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Story of Belle

post #1 of 7
Thread Starter 
The first time I saw her in March of 2002, she was regally perched at the very top of a cat tree, glowering down at me. I thought, what a pretty cat! She had gooseberry green eyes, classic black and tangerine calico markings on top with the lower half of her face and body all white.

As I looked, something seemed a bit off and I realized that her eyes were crossed. I went in for a closer look and she backed up on her perch, hissing .

Hmm. No people at her parties.

I’d just started volunteering at Save-A-Pet in Grayslake, IL. With over a hundred friendly cats loose in the main catroom vying for affection, the scared and feral cats tend to stay in the background. Save-A-Pet is a no kill shelter, so the cats can easily spend the rest of their lives there.

When Belle arrived 5/28/00, she was ~ two years old and 100% wild. She was labeled as likely to always be feral. Volunteers and staff had tried working with her, but had not made great strides.

In the summer of 2002, Save-A-Pet started the Feline Socialization program and I became involved. I don’t speak all dialects of ‘cat’ but I know a couple and thought this would be a great chance to practice. The program is definitely making a difference and we were all thrilled when six cats on the special needs/long timers list were recently adopted.

One of the socialization tools brought to the meetings is baby food. Meat-based baby food (without garlic or onion powder) is practically an aphrodisiac to many of the shy cats and allows us to establish contact with kitties that we couldn’t get near before. It’s their first step to learning that people are ok.

At the meetings, I would go around the room and give each cat some baby food. As the weeks went by, Belle became bolder. If she could get to my baby food offering without having to navigate through the entire clowder, she’d come and take a quick lick. Then she’d quickly back off to a safe distance. She would not risk being touched. After a while, she would stay nearby until I reloaded my finger with food.

I really wasn’t paying particular attention to Belle; I was having more success with other timid cats. One evening, I was sitting on the floor doling out lots of baby food, and here came Belle, dodging cats left and right, trying to get a handout. She managed to wriggle through the crowd so I tried to lure her onto my lap with the food. I waved the food under her nose, keeping the other beggars away. I slowly drew my hand in and she had to put a tentative paw on my knee to maintain contact with the food. She put more weight on my knee. Then the other paw came up.

She stopped eating and gave me a quizzical look as only a cross-eyed cat can. By Gumbo, the Lap is heated! She then crawled into my lap, laid down and tucked her front paws under. She stayed there for about 30 minutes while I had to remind myself to keep breathing. We were all amazed; I hadn’t singled Belle out, but she certainly had picked me.

Belle’s now at the point where tapping a jar on the floor makes her jump off the top of the cat tree and run to me. Sometimes she gets food and sometimes she gets a head scratching session. She’s decided that feels pretty good too and if there is baby food, all the better ~

She is cautiously friendly with anyone that she knows well, playing coy like an old pro. She has tried out other laps. She now walks around with her tail in the air and happily rubs up against things. With her face stuffed into a jar of baby food, I am able to clip her claws without any fuss. She follows me around and the volunteers call her ‘my shadow’. Her purr sounds like a Geiger counter. She arches into head and back rubs. She likes being brushed. She is still skittish if she’s caught off guard. She does not tolerate being picked up and will squeal like a pig, but that’s ok. Even if she doesn’t improve one tad more from where she is today, she’s a million miles away from that terrified cat I first saw all those months ago.

p.s. I will be adopting Ms. Bella at the end of this year when I move.
post #2 of 7

Thanks for sharing your wonderful story.

post #3 of 7
That's a great story. It never ceases to amaze me when I hear of totally feral cats learning to trust humans. Funny that you mentioned that you weren't even focusing on her when she crawled into your lap; the hardest (and the most effective) thing you can do when trying to socialize a feral is ignore them.

I'm in the process of finding a home for my feral kitten, and he is well on his way to being socialized (follows me around, talks to me, purrs, plays with toys). After work I'm going to pick up some baby food and put it on my finger and see if he'll go for it. Again, great job with your feral kitty.
post #4 of 7
That is indeed an inspiring story! And doubly so knowing that Ms. Bella will be going to her forever home very soon.
post #5 of 7
Hi beth-

Nice to see you made it here! Wonderful story!
post #6 of 7
that was so beautiful! I am so glad Belle has come to trust humans. she deserves a furrever home.
post #7 of 7
WOW what a great story . Thank you so much for sharing with us , that never to give up on a feral . That is so great and the reward is even better . I got tears in my eyes .When ever you want to share something with us , please do And by the way , nice meeting you .
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