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Integrating Adopted Feral into Multi-pet Household

post #1 of 14
Thread Starter 
Hi Guys!
Soooooooo happy I found this site. Need help! GiGi is the last stray from a small colony I've been caring for since the mid- 90s. Through diligent S/N and natural attrition, the group thinned over the years until only two, Tizzy and GiGi remained. The site was an abandoned factory, a vacant office building, lots of land and a big parking lot...this is where I fed them. Several months ago a huge demo/excavation/construction project was started, and I began to fear for the cats' safety. When the shed was knocked down under which Tizzy lived, she disappeared, leaving only GiGi, who lived in the storm drains. When new sewer lines were laid and those horrible "raccoon-proof" storm sewer covers were delivered, I knew I had to take action. If you read my profile, you know I already have five cats and one very old, very sick doggie. One of my cats was actually adopted from that same site about seven years ago, and she has just started to let me touch her head! Unfortunately, I don't remember how I went about introducing Peaches into the household, but I know it was by instinct. This time I'd like to do it right. Here's the scene. I trapped GiGi on Easter Sunday and kept her in the basement in a very large, comfortable cage for a week until I could have her checked out by my vet. She's clean except for a bad case of ear mites. Knowing I'd probably be unable to medicate her, my vet did a super thorough job of flushing out her ears, and we're hoping for the best. Brought her up to my (small) apartment in a carrier and set her up in a smaller cage with litter, food and water, in a nice large bathroom. (Learned early on to keep the window opened only a crack after she nearly tore the window screen out!). GiGi is not extremely wild, maybe because she recognizes me from all those years of feeding. I would put the food out at her feeding station, then rap on the sewer cover several times with a rock...and out she would come. Anyway, over the past several weeks, I have succeeded in being able to pet her on the head and under the chin and a little down the back, usually while she's in her cage...feels secure I guess. I was also advised to gain trust by feeding her with a spoon, and now she's eating out of my hand. Great strides, but she's still frightened and dashes to the safety of her cage (left open with the bathroom door closed most of the time) when I get too close. Sorry this is so long, but I had to provide history. My three immediate concerns are 1) How long can I humanely keep her isolated without any ill effects? 2) When and how do I allow her access the rest of the apartment without losing control? and 3) Other than keeping windows closed all the time, do you have any suggestions for protecting the cat from pulling out my screens and escaping? Oh yes, one other thing. Usually once a day I bring GiGi, in her cage, into the adjoining bedroom and leave her there for a few hours so she'll know there's someplace other than her private quarters, so she knows she's not the only cat in the place, and also so my cats get to see her. So far they have shown exceedingly little interest in her! That's about it...again, Sorry So Long. I'm counting on everyone who's "Been there, done that" to help me make this work.
Thanks a bunch!
post #2 of 14
I myself had not been there and were doing it, although I had read quite a lot about it. My mission is therefore to tell: to make tame a feral being alone human is possible although usually not easy and takes time; but it is a lot easier if you do have own kind home cats! a) they usually dont fight the home cats, accepting their superiority. b) usually they gets pals quite soon. And once pals, the bigger half is already done. You dont need to do much any more, it is mostly to wait and see with pleasure the positive development!
And she seems to be healthy, so you dont need to keep her in quarantene.

Your only concern here is your dog I think. HE is surely friendly and 100% harmless to her, the danger is she is doing a preventive attack on him - she was surely chased by dogs more then once... But if she seems to accept him = all systems says GO.
post #3 of 14
First of all, THANK YOU for caring enough to take care of these cats all this year and bringing GiGi into your life!! Getting a colony down to 2 cats shows the effort you put into it all these years. Pat yourself on the back for accomplishing it!!

Been there, done that more often than I'll readily admit. First of all realize that every cat you bring in from a situation like this is going to react differently. I've had some that after 9 years are still skittish and go into hiding when anyone enters my house. These cats took many years to come up to me and lay in my lap. Expect nothing and be glad when they make progress. Of course I've had more that acclimated quickly and became best buddies in a matter of days or weeks. Anything can happen - don't set expectations or any type of timeframe - they come around when they are good and ready.

There are a lot of techniques for acclimating a feral cat into the mix. Good job on the spoon feeding - I use that all the time. I'm sure more folks will chime in, but here are some things that I do:

- Cats are very sensory oriented, particularly around smells. Swap bedding (even a towel) between your existing cats and Gigi. Get them used to each other's smell.

- Place a well worn article of your clothing (like a t-shirt after a work out) with Gigi in her bedding. Get her used to your smell as a comfort smell.

- Buy open mesh child gates and place them in the doorway of the room where she stays. Get her used to the sites, sounds and schedule of your household.

- Don't trying to keep things totally quiet with her - if you play the stereo, keep doing it - get her used to the noises in your home.

- Rub vanilla extra all of the cat's chin, shoulders and base of tail. This makes them all smell alike and reduces the threat they have with each other.

- Never approach GiGi from full height. Towering over a cat will threaten them. Get down on their level.

- Get a good book, sit on the floor and read aloud to her. Get her used to your voice and your presence.

- Don't make direct eye contact with her. This threatens cats. Look to the side, and if you happen to make eye contact, slowly blink your eyes at her - this is a greeting among cats in colonies.

- Let her come to you when she's ready for you. Read her signs and she will tell you what she wants.

- And most important. patience, patience, patience.
post #4 of 14
Thread Starter 
Vanilla extract, huh? I knew I'd get some awesome suggestions from you folks. I've already employed some of your suggestions, but I have a couple of questions. You seem like the ultimate expert, too!

GiGi has already climbed to the top of the bathroom window in hopes of escaping. Is it likely that a mesh child gate will keep her in the bathroom? Won't she just sail over it? I'm just so afraid that if she gets out, I'll never be able to find her and she'll slip out somehow.

Also, StefanZ brought up a good point about GiGi possibly attacking my dog who has absolutely no defenses left. Do you think that giving her a towel with Spike's scent on it will help here?

At this point GiGi is pretty used to me. I go in and out of the bathroom often and talk to her, feed her and pet her. She's usually pretty calm but surprised me yesterday by freaking out and bouncing off the walls a couple of times. She uses her cage as a haven. Should I keep it there or remove it so she can't hide (except behind the toilet!)?

At some point I expect I'll just have to open the bathroom door and see what happens. Should I try to confine her to one room at a time until she's ready to move on, or just let her have access to the whole apartment? The place is small but still lots of nooks, crannies, windows to worry me.

My sense is that I've gone as far as I can with her in the bathroom, but I'm really afraid to take the next step. HELP ME!!!!!!!!!
post #5 of 14
Thread Starter 
Hi Stefan,
I use the Internet quite a lot but am a newcomer to forums. I think it's just wonderful to submit my problem and get support from someone in Sweden! Thank you so much for the suggestion that my dog might be a target for an attack. I had not thought about that, and I will be extra careful to protect him. He is so weak and fragile that a strong breeze will knock him over. Thanks again for the advice and encouragement.
post #6 of 14
Quote:
Originally Posted by JayTee
Hi Guys!

Hi Jay!

Soooooooo happy I found this site. Need help! GiGi is the last stray from a small colony I've been caring for since the mid- 90s. Through diligent S/N and natural attrition, the group thinned over the years until only two, Tizzy and GiGi remained. The site was an abandoned factory, a vacant office building, lots of land and a big parking lot...this is where I fed them. Several months ago a huge demo/excavation/construction project was started, and I began to fear for the cats' safety. When the shed was knocked down under which Tizzy lived, she disappeared, leaving only GiGi, who lived in the storm drains. When new sewer lines were laid and those horrible "raccoon-proof" storm sewer covers were delivered, I knew I had to take action.

Good for you- GiGi would have quickly moved on to another area with less disturbance.



If you read my profile, you know I already have five cats and one very old, very sick doggie. One of my cats was actually adopted from that same site about seven years ago, and she has just started to let me touch her head! Unfortunately, I don't remember how I went about introducing Peaches into the household, but I know it was by instinct. This time I'd like to do it right. Here's the scene. I trapped GiGi on Easter Sunday and kept her in the basement in a very large, comfortable cage for a week until I could have her checked out by my vet. She's clean except for a bad case of ear mites. Knowing I'd probably be unable to medicate her, my vet did a super thorough job of flushing out her ears, and we're hoping for the best. Brought her up to my (small) apartment in a carrier and set her up in a smaller cage with litter, food and water, in a nice large bathroom. (Learned early on to keep the window opened only a crack after she nearly tore the window screen out!).

You can leave the windows wide open, which goes a long way to calming a stressed out cat used to being free. You need to go to a home depot or some sort of store like home depot. Buy the plastic trellis that people put in their garden to train climbing plants. Be sure the holes in the trellis are not large enough for the cat to get her head through. They only sell them in big sheets, so you have to bring the panel home and cut it to fit the screen part of the window. Install it by wedging it into place with four screws at the corner. The tap the screws down so the covering doesn't move. The air can get in through the holes, but the cat cannot get out, nor can she rip the screen with her claws. I have this installed in all our windows and it has worked well for the ferals we bring inside.



GiGi is not extremely wild, maybe because she recognizes me from all those years of feeding. I would put the food out at her feeding station, then rap on the sewer cover several times with a rock...and out she would come. Anyway, over the past several weeks, I have succeeded in being able to pet her on the head and under the chin and a little down the back, usually while she's in her cage...feels secure I guess. I was also advised to gain trust by feeding her with a spoon, and now she's eating out of my hand. Great strides, but she's still frightened and dashes to the safety of her cage (left open with the bathroom door closed most of the time) when I get too close.

She trusts you, don't push her to accept pets. She has been outside for so long, and when she was born there were no attentive human hands to introduce her to humans. She likely grew up seeing her mom afraid of people and they learn this skill quite early. I have one here, that even though she has been with me over 7 months, I never actuallyused to see her much at all. She is older, she is more challenged to accept to trust and so I just ignore her, after making sure that she is healthy. Now, she will lay on a chair when I come into the room and not budge unless I make a movement toward her.

With cats such as these, it is always best to avoid eye contact (they consider it a threat) if you do make eye contact, then just blink slowly a few times and back away. She will relax for you.




Sorry this is so long, but I had to provide history. My three immediate concerns are 1) How long can I humanely keep her isolated without any ill effects?

The best way I have found to determine this, is to enclose the newcomer behind a door that the other cats can see through, but not hurt the cat on. This can be done simply and inexpensively, and you want to PM me, I can send you the instructions. You will need PVC pipe, four elbows, chicken wire, cable ties and hinges. This door is effective because it allows the cats to see and smell each other, and yet stops any aggression before it starts.




2) When and how do I allow her access the rest of the apartment without losing control? and 3) Other than keeping windows closed all the time, do you have any suggestions for protecting the cat from pulling out my screens and escaping? Oh yes, one other thing. Usually once a day I bring GiGi, in her cage, into the adjoining bedroom and leave her there for a few hours so she'll know there's someplace other than her private quarters, so she knows she's not the only cat in the place, and also so my cats get to see her. So far they have shown exceedingly little interest in her! That's about it...again, Sorry So Long. I'm counting on everyone who's "Been there, done that" to help me make this work.
Thanks a bunch!
Hope I have helped. I have been doing this a very long time and my method has evolved over that time period. It works well to me and new cats never stay isolated here very long, unless they are really sick and need to be quarantined. When they come out to join the group, there is no bloodshed or quarrels unless they automatically challenge my alpha Matuse-
post #7 of 14
Quote:
Originally Posted by JayTee
Usually once a day I bring GiGi, in her cage, into the adjoining bedroom and leave her there for a few hours so she'll know there's someplace other than her private quarters, so she knows she's not the only cat in the place, and also so my cats get to see her. So far they have shown exceedingly little interest in her!

I take this as a very positive sign, they dont showing hostility. This is mainly why I didnt wrote anything about the possibility of a netdoor or similiar, or rubbing on their different smells.*

The main point of the mesh gate is probably not to close in the feral, but to make a sort of revire boundary, so both parts will feel more secure...

If you cant or dont dare to let the shy feral join the group, a netdoor/similiar is very good in itself: the feral can see the homecats interaging with the humans (AND the dog being best friend with the cats!) - and therefore the assimilating and socializing process starts already here by itself.

The others told about not looking directly at the cat, do blink slowly or look with half closed eyes or look besides, yes. Yawning is also good, or stretching yourself - as friendly cats do.

But she ates from your hand, and lets herself be petted a little. You have come long along the way...

And yes, rub off the smells - mostly important for the old frail dog...

Last, about your question if take away the protective cage. No dont do that I think. She must have some shelter places to feel secure in. She will be less stressed in this way. Better she will hide in the cage than behind a sofa where you perhaps dont even know where she is.

And of course the day you let her meet the others - make sure there are places to get away... edit: the risk of her making a preventive attack on the old dog is also much lesser if she is unstressed by having several places to take protection on...

You may also try with Feliway/felifriend if you want.

If you are unsure - begin with the most friendly of them.

-------

*
And as I said before, these witnesses I know of tells there is surprisingly little hostilities between the new shy homeless and homecats...
Why?
Frankly, I dont know for sure.
Some folks here suggested the homeless usually lived in colony, so they are quite used to live near other cats and get along. As long they gets food and are not threatened - they dont fight in the colonies.
I myself believe the newcomer is in a extremely inferior position: afraid for the human, knewing the revire belongs to the home cats, etc. Knows well she is absolutely lowest in the ladder. The most important is to copy with the strange situation and survive, not to fight for a revire!

There are some exceptions of course.
Aggressive ferals. But these are of course never or seldom taken inside. Or if taken inside by a ambitious sheltergroup, handled by very very skilled people. No good shelter sends ever an aggressive feral to a unprepared training home.
(even unaggressive shy feral will usually fight when captured, but this is another story).

Fertile cats, especielly male, can make a claim for revire oh yes. But this is easily helped. And is usually done the first thing after catching the feral, together with the veterinary check up, before the ferals even comes to the training home.

So is the story I try to tell...
post #8 of 14
Quote:
Originally Posted by JayTee
Hi Stefan,
I use the Internet quite a lot but am a newcomer to forums. I think it's just wonderful to submit my problem and get support from someone in Sweden! Thank you so much for the suggestion that my dog might be a target for an attack. I had not thought about that, and I will be extra careful to protect him. He is so weak and fragile that a strong breeze will knock him over. Thanks again for the advice and encouragement.
Yes, this is a strenght of a friendly and good forum like this.

I see we dont always have the same ways; some of my suggestions not supported by the others experienced cat people who did already answered.

But a piece of truth here, a piece there - and together are we building something strong, a knowledge and understanding of the probleme.
post #9 of 14
Ah, you dont mention a stratching post.

Is she still in the bathroom? Does she has a couple of scratching posts?
Her stress and uneasingess will be lesser if she has somewhere to scratch...
post #10 of 14
Thread Starter 
Yes, GiGi is still in the bathroom. It's an 8'x6' room, so she has space to move around. She goes in and out of her cage, usually sitting on the sink vanity.

I do not have a scratching post in there nor do I have one that will fit. She does not seem to be very stressed at all. Today she spent most of the day in her cage which I put on top of a microwave cart in the living area which is combination living, dining and kitchen. She was up high and had a good view of everything going on, including the comings and goings of my other cats.

I think it best if I keep the status quo until next week when I will take a few vacation days and will be better able to monitor her when I let her out of the cage.

Thank you for your continued interest.
post #11 of 14
Yes, you are taking the cage outside to the others, you told it already before. Excellent! Almost better than a net door! Besides, she is getting on her some of the households scents too... So it is a double good.

About scratching posts. Good she seems unstressed, but cats NEED to scratch. Like hens need to bathe in sand. Almost a biological necessity. I was not talking about big stratching post=climbing tree. There are small scratching posts too, like a plank, say 20 inches x 8 inches (50 cm x20cm) to hang up or have on the floor. Or a very big mouse made of rope = a scratching post.

Such scratching post you will have later too, so it isnt extra costs, it will always be handy.
And the lesser she has build up stresses, the better both for her and for your old dog...

You are doing a marvellous job. Keep up!
post #12 of 14
Thread Starter 
Thank you Stefan. After my last message to you, I remembered a small size scratching post that I had in storage. Nothing fancy, just a wide flat base with sort of a tall pyramid on top, all carpeted. I wedged it in under the sink vanity so it won't tip over. Thank you for the suggestion. Today I will bring GiGi's cage to a different part of the apartment so she will know where everything is. I will set the cage on the floor for part of the time so my other cats can get close enough to sniff and vice versa.
post #13 of 14
Thread Starter 
Hi Hissy,
Just a note to let you know I have a handyman friend coming in today to look at my window screens and help me figure out the best way to protect them from GiGi and GiGi from escaping. The garden trellis material sounds like our best bet, but David is very creative and he may come up with something else. Thanks again.
post #14 of 14
I felt the need to reply about acceptance into your home with a dog who is not able to protect himself.

My ferals all live outdoors but they share a very small fenced in yard with my two small Pomeranians. It is necessary because I live in the country with lots of predators; coyotes, hawks, owls, etc.. Their safe haven was OUTSIDE of that fence, in the beginning, the equivalent of your bathroom, I suppose. Keep doing what you are doing, as long as she has a place to escape to she will be fine.

I have an elderly dog with four teeth; none of which actually MEET, and a heart condition. My experience has been, with them, that if your dog doesn't challenge them, or become overly interested, too quickly, you are safe, they ignore them, after a few days of watching, I felt silly worrying over it once I came to the realization that if there is no challenge, there only comes disinterest, nowadays my elderly dog might actually give them a lick or two as they pass him by, but other than that, there has been no interest at all, except on the cats' parts. And even THEY weren't interested, once they learned he really didn't care, and once he had seen them a few times, he had his own agenda, one that did not really include a bunch of cats.

With the dogs, I took the blankets out of the carriers that the cats slept in from time to time, and put them down for the DOGS to sleep on... and the same for the cats, only in reverse. Nothing got washed for awhile but it worked.

If your dog is not aggressive, you should try not to worry overly much, GiGi is the newcomer in this situation and will acknowledge her place in the hierarchy within your home, unless challenged. I doubt that an older dog would bother, at least not initially, unless you are showing GiGi extreme preference.

MY other dog is a friend to all of my colony now, she cleans their faces and ears and - when they don't comply, although smaller than they are now, she pushes them down into complacency with her paw, and holds them there until she feels she has done a good job. (I am sure it is all voluntary now because they already know the routine but it is VERY sweet to see). And they love her, accept her as the Alpha, and come to her when they need a motherly figure.

I wish you well, it's so hard going through these new moments with them, I actually visited alleycats.org and cried tonight when I saw the information there, which had been very helpful at the time, but now seems a world away from where I began.

Good luck! You appear to be already accomplishing what you set out to do. :-)
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