel will return to his room for food and litter.

Thanks again Robert! You rock!

post #7 of 10
Thread Starter 
Thank you so much!

Let's hope our experience will be as positive as yours.

post #8 of 10
Thread Starter 
Good Morning!
We took RobertM's advice and opened Gabriel's door yesterday. He sat in the sink (nice and cool we think) for the entire afternoon and evening. I slept downstairs across the hall from Gabriel and Josh was a snuggle bear with me. The two cats have had plenty of opportunity to interact and really haven't yet, which is OK by us! We would rather they take their time.
When I woke up this morning, Gabriel's food and catnip were eaten. I'm pretty sure Gabriel ate the food (he has dry as well) but Josh was in Gabriel's room sniffing around this morning, so who knows for sure.
Gabriel's a champ with his litter box.
My husband says he heard Gabriel on top of the toilet at 4 AM. I didn't hear a thing. I'm sure the two cats have seen each other. Josh was with me the whole night (as far as I know) just eight feet away from Gabriel.

Gabriel seems relaxed. I could see his cute feet and paws stretching and moving around some this morning. Of course, between the Feliway plug in and the nip, maybe he's just stoned.
We are SOOOO glad his door is open! What a relief. We just don't know what we're doing. Thanks again RobertM!!
So, is it OK that Gabriel is just lying in the bathroom sink? He's not interested in feather or other toys. Of course, we're avoiding eye contact, chatting softly with him and hanging out with him. How else can we help him?
post #9 of 10
I'm glad that things are moving in the right direction!

How else can you help Gabriel? Honestly, I'm not sure. I'd say that his reaction and Josh's reaction is rather unusual. But in a good way. I mean, usually when a newcomer enters the picture, someone's growling and someone else is hiding under the bed for a day and a half after being chased. The fact that both of them seem so relaxed and nonplussed by the other's presence bodes very well for the future. There could be some hostile behavior as he begins to leave the safety of the sink and the bathroom and moves into Josh's "territory," but obviously both of them have had plenty of opportunities for aggression already and neither seem to be inclined to go that route.

If you had just brought Gabriel home I would have suggested that you put a sweaty shirt of yours and/or your husband's under his food bowl or elsewhere in his room, so he could get used to your scent. And rub Josh with a towel and put Gabriel's treats on top of the towel, for the same reason. And vice-versa. But since he's been in the house for 3+ weeks now I'm not sure that that is necessary.

He might not be interested in toys yet because he's still not 100% comfortable and confident. Or he just might not be a very playful cat. You can still try to play with him as a safe (from his perspective) way to interact with him. Feather/pole toys like Da Bird seem to be the best. One because they are interactive, and it shows him that his new humans are fun; and two because he still gets his space and doesn't feel threatened.

It really does sound like you have all the bases covered --- the Feliway, the catnip, the talking softly and the hanging out. You're letting him settle in at his own pace, which, if he could talk, is something that I am sure he would want.

You're doing fine! Give yourself and your husband a pat on the back!
post #10 of 10
Thread Starter 
Thanks Robert!

My husband Joel and I have SOOOO much to learn! Your encouragement and counsel are great!

Gabriel is back in his carrier this afternoon. Hopefully, he'll come out later. We'll keep working with the toys. He's such a quiet guy. Maybe he's catching up on years (or months) of not being able to rest. Still think he's plotting his escape, but we hope he'll be happy to be an indoor kitty.

Thanks again Robert!
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