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What can we do to help Abby?

post #1 of 10
Thread Starter 
Almost three years ago, one of the other volunteers at my shelter finally managed to trap a very skinny, feral Holstein cat she'd been feeding for a couple of weeks. She took the cat to the shelter and put her in a cage in the observation room. The next morning, the staff found her nursing five perfectly beautiful boy kittens! One of them is now my darlin' Clyde, the furry little light of my life. :-)

All Clyde's brothers found good homes, too... but their mother, Abby, was not so lucky. Abby was utterly terrified of everybody and everything. If you opened her cage, she growled; if you reached in, she hissed and slashed viciously at your hands. The staff tried leaving her cage open so she could come out and socialize with the other cats, but she would only cower behind her litterbox and lash out with her claws. She left her mark on a lot of us -- both cats and people!

My mother and I visited her regularly, but made no headway. At this rate, Abby was never going to become adoptable, so I decided to take action. One day, I managed to reach in and get my arms around her with only minor injuries to my face. I brought her out of the cage, and to my amazement, she suddenly went completely submissive! She curled herself tightly into my shoulder and buried her face against my neck.

So I held her that way for awhile, rocking gently and murmurring to her, trying to let her know there was nothing to be afraid of. Eventually, she made a tentative little move to indicate that she wanted down, so I lowered her to the floor. A couple of the other cats immediately came over to say hello to her, and suddenly she was hissing and lashing out again. I picked her up and tried to calm her, but she would have none of it, so I returned her to her cage.

Similar visits occurred regularly for the next six months. Abby never got truly comfortable with me (or anyone else), never accepted the other cats, never showed any sign of improvement. But then, miraculously, someone adopted her! I was thrilled... but it turned out to be a disaster. Abby hid under a bed for nine days, coming out only when the woman SHOVED her out with a vacuum-cleaner attachment! I asked the woman to let the shelter have her back, and my wonderful mom decided to adopt her. We just couldn't bear to see her go back into a cage.

My mom worked so hard at winning Abby's trust. When Abby hid under a bed at my folks' house, my 78-year-old mom crawled right under there with her to deliver warm milk-substitute and have a quiet chat. When it became clear that Abby was not able to accept the other two cats in the house, my mother set her up in a room all her own. Over the past couple of years, my mother's efforts have brought Abby a long, long way.

But she still spends most of her time hiding in inaccessible places, and often hides even from my mom. She's terrified of leaving her room. Yet she also watches the other cats through a French door and imitates their behavior... bats eagerly at a certain toy my mom dangles for her... it's so clear that Abby longs for play and companionship. If only we could ease her fear, I know she WANTS to be a normal kitty!

And on top of all that, poor Abby has developed a blockage that causes the tears from her left eye to spill out onto her cheek, rather than draining down into her nose as they should. The constant moisture has caused a raw patch on her face that crusts over and has to be cleaned as often as Mom can get her to allow it. It must hurt terribly, and I feel the pain is probably contributing to her anxiety.

So here are my questions:

1. Early on, we tried spray Feliway, but it didn't seem to help. Should we try a Feliway Plug-in? Are they significantly more effective?

2. We also tried Rescue Remedy, to no avail. Are there other herbal concoctions we should try? Are they really, truly safe?

3. We have NOT tried drugs, but we are willing to if we can be certain they are safe and cannot do her lasting harm. Does anyone have experience with anti-anxiety medications for cats? Any recommendations?

4. For two years, we have gentled Abby along, hoping she would gradually relax, but progress seems to have ceased. We wonder if we should take a different approach, perhaps bringing Abby together with Dylan and Sassy and both my parents in a small room with no hiding places, and just sitting together for a few hours. Our idea is that such an "encounter group" (or perhaps a series of them) might force everybody to get past the novelty of togetherness and finally calm down! Are we completely crazy to even think of this?

5. We are saving up to let Abby have surgery that may or may not succeed in unblocking the passage into her nose and allowing her tears to drain correctly. Does anyone have experience with this kind of surgery? We'd love to have input.

If you've stuck with me through this long tale, thank you so much. My family and I will be deeply grateful for any recommendations you can give us. We love Abby so dearly, and we want so very much to see her relaxed and happy!
post #2 of 10
For one thing, this should probably be in the stray and feral thread, where people have more experience with ferals. Sounds like that is what Abby is, a feral cat kept inside.

I think I would try feliway again, to help her feel more comfortable. Then on the feral thread, you will see lots of suggestions for staying low, laying on the floor, etc, to help kitty feel more comfortable. And let her play in her room, away from the other cats if that is what she choses.

Your mother's instincts are great. The best thing was to get on the floor and bring food to Abby.

I don't know about medications to calm a feral kitty. Your vet can probably advise if it would help.
post #3 of 10
I recently adopted a painfully shy tortoishell who had been abused by her previous owner, and I did it for much the same reason as your mom...I knew that no one else was going to want to adopt her. So far in our attempts to bring her out of her shell, two things have helped:

1. Bach Flower Essence combinations. They truly are very safe to use. I see that you've tried Rescue Remedy to no avail...that didn't work for my girl, either. I found a wonderful place that makes Bach Flower combinations specifically for cats that have helped my girl immesureably. Check out www.spiritessence.com for more information.

2. Tellington TTouch. This is a method of "hands-on" therapy that can help correct & improve animal behavior. The best vet I've ever known used it on feral kitties with much success. I have been using it on my girl, who now runs to greet me when I enter the room & presents herself for TTouch (her favorite technique is called "Tarantulas Pulling the Plow")!! This from a cat who mostly lives under the bed & is terrified of people!. You can take a class on it if you have a practitioner nearby, or you can learn it from a book (a combination of the two is highly recommended but not always possible). I got my copy for a reasonable price on www.half.com...it's called The Tellington TTouch by Linda Tellington-Jones & Sybil Taylor. Here's a link to their site: http://tteam-ttouch.com/ttouchhowto.shtml

Good luck with Abby! Hope one (or both) of these methods helps her.
post #4 of 10
It's obvious from your post that you both love Abby very much and although I have no advice for you, I'm sending prayers and hugs that you'll be able to gain her trust and confidence.
post #5 of 10
Thread Starter 
Thank you for wading through that post and responding! I really appreciate your suggestions and kind wishes.

So far, we haven't found a vet who wants to talk about using medication to calm Abby down. We don't know whether that means it's universally considered a bad idea, or just that the four vets we've been to have no experience in it.

I've read about the Bach's products and will look into those, and we'll give the Feliway another try, too.

I also studied up on TTouch and tried a little of it on my own cats. They seemed almost hypnotized by it, but then, they're both snuggly little pushovers to begin with. :-) The next time I'm at my folks' house, I'll see if I can get Abby to let me try it on her.

Finally, I'll PM Hissy and see if she'll move this over to the Stray & Feral thread... and maybe I should post my surgery question in the Health section.

Thank you all so much for your help!
post #6 of 10
First off, I want to throttle the woman who adopted Abbey out of the shelter, and refused to let her hide in her safe place unmolested and went after her with a vacuum cleaner!

I can only tell you what I would do if this cat were here under my care. It is a system, I have developed over the years of working with abused and traumatized cat, changing until I finally found the formula that works.

I would stop crawling under the bed, delivering the food for her. I would instead, block off the room with a heavy screen door so she can see, hear and smell the rest of the house, but the other cats can't get to her and vice versa. I would set her food out at specific times, in the room, always in the same place, same bowls. I would do the same thing with the water, and the litter pan patrol, only going into the room on a schedule. No surprises.

I would also write in this schedule times to go into the room. I would sit down hard on the floor and wiggle around a bit to get comfortable (and leave my scent there) I would take out a book and start reading to Abbey several times a day.Read out loud softly not loud- Once I finished a chapter I would get up and set several big meaty treats where my body was on the floor or carpet, and simply leave.

I would move a cat post into the room, and make a trip to the local craft shop and buy artificial leaves and loose plants and some wire and make a jungle refuge out of the second level of the cat condo- so when she does come outside the bed she will have another secure place to hide.

I would ignore her- ignore, ignore, ignore. If she comes out, don't look at her (stares are invitation to war) and if she does happen to glance at your mom, have her blink her eyes slowly several times, lower her head and leave the room.

This cat is truly traumatized, she is hiding because she feels safe there. A human head and half a body sticking under her hiding place is a bad idea unless she is so sick she needs a vet.

I would keep the room dark- burning dim lightbulbs or night lights. I would have classical music going all the time softly in the background. I would have two Comfort Zone Room Diffusers burning in the room as well.

That is what I would do in order to show this kitty that I am not a predator, I am not a threat. Any time I have a traumatized kitten or cat here, I stay low to the ground always while in the room. It's hard on the knees, but knee pads help.
post #7 of 10
Originally Posted by CarolPetunia

So far, we haven't found a vet who wants to talk about using medication to calm Abby down. We don't know whether that means it's universally considered a bad idea, or just that the four vets we've been to have no experience in it.
I am glad to hear that the doctors do not want to medicate Abby. Medication can be extremely helpful when a cat's behavior is rooted in a biochemical disorder. But from your description I don't think there is anything wrong with Abby's brain chemistry or with any other part of her. She's feral, which is every bit as normal as being domestic.

And as Hissy pointed out, she has been traumatized by her past experiences. The scariest thing you can do to a feral or even merely frightened adult cat is to cage her and/or force yourself on her. For young kittens this works great, but it is disastrous to do it to an adult.

The most important thing you can do for her is to respect her fear and respect her right to not act anything like your other cats. There's nothing wrong with her that needs fixing. So it is important to focus on improving her life on her terms, rather than trying to get her to conform to your concept of what a cat "should" act like. Hissy has given great advice and I definitely think that's the direction you should go.
post #8 of 10
Thread Starter 
Thank you all for putting so much thought and care into your replies! You're very kind.

And yes, Hissy -- the Vacuum-Cleaner Woman has no idea how close she came to getting smacked upside the head that day! If she had not relinquished Abby, I would have invoked the clause in the adoption contract that says we can take the animal back if we see evidence of abuse.

We do understand that Abby is feral, and we accepted that when we adopted her. We're more than willing to deal with that in whatever way we need to, as we've been doing for the past couple of years.

The thing is, she's come such a long way in that time! It's such a joy when she plays like any other cat, lets Mom brush her, or actually follows my father out of the room she shares with him to take a cautious look around the rest of the house! Seeing these things, we can't help wanting to help her come the REST of the way... y'know?

But it may be that this is as far as Abby can go, and if so, that's okay. We just want to make sure that we aren't missing any opportunities, overlooking something that might help her become a happier kitty. That's why we're asking questions.

Your guidance is very much appreciated... we'll try all your recommendations. Thank you all...
post #9 of 10
dear carol, abby,and the 'light of your life'

what a very sad little cat you have,it is such a shame, the actions of some people have such a devastating impact on animals that can effect them for the rest of their lives,some animals never get over the torture,and cruelty,and for this woman to think she could offer this cat the care it deserved she must have been 'a penny short of a pound',she has probably done more harm to this little cat.

we admire your dedication with abby,and with love,and mutual respect for each others,eventually your perseverence with abby will pay off,

she has found what she has been searching for,it will take time for her to believe she has found it,it may take years but one-day she will trust again.

edit,P.S when adopting pets over here some shelters stipulate that the animal remains the property of the shelter at all times,which makes it easier to get the animal back if it is found to be mistreated or not properly cared for,maybe your shelter could include such a clause,
post #10 of 10
Thread Starter 
Aw, thank you, FF! The credit goes to my mom, though -- she's amazing. I mean, she's 80 years old, and yet when she called today and found out I "hab a code id by doze," she whipped up a pot of homemade potato soup and brought it right over, complete with crackers and celery salt! What a woman. :-)

And thank you for the idea about the kitty "ownership" clause! That's an excellent idea, and I'll suggest it to the shelter director.

Thank you for writing...
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