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the story of blackberry

post #1 of 23
Thread Starter 
I'm posting this as a new thread so that the whole Blackberry story appears in one place in this forum. Following, I tell the history of Blackberry's situation, the details of how I got her, and then pick up with diary entries. I pulled from previous posts, so some of you will see things you've already read from me, but this seemed like a good way to get it all in one thread. So this first post is frighteningly long, but I hope some of you will find it interesting--and will continue to post! Your encouragement has been tremendously helpful thus far, and I'll continue to need it . . .

The Story of Blackberry
This is a diary detailing my experiences with Blackberry, a (approximately) 7-month-old female black cat who came to live with our family of four--mom, dad, two daughters (ages 8 and 5), one black female cat and one chocolate Lab. Blackberry was living with her tabby sister and black brother in the parking lot at my office. There also was a gray-and-white sister, but she disappeared from the parking lot about three weeks before Blackberry and her other siblings were captured.

I've always loved black cats. My first cat was black, a kitten I chose from the pet store when I was 2 years old. One of the first cats I owned as an adult was black--a foundling who came to me at 6 weeks old and lived to be 17 years old. He was the sweetest cat I've ever owned--affectionate, confident, adaptable--and it made a bad day even worse when he had to be put to sleep on Sept. 11, 2001. Then last March, a month after our 18-year-old calico was euthanized, we adopted Betsy, a 7-month-old black female who had been trapped in the foothills, fixed and had been living in a shelter for a month. She was a little nervous when we got her, but after a couple of days in the bathroom with intense attention from our then-4-year-old daughter (who could not stand to leave her alone), Betsy was integrated into the household. We had intended to get two cats at that point, but Betsy seemed like enough. She grew to be a beautiful glossy cat, very friendly and outgoing, particularly attached to our younger daughter.

In the work parking lot, I was drawn to the two black cats. I watched them grow from small kittens into a teenage-size kittens, always assuming that they belonged to the woman who owned the house adjacent to the parking lot. Then one day, my coworker Kari--who keeps a colony of neutered feral cats on her dad's property--saw the kittens scrounging in the dumpster for food. We decided perhaps they weren't owned, and Kari began feeding the kittens. They began to look for her each day when she'd arrive for work. The gray-and-white girl and black boy would run away from us, but the black girl and her tabby sister would follow Kari whenever she came out in the parking lot. Tabby was very friendly, meowing, allowing Kari to pet her. The black girl was more timid, but did allow Kari to pet her once while she was eating. Pretty soon the black boy was coming around, not getting close, but rolling around the parking lot when he'd see Kari, sometimes meowing.

As these cats were warming up to Kari, kitten season was approaching and we decided that we needed to take further action. Especially when we looked out the office window one day and saw the gray-and-white sister cavorting with a local tomcat. Also, a big construction project would soon be getting underway in the parking lot; a high stone wall would be going up between our parking lot and the houses along that side, effectively cutting the cats off from the shelter of those back yards. Also, the vacant lot, where the kittens were often seen chasing bugs, would soon be graded for a commercial building.

After much discussion, a decision was made that Kari would lead the campaign to get the cats captured and fixed, and that we'd then try and find homes for them. But first, we needed to make good and sure we weren't encroaching on anyone else's territory.

Kari walked around the corner and knocked on the door at the house adjacent to our parking lot--we'd seen the cats go under the fence and into that yard. There, a woman who had recently purchased the house said she had been feeding the cats, but that the previous homeowner had promised to "get rid of" the cats before the home sale went through. "They're still here . . ." the new homeowner said, with exasperation. "I don't have time to deal with them, and I can't get near any of them but the tabby." She offered us access to her yard and said she'd be deeply grateful for anything we could do to "get rid of" the cats. She said in two weeks, she'd be getting a roommate who had a couple large dogs, so no doubt she'd be rid of the cats the minute those dogs arrived.

Each bit of news made us increasingly convinced that we needed to get moving. Back at the office, a few key people met, and it was decided that the company would pay for the veterinary services, but we needed to find the lowest-cost way to go. Also, Kari knew the cats would need to be trapped. She felt she could pick up the tabby and get her into a carrier, but knew the others would not allow that. Kari had never been the lead person in trapping cats, and in fact had never even seen it done. (Her feral colony had been trapped by someone else.)

There's a no-kill cat shelter across the street from our office, which seemed like a logical resource. We called anonymously and were told by the desk volunteer that they couldn't help us--sorry, no resources, too full, too busy, already overwhelmed.

We reconvened, and decided we might have more luck if we were to place a call to the shelter director and say who we are. We are editors at a high-profile local monthly magazine, and we're often careful to leave our job titles out of situations like this because people sometimes assume deep pockets or, more likely, editorial favors. ("You should do a feature story . . .") Also, it's unethical to throw our job titles around in order to gain free access to services or products--invariably the assumption is that if we accept a service, then we'll write that feature story, when in fact we never trade editorial coverage for services.

So we decided Kari should call the shelter director (who knows us because we've listed the shelter's events in our Calendar of Events), be up front about our situation, and get her insight on how to best proceed. The director listened and told Kari that the cats did not sound like feral cats. "True feral cats," she said, "will not meow, won't follow you, won't allow you to come close. These cats could be tamed." She offered to provide one of her volunteers to help us trap, and to have our cats fixed on one of their upcoming Spay/Neuter Days. When we asked how best of compensate the shelter, she said that they couldn't take in the cats, that they were just happy to help us get the cats fixed. Clearly, she didn't want to discuss money at that point. We didn't tell the director as much, but we knew the magazine would be making a donation to the shelter when all was said and done.

While we waited through a week or so of phone tag and cancelled meetings with Becky, the shelter volunteer (who juggles her volunteer duties with a full-time job), we floated e-mails to everyone we knew, presenting these cats as desperate for homes. We got lots of response--"Too bad I'm allergic" and "Wish I could; we just adopted a cat"--but only one truly helpful reply. It came from a woman named Holly who manages the feral cat population at a local college. Holly offered to help us with trapping and spay/neuter resources. At first, we thanked her and said we were covered, but we ended up remembering her a couple weeks later.

Kari expressed frustration at the lack of helpful response. "No one wants to take responsibility," she said. "I know that people just want this problem to go away, and it won't. It's going to get worse, and soon. We've got to help these cats!" At her house, where she has two indoor cats and a dog, she was busy shuffling things around to make a place for the cats to come and recover from their surgery. "I can't keep these cats," she fretted, "but we can't release them back here. It's dangerous. And they're not feral."

Meanwhile, at home, I was hard at work trying to convince my husband that two black cats could be just as nice as one. He was resistant, feeling that we're already maxed out with pets and people. Also, a big softie, he was still reeling from having put two elderly cats to sleep in the past three years. He also made some pretty convincing arguments about the dangers of bringing a "wild animal" into our happy household.

But I liked the little black female. I could hardly get close to her, but she was adorable. And, I sensed, tameable. She would follow her tabby sister around, approaching us cautiously, and would back off at the last minute. She and tabby would follow Kari down the alley behind the office, meowing. I thought there was a lot of hope that the black sister could be a nice cat for our family.

The Diary Begins

Fri., March 4: My husband caves under intense pressure from our daughters and me. The agreement is made that we'll take the black female, but that we'll need to move her out if she is vicious or poses any danger to our children, their friends or Betsy. The same day, at the office, Kari meets the workmen who will be building the wall along the fence. Yes, they confirm, they will be out with jackhammers on Monday morning, and intend to be pouring cement by Thursday.

Sat., March 5: Having made the decision to adopt one of the cats, I want to move things along. I have grown impatient with the shelter's arrangements, which are far from being settled. I call my own vet to find out about spaying and vaccination costs; I'll just take care of my own cat, thank you very much. It will be about $200 for everything. So I call a local low-cost spay/neuter organization I've heard about: They quote $50 for the same services. So I make an appointment to have the black female fixed this coming Friday. Then I drive with my daughters to the magazine offices hoping to get close enough to capture the black female. I can't find her. Kari comes to meet me, and only the tabby and the black boy come out. (We haven't seen the gray-and-white female for two weeks.) My daughters and I enter the adjacent homeowner's back yard and my younger daughter cries out, "I see her! She's under the deck! Oh, Mommy, she's so cute!" At that point, I begin to panic, thinking, "This cat is more feral than I thought," and wonder if I've made a huge mistake by committing to take her. On the drive home from the office, my daughters name the cat Blackberry. At home on the computer, I Google "feral cats" and read with increasing dread about the potential difficulties of taming them. I post on thecatsite.com, seeking information from people who have actually worked with feral cats. As I wait for response, I briefly fantasize that the black female will disappear like her sister. Then I'll be off the hook. Then I hear Kari's voice in my head: "People just want this problem to go away . . ." I feel guilty, and as I read encouragement from the folks at thecatsite, I recommit myself to the kitten we've named Blackberry.

Mon., March 6: The tabby approaches Kari as she gets out of her car in the parking lot at work. Kari pops a cat carrier out of her car, picks up the tabby and shoves her in. She throws a towel over the carrier and turns around and drives the yowling tabby home, where she releases her into her bathroom with a big plate of food. Kari comes back to work, eyes big, and announces, "One down. Two to go." We all gather around to listen. Later in the day, Kari calls Becky, the shelter volunteer, and leaves a message. Becky calls back and leaves Kari a message saying, yes, let's trap sometime this week. Kari calls back and leaves a message . . . She and I leave the office frustrated that this cat-rescuing project is falling into an abyss of telephone tag.

Tues., March 7: Jackhammers again. One of our writers, Jan, stops by to pick up some magazines and asks how the cat project is going. "Not so good," I tell her as we stand in the parking lot. The workmen have packed up for the day, and the two black cats mill around cautiously. "I want to trap that female and take her home, but we're waiting for the shelter volunteer to coordinate a trapping time with us." Jan, a community college instructor, says, "I can get you a trap. My friend Holly from school takes care of our feral cat population and she's got a great trap. I can bring it to you tomorrow." Sure enough, it's the Holly who e-mailed us offering to help.

I go back into the office and tell Kari that Jan will bring Holly's trap to us tomorrow. Kari says with commitment, "Okay! I'm calling Becky right now and telling her we've GOT to get this done right away." She picks up the phone and, for the first time, she gets Becky in person. Becky says she's ready to go for a Wednesday night trapping, but that she's only got one trap. We tell her we'll have Holly's trap. "Oh, Holly from the college? She's got the quietest traps!" Becky says. (It seems that all these "cat people" know each other.) Becky also says she's got three spaces reserved for our cats for their Sunday Spay/Neuter Day. We tell her we'll only need two. She and Kari agree to meet at the magazine offices at 8 on Wednesday night.

Kari plans to withhold food from the cats the rest of today and all day tomorrow in preparation for trapping. We want them to be hungry and eager to go after the bait. She walks around the corner and tells the homeowner not to feed the cats.

Wed., March 9: Becky and Kari meet as planned. Becky sets out the traps prior to Kari's arrival; Kari drives up and the cats appear right away, responding as usual to the sound of her car. Then, lured by a pile of mackerel, Blackberry walks into Holly's trap, which closes quietly. Her brother simultaneously walks into Becky's trap, which snaps closed loudly. Both cats panic, scrambling around to get out of the cage. Becky and Kari cover the traps with towels and the cats quiet down. Becky says it almost never goes this fast--half an hour from the time they set the traps--or so simultaneously. Becky recommends keeping the cats in the traps overnight and offers some tips for transferring the cats tomorrow from traps to carriers. Kari drives the cats home, where she sets the traps in her bathroom and leaves them overnight with the tabby.

From now on, diary entries will carry an additional label: the number of days Blackberry has been with us at our house.

Thurs., March 10, Day 1: Kari calls me at 7:30 a.m. to tell me to bring my carrier, that Blackberry has been caught. "She's really quiet." Kari says. She calls me back 10 minutes later, frantically reporting that the tabby got out the window of her bathroom. With the bathroom stinking of mackerel, Kari had opened the window a crack, thinking it would be safe because the screen was painted shut. Tabby somehow opened the window further and pushed out the screen. She's on the loose in a strange neighborhood. Kari says she'll work from home today, intermittently calling Tabby. We agree to meet at the end of the workday, when she'll bring me Blackberry.

While I wait to meet Blackberry on these new terms, I look out the window at the office and see the cement mixer roaring away. The wall is going up.

Near the end of the day, Kari brings me Blackberry in her large carrier that houses a litter box. She'll keep my smaller carrier to transport Tabby to the vet on Sunday; she figures I need the all-inclusive one because Blackberry is less predictable than Tabby. Blackberry hasn't eaten or used the litterbox; when Kari transferred her from the trap, she snuggled against Kari's side and accepted petting. Kari has not found Tabby. She reports that the black male is totally freaked out and that she wouldn't go near his trap without wearing a pair of welding gloves.

Blackberry rides 15 miles home with me quietly. At home in our bathroom, I discover that she has urinated on a towel in the carrier (despite there being a litterbox in there), so I take a chance and attempt to remove the towel. As I pull the towel forward, Blackberry "rides" the towel toward the door of the carrier, then crawls out of the carrier and into my lap, where she curls up and seems to enjoy it when I pet her. Expecting a nearly feral cat, I am shocked at this affectionate behavior. I also am astonished that she continues to sit there calmly while I work over her head taking out the wet towel, rattling newspapers, placing a fresh towel. She spends Thursday night in the carrier, with no food after 9 p.m., as ordered by the spay/neuter outfit that will be spaying her Friday morning.

At 7:30 p.m., Kari calls and reports gleefully that Tabby came out of the bushes in the yard tonight when she called her and shook the dry cat food.

Fri., March 11, Day 2: My daughters and I drop off Blackberry at the spay/neuter clinic, where I see numerous cats in traps. I feel a pang for Blackberry, who was caught in one of those. The clinic also is a no-kill shelter, and cats awaiting adoption wander around the office and out in a holding area. The intake clerk asks if I want my cat's ear notched, and I say, adamantly, "No!" I ask that she be tested for leukemia and AIDS, and report that she has not eaten or had any water in at least 36 hours and warn them that she may be dehydrated. The veterinarian standing nearby hears me and says, "We'll give her some fluids." My total costs for services are $50 ($30 for the spay, $20 for the testing). I write a check for $100 and tell them to keep the remainder as a donation.

We pick up Blackberry late that afternoon. The clinic reports that she's about 7 months old, healthy, all tests negative. We bring her home to our bathroom, which we've now set up with a full-size litter box, kitten food, water, a fleece blanket, a sissal scratching post, several towels and a 4-watt nightlite. We put the carrier on the floor and open its door. Blackberry sleeps with her nose in the newspaper inside the carrier.

Sat., March 12, Day 3: In the morning, I see that Blackberry has used her box. She has not touched her food. When I sit on the floor in front of the carrier, Blackberry creeps out and into my lap, where she sleeps for as long as I will sit there and hold her. While she sleeps, I remove wet newspaper from the carrier and replace it with the fleece blanket. Later in the day, she eats a little bit of wet cat food. She sleeps all day, both in her carrier (with the door of it open) and on my lap. She purrs a little; meows quietly a couple times. She doesn't seem to be in pain, but according to the spay recovery materials, she should be alert, which she's not. She just seems groggy and apathetic, and perhaps cold, the way she curls up and snuggles into my legs. I guess that her abdomen is sore from the spaying.

She also meets our other cat, Betsy, and is unperturbed. Disinterested, really. She just sniffs her a little and puts her head back down to sleep. Betsy, also, is fairly low key about it. Initially Betsy's tail puffs up to about 40 times its normal size, but once she figures out that Blackberry isn't any threat, she just sniffs her thoroughly, then lies down on the floor, purring and batting around a catnip mouse.

My daughters come in and talk softly to Blackberry, who doesn't even lift her head. I warn the girls not to try and pick her up, but allow them to pet her while she's on my lap.

I wonder if apathy is common post-spay semi-feral behavior. I really expected her to be terrified, hiding out, just traumatized beyong belief, so this behavior surprises me. Could her lethargy be a side effect of the vaccines? Or is she just pooped from her traumatic week: trapping, new environments, new people, surgery . . .? If it were me, I'd be wiped out, for sure. I do believe she is tamer than we thought, but I'm also worried that she's physically unwell.

Later that night, Blackberry wakes up. She eats a massive dinner. Then, when I try to remove her from my lap, she hisses at me and swats. My fears kick up--maybe now that she's settling in, we're seeing those feral tendencies? I begin thinking we better regroup and back off this kitty for awhile. I don't want to ignore her if she's seeking solace in a warm lap, but if she chooses to sit on my lap, what's the best way to move her off without getting attacked? I tell my daughters they're not to enter the bathroom without my supervision.

Sun., March 13, Day 4: I'm thinking now perhaps I got hissed at and swatted last night because I inadvertently hurt Blackberry's incision when I tried to move her off my lap. Today she has made no move to get in my lap, and has exhibited no aggression.

I move Blackberry carefully out of the carrier and into a sturdy box that's turned sideways--I need to return the big carrier to Kari at work tomorrow. Blackberry is still tired, sleeping on the (cold) bathroom floor against the cabinet even though her fleece blanket is right nearby. She ate a little more in the middle of the night last night and used her box, so at least we know she's functional. We make food and water available, visit her a lot, talking softly to her, stroking her head and back. She purrs very lightly and her eyes go half-mast when we pet her and she seems to relax. It's a very peaceful day.

I post on thecatsite, where I've gotten lots of support from other cat people, and one feral-cat-handling expert, Hissy, suggests I put down a bed of leaves for Blackberry. It might make her feel more at home, she suggests.

Before any leaves could be gathered and nestled in the box, however, Blackberry moves to the sink, where she parks herself firmly. This seems an odd location for a semi-feral cat--it's bright and exposed--but perhaps she likes the way the sink's rounded sides cup her teenage body.

Mon., March 7, Day 5: Kari comes in to work and looks grim when I ask how the spaying and neutering went yesterday. The tabby was one of 24 female cats spayed at the event, and one of 19 that were pregnant. Nick of time, we all agree. I wonder now if Blackberry was pregnant--the vet who spayed her didn't mention it. Kari reports that something dreadful happened when Tabby was spayed. The busy veterinarian, who's accustomed to operating on feral cats during these clinics, overlooked Kari's note requesting that the cats' ears NOT be tipped. "One-third of Tabby's ear is gone," Kari says sadly. (The vet caught his mistake before he neutered the black boy.) Kari's most upset because Tabby was the tamest, most adoptable cat out of the three. Plus, she feels responsible, and says she wishes she had just taken Tabby to her own veterinarian and paid full price. I remind her that Blackberry was spayed in similar circumstances, that I don't believe money has anything to do with it, and that mistakes can happen anywhere. Yes, she says, but still, she's overcome with sadness and self-blame.

Furthermore, Tabby has regressed, and this morning was climbing the walls trying to get out of Kari's bathroom. The black male, too, was desperate to escape, throwing himself at things in the bathroom. Worried that he'd hurt himself post surgery, Kari grabbed him to put him in the carrier to contain him. He sunk his teeth into her arm. Hearing this, I e-mail Hissy, from thecatsite, to ask her to forward me a link to the article she wrote about dealing with feral cats. She does, almost immediately, and I give it to Kari, who reads it and says with finality, "I need to leave him alone. Completely alone."

The next few days are calm, both at Kari's house--where Tabby returns to her friendly self and the boy just stays in the big carrier--and mine, where Blackberry continues to lie in the sink.

Thurs., March 17, Day 8: Blackberry remains calm. Extremely calm. So calm that I suspect she's coping with her new world by refusing to get involved with it. She spends her days in the sink, lets us pet her all day, touches noses with Betsy if Betsy sniffs her, eats turkey out of my hand (as long as I hold it under her nose while she's in the sink), does her major eating and litterbox using at night. She rarely purrs, never meows, hasn't hissed since the lap-moving incident, rarely is startled by noise. She did chase a string with a bead on it yesterday, but half-heartedly. She was obviously interested in the string, but was not willing to venture out into the open space of the bathroom to really pounce. She still seems very tired.

I post to thecatsite, asking if anyone believes I should be trying to draw Blackberry out. She's six days post-op, and I've seen her jump up on the counter (to get in the sink), so I believe she's physically okay. But once she's in that sink, she hardly lifts her head. It's like she's burying herself to avoid us. She doesn't attack when we pet her, but she's definitely tense. I'm not sure whether we should keep doing what we're doing, leave her alone more, or try and engage her. I'm afraid if we don't attempt to draw her out, she'll stay in her shell and we'll have a cat that just lives in our sink for the next 15 years. But I'm also afraid if we move too fast, she'll retreat more or lash out.

Fri., March 18, Day 9: Thecatsite folks urge me to be patient. Hissy reminds me of some of the basic rules of dealing with ferals: Don't make eye contact, leave them alone, let them approach you, care for them on a schedule. But the question for me remains: Is Blackberry feral enough to be treated like a feral? She sends these mixed messages--ignoring the dark corner of the box in favor of the very-exposed sink. Climbing in my lap last week. But she also seems disinterested, depressed and tense.

Confusion ramps up when I enter the bathroom in the morning. Blackberry is out of the sink for the first time in days, on her blanket on the floor, sitting like a loaf of bread. Betsy comes in with me (like she often does). Suddenly Blackberry stands up, stretches, and wanders out to touch noses with Betsy. Then Blackberry rubs against the wall, comes over to where I am sitting cross-legged and she rubs her body against my knee. (!) I pet her, she rubs again, then she goes back to Betsy and chirps as she touches noses with her again. This time, Betsy hisses and throws a little punch. Blackberry goes back to her blanket.

I see the knee-rubbing as a bit of a breakthrough--it is the first time Blackberry has approached me on her own. I give her some turkey and she jumps back into the sink. I think she's had enough interaction. I dump some food in her bowl, freshen her water, clean out her litter box, then go out and shut the door.

Throughout the day, the posts come in on thecatsite, from cat owners still encouraging patience and reporting long warming-up periods for some of their feral cats. Yet it's the semi-feral aspect of Blackberry that has me continuing to post on the website with all my obsessions about how to best approach (or not approach) this beautiful cat--who is clearly not feral, but clearly not tame. She's in this no-man's land where half the time I feel like I've got a wild animal and half the time I see her as domesticated. I worry that if I apply all the thinking for a feral cat, I'll be missing out on good socializing opportunities. And that if I apply all the techniques for drawing out a domesticated cat, then I'll scare her away.

But it's probably best to go conservative. Hissy's advice is probably sound: Leave Blackberry alone and get on a schedule for opening that bathroom door. Hissy also suggests I read to her for 15 minutes a day.

We've been on a bit of a schedule: Every morning I go in and clean the litter box and fill up her food and water and offer her some turkey from my hand. And every evening, same routine, plus a second visit right before I go to bed, just to pet her and give her some turkey. But there is no schedule throughout the day, we've been in and out, petting her, talking to her. Today, we stayed away more. But it was hard, because this morning was the first time SHE approached ME since those first days when she cowered in my lap. And tonight when I went in there, she perked her head up when she saw me, rolled over on her back (in the sink) when I petted her, and started chasing my arm shadow with her paws. So I got out the bead string and she batted that around. When she stopped batting, I put it away, gave her a bite of turkey, and left the room.

We've ALL been in to hang out with her--mostly me, sometimes my daughters, and occasionally my husband. And Betsy the cat. Betsy likes to go in there, and Blackberry rouses up whenever she sees her. Today, especially, Betsy's been eager to go in, and Blackberry's seemed eager to see her. Sinced the cuffing/hissing incident this morning, during tonight's two visits, they'd just sniff each other, burrow in each other's ears, then sit around separately.

Blackberry is far more responsive to me than my daughters. She's more tense when they're around, although not cowering or combative. Today and tonight, she's been pretty relaxed with me. I did not read to her, but I told her all about how she came to be with us--in a very gentle tone. It felt goofy, but she kept looking at me and squinting in that way that makes cats look happy, so I kept going. That's it for tonight, though--we've had our two visits, and now Betsy and I will head for bed until we visit Blackberry, as scheduled, tomorrow morning.

From this point forward, I'll pick up with regular posts, and hope others will add their insights as the entries go on.
post #2 of 23
Thread Starter 
Sat., March 19, Day 10
This morning when I go in to see Blackberry, she meets me at the bathroom door as I open it. It's like she was waiting for me to open that door so she could get out. I don't want her loose in the house, so I reach down and pick her up to keep her from leaping over my foot. She does not protest. I carry her around the downstairs level of the house, let her see the dog, the family room, the kitchen, the front room. She doesn't fight me. Then I carry her into the bathroom and discover that she's gotten playful during the night--towels strewn about, a catnip mouse with its innards coming out, a ball in the shower. I set Blackberry down after I shut the door and she winds herself around my leg, rubbing her face against my hand, purring a little, stomping across my lap after I sit down. Betsy meows from the other side of the door, and Blackberry meows back, so I open the door and Betsy comes in. Those two touch noses and survey each other a bit, I pet both of them for about 10 minutes, they both purr and lift up onto their tiptoes with their tails waving. Then Blackberry jumps up on the counter and gets into the sink. This, I believe, is her signal that she's had enough, so I give both cats a treat--Betsy a shrimp treat and Blackberry a piece of turkey. I sit on the pillow down below and read for awhile; Betsy lounges around with me. After about half an hour, I stand up to leave and Blackberry puts her head up and gives me a purry meow. I pet her and go on out.

My daughters go in and say a brief hello later in the morning, but now, even though it's Saturday, we'll leave Blackberry on her own until around 3 o'clock, which is when the girls usually get home from school and go in to greet her.
post #3 of 23
Nice job on Blackberry's story Looking forward to reading more
post #4 of 23
Thank you for taking in Blackberry and helping the others! Please thank Kari as well!

I have got to say you have me hooked on Blackberry!

Great job
post #5 of 23
It is such a heartwarming story. I look forward toreadingmore - I did read some of it before in your other threads. But do you know anything more about the fate of the others?
post #6 of 23
Thread Starter 
The other two cats we trapped are still at Kari's house. Kari is out of town this weekend, so another co-worker is taking care of the cats. Tabby is back to her old self--meowing, coming forward for petting, winding around legs. Kari has gotten attached to the tabby, and I believe she'll keep her, especially now that Tabby's got a tipped ear and might be harder to adopt out than we originally thought. Kari continues to say that she'd let Tabby go if "the right person" came along.

The brother is a concern. He's a special needs cat. Kari doesn't think he ever comes out of the carrier. He needs someone like Hissy. Kari will keep him until she finds someplace else safe for him, but even she says her household cannot absorb a cat like him.

Kari feels our job is not done. She's sure the gray-and-white sister is still out there in the neighborhood around the office, pregnant. And she'd like to TNR the busy tomcat we've seen around the neighborhood. (We believe he belongs to someone who's shirking their responsibility to have him fixed. We have no idea who.) We're going to put flyers on porches asking if anyone's seen the gray-and-white sister, and Kari and Becky will try another trapping this week if they can get a better idea where to do it.
post #7 of 23
You are both dedicated people who are doing a great job! I hope you get the others.
post #8 of 23
Thread Starter 
Sun., March 20, Day 11: Today has been a really quiet day for Blackberry. I usually go in and see her at 6 a.m., but this morning I slept in and by the time I got in the bathroom, she was already in the sink for the day. I petted her some, she had a shrimp treat (she's decided those are pretty good) and that's been about it until just a few minutes ago. I went in and petted her a little. I've noticed a weird thing the last two days. I THINK she might be purring, but I'm not sure. It's not like the all-out noisy purring that Betsy does, but it's far more subdued. I can't hear it, but I can feel her insides vibrating when I pet her sides. I felt it both today and yesterday. It's like deep internal purring. Or could she be trembling?

Yesterday she stood up in the sink and gave me a very mild head butt. Then she laid back down and when I petted her, she rolled onto her back (as best she could in the sink) and reached up with her paws, claws retracted, and grabbed my arms. Then she opened her mouth and gave me a gentle slow nip on my hand. I'm not sure if she was playing, or if she was giving me a message to back off. I backed off, just to be on the safe side.

Last night, she lit up that bathroom--this morning I discovered the toilet paper had been shredded, her fleece blanket was across the room and her catnip mouse was further mutilated.

She's showing interest in getting out of the bathroom, but I am hesitant to let her loose in the whole house, worried that she'll hide out and we'll never see her again. Any thoughts on when it'd be best to introduce her to the rest of the house?
post #9 of 23
Cats purr when they are contented, scared, or ill. They will even purr if they are in pain. When a cat rolls over on his back, he is not always inviting a tummy rub. He is in a position of war, where his claws and his teeth are at the ready. I never pet the tummies of my cats, I learned the hard way that this was not a wise idea. House kitties that grew up with love are different, but strays, and semi-ferals, it is usually an invitation to war.
post #10 of 23
Thread Starter 
Yeah, Betsy doesn't like her tummy rubbed, either, even though she lies around on her back all the time. And I wouldn't want to come near Blackberry's tummy anyway, with her surgery so recent. (When she reached for me yesterday, I was pulling my hand out from petting her back--she'd rolled, and my hand was stuck under her in the sink.) She's been showing signs of playfulness, but not in a "regular" cat kind of way. She chases stuff, like shadows, and she reaches for a string toy and bites it for a minute, but then it's like her eyes glaze over and she can't figure out the purpose for the dumb thing. I used to watch her chase bugs and pollen puffs in the vacant lot, so my guess is she'd know what to do if I released a bag of 1000 ladybugs in my bathroom, but a string toy is just foreign to her.

Betsy's acting sort of possessive. She has become EXTREMELY affectionate the last couple days--sleeping tight up against my side, following me, doing lap time (and she's never been a lap cat). I'm not sure if it's because of Blackberry, or if it's because the weather has turned cold. (From 85 degrees last week to about 55 this week.) During last night's thunderstorm, she was glued to my side in bed.
post #11 of 23
Thread Starter 
Mon., March 21, Day 12: Blackberry is most sociable late at night and in early mornings. By day, she just sleeps in the sink. Last night we had about 10 minutes together--she rubbed against my knees and put her hind legs on tiptoes when I petted her. She kept lying down and rolling onto her back, and I'd back off, but then she'd stand up again and butt her head or sides against my knee. When she retreated to her blanket against the cabinet, I gave her a shrimpie and left (These shrimp treats are weird--dried shrimp with catnip. My mother, who works at a cat shelter, gave them to me. Betsy goes WILD for them. Blackberry likes them, but doesn't seem affected by catnip. I've heard kittens sometimes aren't susceptible to its powers.) This morning, we had a nice visit, too. Tonight the cats were in the bathroom together--it's the evening routine now for them to spend some time in there with me--the shrimpie I threw to Blackberry didn't go far enough and Betsy ate hers so fast that she thought Blackberry's was a second one for her. Swats and hisses were exchanged. I did give Betsy another treat, but not so near Blackberry. Then I let Blackberry have a second one out of my hand before I left the bathroom. After we're done with Blackberry for the evening, it's Betsy's time to snuggle with me.

Good news about Blackberry's siblings. Tabby is out of Kari's bathroom, living loose in the house with the other two cats--not entirely conflict free, but she's not hiding away or anything. Brother came out of carrier THREE TIMES over the weekend and meowed at his caregiver.

The rain is pouring down tonight, after marble-sized hail and thunder and lightning all weekend. The wall is getting taller at the office. Kitten season progresses. I'm so grateful we caught these cats when we did. I was amazed to see another thread chronicling over 100 pregnant cats. Blackberry and her siblings--gosh, just a drop in the proverbial bucket. I was motivated today to write a check to the cat shelter across the street from our office; my company also will donate ad space in our magazine and make a several-hundred dollar cash donation to compensate them for their help with our trapping/fixing project. On a cold, rainy night like tonight, it still doesn't feel like enough.
post #12 of 23
No it may not seem like it is enough, but it truly is!
With these kittens off the terrible streets and in your loving homes, they are cared for and not adding to the population

Thank you for continuing the updates!
post #13 of 23
Thread Starter 
Fri., March 25, Day 16: Blackberry is still living in the bathroom, and I believe I'll keep her in there for at least another week. Each morning and evening, she emerges from the sink (where she sleeps all day) and gets friendly. When I go in there and sit on my pillow, she rubs against my knees, head butts my hand, rolls around on the floor, plays with her mouse. Each day, she does this for a little longer. Tonight, she actually came out and jetted around the bathroom while my daughters were in there. We got her a new toy--a small stuffed tiger because she seems to need something to hug to her tummy and bunny-kick playfully. At first, she treated him like a live kitten, sniffing his behind, carrying him around by the scruff of the neck. Then she suddenly got freaked out by him, or perhaps by my daughters' giggling, and went into her cardboard box. So we gave her a shrimpie and left her alone.

She's friendliest with me, and is beginning to warm up to the rest of the family. My husband picked her up the other day--something I've been afraid to try--and she didn't like it. She didn't attack or hiss, but she got very tense and scrambled to get away. She seems to have forgiven him, though--she doesn't run or cower when he comes in the bathroom. He is the least patient with her; says he's not sure she'll ever be a nice pet. It's true she's not likely to be like Betsy--overfriendly and tolerant of overhandling--but I believe this can work.

It's been back and forth, though--just when we seem to be seeing incrementally increasing friendliness, she'll have a day when she gets in the sink early or gets out late, and effectively ignores us during a time when we usually get to play with her. It's been quite a lesson for my daughters--for all of us, really--letting Blackberry call the shots. But there's something rewarding about this whole process.
post #14 of 23
YAY Blackberry!
I truly believe that she will be a "normal" part of the family sooner or later~

Can't wait till the next update
post #15 of 23
Sounds like things are going well.
post #16 of 23
I love this story. Every step is a little triumph!
post #17 of 23
Thread Starter 
Fri., April 1, Day 23: It's been a bad day for Blackberry. In preparation for opening the bathroom door (to let her have the run of the house), we put a collar/tag on her (so she can be identified as ours if she gets out of the house). She didn't fuss about the collar--she was in the sink when I put it on. Then we opened the bathroom door.

She stayed in the sink and wouldn't move. Then about an hour ago, my husband, who has been occasionally picking her up this week, picked her up to show her some turkey we'd put down for her. She hissed and hissed and hissed and hissed, growled, hissed, leaped back into the sink and hunkered down with wild eyes, hissed deeply, and stared at the open door.

I realized that perhaps two new things at once--the collar and the open door--were too much, so I closed the door again. I visited her a little while ago and petted her, but she's still really freaked out. She just sat there all stiff without purring. And she's got her eye cuticles out, like she did when we first brought her home. I'll pop in and see her before I go to bed, like I always do, but otherwise I'm going to leave her alone tonight. Once she's back to the friendliness level she was at before the collar/door--assuming she'll get there --I'll open the door again.

She's been really friendly this week, playing and head-butting. She and Betsy have had some trouble, though. Blackberry showed some interest in getting out of the bathroom one morning and Betsy stood at the doorway and beat her back with her paw. Betsy definitely wants to show her dominance.

Meanwhile, Blackberry's brother and sister are still living with my co-worker Kari. Both are loose in her house with two other cats and a dog, and Tabby is doing great: comfortable, friendly, making herself right at home. (Doesn't like to be picked up, though, and occasionally gets a weird look in her eye.) Brother will come out at night and lie on a chair with Tabby, but he won't let Kari near him. The best news is, she may have a home for these siblings. Another co-worker of ours is in the process of seeking a new rental situation, and she's insisting on finding someplace that will allow cats so she can adopt Tabby and her brother.

Well, tonight's events with Blackberry are discouraging; it's the biggest setback we've had yet. But I guess it's a reminder to be patient, that we're dealing with a special needs kitty.
post #18 of 23
There's bound to be a bit of tow forward, one back. But I am sure she will come round again - just needs to adapt slowly to every little change. Continuing good luck to you!
post #19 of 23
I'm still following Blackberry's progress! Thanks for keeping us updated.

Has your husband been putting in much time reading to Blackberry or getting her used to his scent and so forth?
post #20 of 23
Thread Starter 
Fri., April 8, Day 30: Last Friday night and Saturday night, Blackberry didn't get out of the sink. Not to eat, not to use her box. Just sat. I was beginning to worry that she was injured and couldn't move. On Sunday morning, I got out her catnip mouse and pulled it around on a string, and she got out of the sink to chase it. She kept looking around nervously--each time she took a step, she stopped and listened.

Well, then it dawned on me. The collar we'd put on her has a bell on it. We're used to these bells because Betsy wears one (and needs one so we can know when she's underfoot in the dark--she's got a bad habit of getting RIGHT underfoot when we're on the stairs). I don't think Blackberry liked the sound of the bell. So I removed the collar and Blackberry immediately returned to her previous level of friendliness. We opened the bathroom door and since then she's been gradually getting to know the downstairs level of the house. She hasn't been in the sink since last Sunday.

My 5-year-old daughter plays with her a lot, and this has helped draw Blackberry out. Blackberry likes our big pantry, because there are nice places to curl up and sleep--she doesn't hide, but she does like to be underneath the shelf where we can pet her. She comes out to greet us whenever we go in there, and she has begun to come out when we call, "Blackberry." She's not too sure about our dog, who hasn't done anything but look at her--I think he's not sure we've got two cats, because they both look alike. She and Betsy seek each other out--they squabble and bat each other, but clearly neither is afraid of the other. It's like they each want to deliberately start trouble.

For the first time today, I caught Blackberry up on the bed in the guest room, just walking around. This is the first time she has gotten up on any furniture.

All in all, it's going much better than it was last weekend.
post #21 of 23
Sounds pretty good!
post #22 of 23
Sounds great! The dog should be able to tell them apart by smell, much more important to him than their looks!
post #23 of 23
just catching up on blackberry's progess....

sounds like great progress last weekend - thats marvellous - how wonderful that you came into this kitties life
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