Actually, at this point it is 16 cats (not all of them always around) and 5 dogs. Only one granddaughter, so far, be unlikely that there will be more. Both my son and daughter live in the States, and since we do not have much money to travel, I rarely see them. But isn't the e-mail a god-send? I can no longer imagine life without a computer and the internet.
Yes, experience, and whatever reading I can do. This forum is another wonderful invention. I am filling in all sorts of gaps, reconfirming much of what I have learned, and discarding things that are myths from my mother's generation. I also was a dog person all my life. We often had an occasional stray cat who adopted us as food-givers, and we would give them pats from time to time, yell at them when they stole food from the kitchen, and established no relationship with them at all except the most casual link. They were pretty, and if they didn't bother us, we were please to let them eat at our house. It was a given that cats were untrainable and rather stupid, that being scratched by a cat could give you catscratch fever, and it was worse than being bitten by a dog. I never gave a cat a bath, never trusted them enough to deflea or deworm them. They drifted in and out of my life like ciphers. The dogs were our pets, and at one time I even had small breeding and showing kennel for Basenji and German Shepherds.
I am not sure what happened. I got to be a little old lady and suddenly I was wise enough to adopt cats. a very strange occurance. In fact I had a young dog who was learning to chase cats from my sister's dog (a Doberman, and one who was known to kill cats), and it occured to me that if I got my dog a kitten, he wouldn't chase cats anymore. Someone gave me a tiny kitten with a broken hip -- it was about the size of my palm -- and I had to find out what to do for it. Then I had to get the dog to accept the kitten and vice versa, and since no one here could help me -- we didn't have a forum then -- I tried behavioral psychology on them. One thing led to another -- a very long story of mistakes, stupidities, and even ignorant cruelties -- and I am where I am today, with a large family of mixed species (human, cat, dog), and still learning how to handle myself and them. I have been a meditator over 30 years and now teach meditation when asked, and I am observing very closely how the animals react to that as well.
If you can build a fence -- at least to give your cats protection against outside dogs -- it would help avoid some of the disastersI have had. My first cat (actually I always considered him the dog's cat) was killed by a pair of dogs on my own back porch, and that was when I decided to find the money to build a fence (I have around half an acre of property to fence). With the increase of population in my village, I now realize that I must refence it so the cats are kept inside, and that is another thing entirely. There are seveal threads on these forums discussing how to do that, and I must try to find the money for that this fall. It will be a big job, but I take it badly when one of my family gets killed by dogs or hit by a car.
I think perhaps cats should be for one's maturity. They are so very much like people in many ways -- emotionally, certainly -- and we cannot communicate with language except at the lowest monosyllabic levels. Therapy or teaching/learning can only be given using behavioral techniques. Just knowing all about cat physiology and illnesses is not enough if you are to bond with cats in a mutually satisfying way. But in this 3-species interaction, I am finding that dogs are also more complicated than I had been reared to believe. They are restricted more by their terrible longing for human companionship, and so they will tailor themselves to human expectations. The cats have shown me that nothing I took for granted about human/animal and human/human interactions can be considered valid without careful examination.
And so I have turned into a little old lady with cats to put the final punctuation on the cliche.
Smoky will probably forgive you if he comes for food, but it will take some -- can't you guess? -- patience. I have found that feral cats often become indoor cats in the winter months if they have a way to "sneak" into the house to see if the indoor cats are getting better food. I always leave a window half open, but cat doors might work (the ferals watch what the house cats do, and they can learn from them how to deal with a cat door I am sure). You have to be careful to avoid brushing too close to them, and pretend that they aren't there for a long time, but when they observe firsthand the relationship you have with your house cats, they gradually feel more confident about letting you touch them. Almost all of my cats, with the exceptions of the ones brought to me as real babies (needing to be nursed on catmilk formula and carried around all day in an improvised baby sling) were ferel at one point, and at this point I have no really feral cats -- they have all opted to come in and sleep under the airconditioner with the dogs.
Weather is the great facilitator!
PS--I am constantly learning that there is a lot of nonsense written and spoken about the behavior of cats. Best throw away preconception and feel your way along. I have a cat who decided to hate me and the world when I started to adopt strays. After three years of bloody (mostly my blood) history with her, she has finally begun to let me pet her a little, and does not attack me every chance she gets. She also does not attack the other cats now unless they come within reach of her. I adopted the behavior of the cats -- they gave her plenty of room and didn't try to coax her into better humor. I did the same, except I offered her conversation from a safe distance. Three years, and finally I can not only touch her when it is needful, but I can pet her carefully without getting scratched. What the experts mean is, within the time frame dictated by our human impatience and need to see daily progress, cats sometimes never learn to get along together. Gypsy is a very hard case, but it gives you some idea of the patience required. She simply went psychotic for a while, and now she is struggling back from her depression.