50 Shades of Feral
Recently I discovered that "feral" is a relative term. It turns out that all ferals are not at the same level of feralocity.
For whatever reason, where ever I have lived, stray cats come. I think I'm on some kind of map only cats can read, likely labeled "You are HERE. Soft touch in 30 yards to the right".
There was a poor black cat who I named Charlie. He was so frightened. He stayed under the shed. I could never get him to come out until I went in the house, so I had to leave food and water next to the shed. No matter what I tried, I could not get him to believe it was safe to come out when I was there. I wasn't the one to be afraid of though; the area was not conducive to outdoor cats, due to a pack of very large coyote who sat across the street from my lot and watched not only the inside cats, but even my small dogs. Sadly, within a few months, Charlie cat was gone never to return.
There was "P.K." (Pretty Kitty). He seemed aggressive at first, swatting at me and drawing blood more than once although not deeply - just surface scratches. However, within a couple of months he was happily sitting in my lap on the porch. He became so docile, the shelter felt he could be adopted and sure enough in less than a week he was!
Baby was a very young, extremely feral, totally unapproachable cat I cared for over 3 months. He even growled at me when I put out the food. I actually managed to trap him for TNR, but after release he ran away and I never saw him again.
Snuffy was seemingly a feral, but after caring for him for only a couple weeks, he became extremely ill, unable to eat and vomiting saliva. Due to how ill and weak he was, even though he had not been approachable previously, he allowed me to pick him up and take him to a Vet without any resistance. Sadly it turned out he'd been ill for a long time with feline leukemia, from what the Vet could surmise after an afternoon of tests. I took him home for what ended up being 6 weeks of hospice care in the recovery/foster room until he passed away. He wouldn't let me pet him a lot, but I would sit and read to him and he would purr and snuggle with the toys I gave him while I did. Sometimes when I'd go to leave, he'd mew at me to stay longer. At the very end, he let me pet him to give him comfort.
Angel showed up one day, trying to walk in the door when I opened it. He was friendly, loving, thin and didn't seem to see very well. He had trouble eating so I took him to the Vet right away as he was so docile. His problem was simple according to my Vet: "he was older than Moses." My Vet guessed in his very late teens or even early 20's based on what was left of his teeth. He had clearly been someone's pet and had ended up lost or abandoned. No microchip. No collar. Lost notices provided no leads, no clues. He lived in the foster/recovery room because my other cats kept trying to attack him. I had to put potty pads all over the beds as he would lay and urinate, not realizing he was peeing as he was somewhat senile due to the old age. But he was so loving, anytime I went in to spend time with him he would be all over me - sometimes peeing but I wore old clothes and was more than happy to suffer some cat pee to ease his suffering. He died happy one afternoon about 3 months later, on the bed as I held him.
There was - and still is - Silver. He started off a lot like Charlie. He was thin and his coat was ratty and thin. It took a year and a quarter to get to how P.K. was at first. One day he showed up with a seriously injured eye and face. My Vet dispatched a Vet Tech to help me catch him. Four hours, 2 oven mitts, 1 pillow case, 1 blanket, 1 dog kennel, 1 cat carrier, lots of pee and poop from fright (mostly Silver's ;-) later, we got him to the vet for a thousand dollars worth of surgery. Needless to say he came home to the recovery room after that. While he was at the Vet's for surgery, we also did vaccinations, microchip, and deworming (he had the notched ear when he showed up and no testicles so he'd been neutered already). I expected him to go insane in the recovery room trying to get out. Turns out I could never get him to leave. Four years later, he's fat, fuzzy and happy living with all the other cats, and if someone opens a door to the outside he runs back to the cat room and gets in his teepee, as if to say "lady, there is NO WAY you're getting me to leave this place!". That was totally unexpected. All my Vet team could think was that this feral cat had a home once, and the trauma and ending up in the recovery room triggered the memory of having a home.
Paddy and Linus, the most recent feral rescues, seemed after many months of caring for them, to be warming up to human contact. Linus was willing to let me play with him instead of hiding in the dogloo. Paddy hissed, but Paddy hisses at everything, then just sits there while I talk to him, or eats while I talk to him. Even Paddy was starting to join the play sessions. I was even starting to pet Linus's ear and the top of his head, as he'd allow it sometimes. Based on the outcome of Silver, and the hit of Hurricane Harvey during which I hardly slept for 3 days, trying to keep flood waters out of their outdoor habitat, and keep the roof on it in the torrential winds and rain, I thought it was time to try moving them into the recover/foster room and see if I could merge them with the other cats.
4 days later, I had 2 cats on the verge of renal failure. Like wild animals that are moved to a zoo, they stopped wanting to live. They would not drink, they would not eat. The litter box remained devoid of any refuse or urine. I spoke with the Veterinarian daily. Unlike when outside in their habitat where they were relaxed and unafraid, inside they hid the entire time in their kitty teepee. If I could get them to lift their heads to look at me, it was a look of dead eyes, pure misery, and hopelessness. The same look I've seen in shelters when an animal has given up and intends to die. It happens sometimes.
I moved them back outside when the Vet said we were at imminent renal failure by the next day. I spent that evening up late, getting them back out into their habitat. That night they ate 4 cans of wet food and almost an entire bowl of dry. I got up in the middle of the night to check on them twice. They were either eating or cleaning. By the next morning they were their old selves as if nothing had happened. Linus rolling on his back to expose his belly to the sunbeams, Paddy's customary hiss before eating.
The strange this is, outside, they actually live in an enclosed habitat due to the coyotes around. It is a very large habitat - big enough for me to move around in comfortably as well, with vertical tower space to climb and survey their domain, as well as horizontal space to run and play. So it's not like they roam free; that's why what happened was such a shock. I did not think their level of feralocity was so high that they would completely shut down to the verge of renal failure when inside a huge room with all their familiar things from their habitat (trees, toys, scratchers, etc), and floor to ceiling windows from which they could view all kinds of goings on of people and animals.
With every rescue I learn something new that helps me help future animals I encounter. I'll now, going forward, consult my "levels of ferlocity" chart before proceeding with changes!
Shelter Stories: A Mr.Frisky Blog