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Extra help/advice with semi-feral

post #1 of 15
Thread Starter 
Hello everyone! Glad to have found this wonderful site!

I rescued a 1 year old cat this past June 15th from my backyard that I fell in love with since she was a kitten last year. It was a planned operation done by my neighbor and myself. You could say I re-captured her if you read her story here. She has had very temporary/sporadic contact with humans (my neighbor and his elderly parents) which is why I think she is semi-feral. The momma cat is complete feral that lives in our backyards. My neighbor tells me that he used to pick Misha up and mush his face into hers and that she loved it (in his Russian accent) but that once in awhile she would swat at him. They keep the strays and ferals in their basement during the winter and feed them but not sure how frequently. I think he really doesn't understand cats at all but I'll just leave it at that.

Its now almost 3 months since I've had Misha and she has come along well since then but at a very slow pace which I was aware of and expected. Just this week, she has finally gotten the courage to come out of her room since I've been leaving the door to her room open so her bro and sis, Toby and Fifi could go back into their old room and get acquainted with their sis. Toby gets along great with her but Fifi growls and hisses at her whenever she gets to close. I understand cats can be copy cats so I'm hoping that they can help. Misha still cowers and looks at me with fear in her eyes like I'm going to kill her when I walk into her room. The only way I can pet her is by slowly walking into her room and laying low as I approach her and let her sniff my hand. I'm not sure if I should even be doing this because I don't want to reinforce her fear of me. She loves to be petted otherwise when she allows it and gives me head bumps but I think its because she knows feeding time is near, lol ! The only time she doesn't fear me much is obviously when its feeding time which she now has been waiting by the feeding station. Lately, I have been trying to just ignore her by not petting her and playing with her to see if she may seek me out. She does once in awhile but she usually doesn't once Toby is in front of my face and hogging up the time I am in there. What I would like to ask you all is should I be going to her and petting her or should I just ignore her and let her come to me when she wants? I don't want to have a scared kitty running around my house for years to come. I understand that this may be the way she will always be but I can't help but feel like there is something more that I can do to help encourage her not to be scared. I know 3 months for taming a feral is not much time at all but I want to be sure I'm using all this time in a positive manner. I just want to know if I'm doing the right things (or wrong) toward helping her become a happy kitty. Any suggestions/advice/help is welcomed and appreciated! Thanks!
post #2 of 15
First of all, I'm glad you found this site too. And how wonderful of you to rescue her!

It sounds like you've done things just great! Food is a fabulous motivator! And as you seem to already know, patience is a virtue.

She will learn from watching your other kitties. However, as to the hissing, our experience with foster and new rescues is that the boys tend to be great about new kitties, whether male or female. Our females are fine with new males. But two of our females are horrible with other new females. One in particular, Spooky, takes six months to stop hissing at the "newbie" or swatting at the new female when she gets too close. A full year before we find Spooky grooming her (a few licks on the head). So I wouldn't worry too much about it. Just give your existing female extra attention and love or play, whatever her motivation is, and give her lots of verbal reassurance. She'll get over it.

As to Misha. You are absolutely right - getting down at her level makes her more comfortable. What you can do is spend a lot of time sitting on the floor in whatever room she's in. I don't know what kinds of things you do - but if you have a laptop, use it on the floor. Read on the floor. Reading out loud is great too. It's been three months, and things are actually going really well.

Does she like to play? A wand toy? Or does it still freak her out? Because interactive play can be really good.

Does she have her "safe" space(s)? If she's in a hidey place, sit on the floor with your side to her half way across the room (or where there's something comfortable to lean on). Every once in a while, close your eyes and turn towards her. "Look" at her with your eyes closed. Looking at kitties directly in the eyes is fine once they know and totally trust us - but otherwise it is taken as a sign of aggression. So when you do look at her, look at her on her forehead, or over the top of her head. But the "looking" at her with your eyes closed - or giving her a looooooong, slow blink will help build trust. You may find one day she slow blinks back at you. We "blink" back and forth with several of our kitties. It means "i love you." Well - at least "I trust you."

And yes. Ignoring her for a while is a really good thing. Cats are curious, and cats are stubborn and independent - and when we want our kitties to cuddle and they won't, we just ignore them completely for a few days. It drives them nuts, and then they come looking for attention.

All of our kitties are feral rescues. The one we waited until he came to us for pets is the one that is now the most expressively loving to us. It took 6 months. Well - a year, really. He is not a lap kitty - and may never be. But we just stand near him and he starts purring. Up on a cat tree or bookshelf at head height, he'll go crazy head bumping us, rubbing his cheeks on our hair, flopping over and rolling around, grabbing our head with his paws and rubbing his cheeks all over us. When we first started petting his cheeks, he could stand literally ONE cheek rub. Then he'd put his paw on our hand for "enough." Then it was two. Now (five years later) he'll ask for pets for 20 minutes - I mean until we're tired of it and want to do something else! He LOVES being brushed, though "tells" us the speed at which to brush his cheeks. He'll still put his hand on the back of our hand - or give a soft "love bite" on our wrists - but it's just an "i need a break for five seconds before you pet me again," not a "stop."

When it comes to "socializing" a feral, just remember, the entire issue is building trust. That's what this is all about. She's learning what love is, and she's learning what play is, and she's learning that all you want is her happiness.

It's so hard, because what we want is to scoop them up, hold them and pet them and love all over them, and have them sleep on the pillow or on all these comfy things we can provide.

And they'd rather sit on the piece of paper on the floor, hide in the box, and play by themselves after we go to sleep. (BTW, sleeping in a sleeping bag on the floor in "her" room - if she has one at this point - is also a GREAT trust builder).

But go through different periods. Ignore her for a week. Just be around her, like you don't care she's there. Let her watch and learn.

Then keep treats handy. If she comes near, hold some out to her (palm down). Trail a couple of them to you, and give her a couple of pets on the cheek - and stop before she asks you to.

Food is a great motivator, and if she likes pets around dinner, do it.

But just letting her go at her own pace is the best idea. She's already doing great, and you've got a great attitude about it, so she'll be fine.

But yes, feel comfortable ignoring her.

post #3 of 15
Laurie gave some excellent advice. I think it is wonderful that you are taking the time. Patience is the key. She will come along. Slowly but she will.
post #4 of 15
Thread Starter 
Thank you so much for your suggestions and wonderful advice Laurie and CC12!

You are very right about ignoring her because I noticed last night when I was cleaning the litter boxes, she was in her cowering/scared position but I ignored her the whole time and noticed that she relaxed and just watched me. I believe shes finally beginning to realized that I of no threat, FINALLY!! I went in this morning to get their food bowls and she was just relaxing, like nothing is wrong. She still sometimes gets scared but I think its because she gets spooked by my fast movements. When I move slower, she doesn't get scared much.

I play with her with a red laser pointer, she LOVES it! Its funny because they all love something different. Fifi loves the mouseys and the feather wand and Toby loves everything and anything that rolls. Fifi doesn't care at all for the laser pointer but Misha and Toby go nuts for it!

I had any empty tall slim file cabinet without the draws in them as her safe zone when I first brought her in but took it away after 2 weeks because at the time she wasn't coming out and I thought it would help. Plus, it may still be covered with fleas so I have to inspect it if I am to give it back to her. She has been doing fine without it though. I'm not sure if giving it back to her would improve in her socializing a bit more. When I come into her room and shes in the corner cowering, I sit in the middle of the room and call her and she'll come to me for petting. She usually comes quicker when I'm laying down on my side. When I sit indian style, she a little more apprehensive but I ignore her and pet Toby anyway so she can see that I'm not the bad guy. Hopefully she'll learn for that!

I know in time that she will hopefully come around and be a wonderfully kitty. She such a beautiful cat and I was just concerned and worried if I was doing the right things. I know and understand that building that trust with her is key. I feel a sigh of relief in knowing that I'm doing the right things and thank you for your reassurance....I really needed that !

Here she is working her nerve to venture to my living room.......

.......as you can see, she is FASCINATED by the TV!!....
post #5 of 15
Oh she is beautiful!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Our kitties are the same way - the all love different types of toys.

I wouldn't put the file cabinet back in there. However, I would consider getting a couple of cardboard boxes (just like those file size boxes they sell at Staples) and lay them on their sides - one or two somewhere. Cats LOVE boxes - that seems universal. Same with paper bags (grocery bags!) We roll back the top edge so it stays open easier for a longer period. (Although our kitties love attacking the bag with a kitty in it, and it's a great way for them to play together, so they often don't last too long ).

Things like this will give her places that feel protected - though under a table or a bed often work for many kitties.

BTW - the very first feral we rescued was just 10 weeks old when we rescued him. Young enough that he really should act "so ferally." He became comfortable with us quickly, and his purr motor got going quickly. But six years later, he'll still bolt at a loud noise (like a cough or one of us dropping something), he hides when new people come over, and is the last one out when it's someone that's been here a hundred times.

Sometimes, it's just their nature, and you just never know.

But she's beautiful and she's very lucky to have found you!

post #6 of 15
Thread Starter 
I'm sorry to report that Misha is gone! I had left the door to my room open and the window in the living room was open. The screen was down but it was slightly broken open on the bottom from Toby and fifi pressing their bodies against it. Misha must of discovered this and broken the whole screen open. I noticed she was on the fire escape when I couldn't find her. I opened the window and my gf decided to go and get her. I told her not to because she would jump. We are on the second floor of a tri-plex apartment building. As soon as my gf went out and toward her, she jumped.....I'm sure using up one of her nine lives. I'm quite sad. I know she won't be leaving the backyards since this is all she knows. I already contacted my neighbor and asked him to trap her in his basement if and when he sees her. I'm already making plans to take her to the vet once I get her. What I'd like to ask you all is how will this affect her personality now? Will she always want to escape since she did already? I think I'm going to have to keep her locked in her room for a long time. I hope I can get her back.
post #7 of 15
Oh I am so sorry! Things like this do happen, unfortunately. It does not mean the kitty didn't love you or love being there - and you were right, they will run when you go for them. It's just their pre-programmed reaction.

But you will need to get that screen fixed.

You'll be able to get her back. Just keep putting food out in the same place at regular times.

And, actually, this experience may help her be happier once she's back with you.

When we first rescued our first, Lazlo, he cried for the first three days. We couldn't stand it, so we got a leash, and took him out. One of the ferals we care for came by, and FREAKED him out. He was lunging off the end of the leash, and before we could get him inside, he got off the leash and bolted up into the woods.

We knew where he hung out, so I grabbed some cooked chicken, and lay there (didn't sit - you've seen the difference). It took - I don't remember now - but felt like all day. I think it was just 4 or 5 hours though. He got hungry enough, and slowly approached the chicken I was holding in my hand. Once he started eating, I grabbed him and ran inside. Funny enough, he didn't struggle at all, didn't fight. And he never cried or tried to go back outside again.

Obviously there are no guarantees this will be the case. Perhaps consider putting food out on the fire escape for her and see if it disappears? Since that's where she got out, and she lived there for three months, she may think of it as home, and may head back for food - and she just may head back to where she left, though I don't really know.

post #8 of 15
Sometimes that happens.
Mary who had been found living on the streets had this need to go outside in the beginning. She has had two bad experiences and it seems to have stayed with her.
Right now she is probably wishing she hadn't bolted. She will be back.
post #9 of 15
Thread Starter 
Thanks for the well wishes Laurie and CC12! Really appreciate it!

Well, shes back! I saw her last night and tried going in the backyard and co-axing her to come to me but she slowly backed away and went for the fence. I grabbing her as she climbed the fence but she slipped right through my hands. Shes FAST!! Shes always been the elusive one I'll tell ya that! I also saw her this morning which would indicate that shes hungry. As soon as she saw me bring out food, she bolted. I left the food there so she could eat throughout the day. Would you ladies know of anyone here in NYC who have traps? Also, any ideas of how I may catch her without any traps? I'm hoping to find a low cost vet so I can have her de-flead because I'm sure she has a lot already. I like Revolution since that takes care of a lot of kitty issues. Anyway, I'll try keeping you ladies informed. Wish me luck!
post #10 of 15
We put a big cardboard box on its side and put the food waaaaay in the back. When the kitten went in we turned it up really really quickly and closed it. Then we brought the box inside.
post #11 of 15
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by CC12 View Post
We put a big cardboard box on its side and put the food waaaaay in the back. When the kitten went in we turned it up really really quickly and closed it. Then we brought the box inside.
You know CC12, I've been trying to find a big cardboard box or plastic box where that I can use to drop on her but I don't have one unfortunately. I've been contacting some local organizations for traps and many are unavailable. My Russian neighbor is also being difficult. He says that it will take time for his mother to befriend her again and that she is very wild right now since she flees immediately as soon as she shes someone. I told him the longer she stays out there, the more feral she will become! I know he and his parents have a close tie with her but they keep her outside. I am providing her an indoor life that will be much better. Part of me just wants to give up but I really love this cat since I saw her when she was 3 weeks old. I'm hoping to catch her this weekend if my neighbors let me go trap her in their backyard which she has now been staying at. Wish me luck!
post #12 of 15
Thread Starter 
Well, my neighbor has informed me that his mother is keeping Misha. She has lost 2 of her cats just a few months ago due to old age and has one white cat left. She is trying to befriend Misha while she eats but is having a hard time. She had a bond with Misha before I took her so I guess she must feel that she came back into her life for a reason. I'm kinda sad that I have to let go but I guess there is nothing more I can do.....unless Misha comes to my yard and I trap her ....but yeah, this is the end. Toby has been kinda sad as well that Misha isn't around anymore but Fifi has been a HUGE HUGE love bug since she left. I guess she feels that shes the princess of the house again even though she was always . Thank you Laurie and CC12 for your advices and help, it was greatly appreciated!
post #13 of 15
Aw, I'm so sorry. If you want to give it a shot and see what happens, just put food out at a regular time and don't try to catch her at first. After a few days, do some spying - see if she's coming around. Get in line for a trap loan/rental. Who knows what fate may hold? She'd have a much better life inside with you!

post #14 of 15
Thread Starter 
Originally Posted by LDG View Post
Aw, I'm so sorry. If you want to give it a shot and see what happens, just put food out at a regular time and don't try to catch her at first. After a few days, do some spying - see if she's coming around. Get in line for a trap loan/rental. Who knows what fate may hold? She'd have a much better life inside with you!

Thanks Laurie! She would most def have a better life with me indoors because I spoil these cats like you wouldn't believe! I left some food outside tonight and will be leaving it the next few days in hopes of Misha making her way over to my yard. My only problem is that I don't have much time to spy on her. I hope she does make her way to my yard so I can trap her with a loan I already have ready for me. We shall see!
post #15 of 15
I have to laugh - we're often (at least I am!) advising people to do semi-nefarious things for the benefit of kitties here! But in the end that's just it isn't it? We benefit - but most importantly, so do the kitties.

Best of luck!

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