Taking In A Feral Cat

Discussion in 'Pets & Critters' started by Ken Anderson, Nov 6, 2019.

  1. Ken Anderson

    Ken Anderson Greeter
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    There are millions of feral cats in the world yet, of the much fewer number of people looking to adopt a cat, few are interested in taking in a feral cat. There are some good reasons for that.

    First, I should probably define what a feral cat is because a lot of people confuse stay cats with feral cats. Quite simply, a stray cat is one who was once a pet but who either strayed from home, got lost, or was dumped by some heartless bastard who viewed his cat as a property that could be discarded. On the other hand, a feral cat is one who has never lived in a home. In other words, if a cat strays from her home, gets pregnant, and has kittens in the wild, the mom would be a stray while her kittens would be feral.

    Stray cats were socialized while they were young, and most had once had positive experiences with people. They view us as a source of food and protection. Strays were once someone’s pet but were later abandoned or otherwise separated from their homes. Feral cats have never had such a home, and tend to be fearful and unwilling to allow anyone to pet or come near them.

    In some places, there are colonies of feral cats living together, sometimes being fed by caring people, but they tend to be viewed by most as pests. These colonies are often a mixture of stray and feral cats, and it can be hard to tell the difference. A stray cat who has been away from home for a long time will develop many of the same fears that the feral cat is born with. If the cat seems to want to trust you and to make contact with you, it could be that someone has been feeding the cats in the feral colony, or it might be that this is a stray who is still looking for a home. Strays can usually readjust to living in a home, and can quickly become loving and grateful pets.

    But I don’t want to travel too far down a tangent, as this thread is about taking in a feral cat.

    Feral cats are certainly not for everyone. Taking in a feral cat can be dangerous and difficult, and you may never have a cat who is entirely adjusted to living with a human family.

    Human children who have not been handled by a loving mother during the first days, weeks, and months of life may develop a condition known as Reactive Attachment Disorder. That’s another tangent that I won’t travel down here but, briefly, children with RAD are very difficult. While most children with RAD do not grow up to be sociopaths or serial killers, most sociopaths and serial killers suffered from reactive attachment disorder as children.

    That’s similar to what’s going on in the mind of a feral cat, at least when it comes to their relationships with people. A comparison might also be made with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

    In most cases, feral cats have not had good relationships with human beings. In the town where I adopted a feral cat, children would hunt cats with dogs and pellet guns, and they were encouraged to do so by the adults around them, who viewed stray and feral cats as being a nuisance. Even those whose nature is compassionate often don’t want to encourage stray or feral cat colonies to develop in their neighborhoods.

    So, while a feral cat might eagerly take a handout from you, it is not particularly interested in establishing a relationship that doesn’t involve food.

    More in my next post.

    Please, you should feel perfectly free to comment here, and I encourage you to do so, but only if the comments are on-topic. This is not the place for all of your cat pictures, memes, or jokes. Thanks.
     
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  2. Ken Anderson

    Ken Anderson Greeter
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    As I was trying to figure out what I needed to do in order to raise happy cats to live long lives, I have accumulated a lot of cat books, many of them contradicting one another. One thing that most of them agree on is that it’s not a good idea to take a feral cat into your home.

    I agree that, for a lot of people, it’s not a good idea to take a feral cat into your home, but doing so has been one of several rewarding experiences in my life.

    I have talked about a cat that I had named Bird in other posts in this forum, and it is not my intention to make this thread about her, as that can be done in another thread. However, I will use my experiences with her as examples from time to time. Although she is not the first feral cat that I have befriended, she is the only one that I have taken into my home and raised to be more than twenty-two years of age.

    Even after two decades of living with Bird, my other two cats, Cutie and Lydia, didn’t like her, although they learned to tolerate one another. I expect that this was largely because Bird had the feline equivalent of PTSD, and a playfight could abruptly change into one with claws out.

    I don’t think Bird even knew when it was happening. She’d be playfighting, then, all of a sudden, something would click in her brain and she was fighting for her life. I don't think she even saw it coming.

    I know this because I lost blood more than once while playfighting with Bird. She would start out slapping at me with her claws in, clearly having fun. Then, without warning, her claws would be out and I’d be bleeding. Almost as soon as it happened, she’d realize what she had done and, in her way, try to make amends. That was part of taking a feral cat into my home.

    While she learned to enjoy sitting on my lap, proven by the volume of her purring, it had to be on her terms, and she would position herself stiffly on my knee. There were moments when she was a cuddling lap cat; those were rare but well worth it.

    Once, she was on the arm of the couch, by me, and she fell asleep so soundly that she fell off of the couch. She got up and slapped me five or six times on my leg, probably thinking I had pushed her. Her claws actually tore through the fabric of my pants and, once again, I was bleeding.

    So why on earth would I suggest that anyone take in a feral cat?

    More in my next post.
     
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  3. Ken Anderson

    Ken Anderson Greeter
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    Why then, would anyone want to take in a feral cat?

    For me, a large part of it was the challenge. That's probably the reason I prefer cats to dogs, too. You have to earn a cat's trust and love, while a dog will adore the guy who beats her and ties her up in corner of his back yard. Taking in a feral cat takes that challenge a step further.

    It took months to get her to come up to me when I didn't have food in my hand. Since the goal of this thread is to tell you how to take in a feral cat, food might be considered step one. The feral cat isn't interested in establishing a relationship with you. However, the feral cat is always interested in its next meal.

    Bird was still a kitten when I made friends with her, so the challenges of taking in a feral adult cat would probably be even greater. For the first couple of weeks, she wouldn't even come up to me for food. I'd have to throw it a distance away from me. But I'd make sure she knew that it was coming from me, and I'd talk to her while I was feeding her. The next step was to throw it a distance that was closer to me than before. I may have moved to that step too quickly because she wouldn't go for it. It was too close, and she wasn't going to take that chance, even for food. She would wait until I left.

    I don't know whether she ever attributed that to me but I knew where she was sleeping and I would put some clean hospital sheets in there for her from time to time. I was a paramedic so hospital sheets were easy to come by. She was in the porch of a vacant house. If she was there when I came in, she would hiss and throw a fuss, but I'd talk to her while I went about the business of making her bed.

    Over a period of several weeks of my throwing her food closer and closer to me, she was finally willing to take it from my hand. At first, though, she would slap it from my hand, and pick it up off the ground.

    More in my next post, but that won't be immediate.
     
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  4. Bess Barber

    Bess Barber Very Well-Known Member
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    My daughter is feeding a feral cat because she felt sorry for it. I didn't even know it was feral until I called my daughter to say they should let her in out of the rain. Apparently, the cat is so wild, she will let my daughter pet it outside, but will not settle down inside. She howls until they let her out. I thought she was just a stray since we live in a neighborhood, not rural. I wonder where the feral ones come from and how they exist?
     
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  5. Ken Anderson

    Ken Anderson Greeter
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    As you'll learn, my experience with Bird was similar.

    I don't remember how much time it took now, but eventually, she would let me pat her on the head, but she'd stand just close enough so that I could touch her head but not grab her. She was so cautious, and I had to take things one slow step at a time, on her time. If I tried pushing it too hard, like the first couple of times that I tried to pick her up, she'd run and she wouldn't even come out to eat the next time. Sometimes she would just hiss at me to warn me that she hadn't given permission for that.

    As I remember it, I had to lie down on the ground, on my stomach, before she would come close enough to me so that I could pet her, and that was only after she had rubbed up against me. Mostly, it involved me lying there and her coming to me.

    Next came a long time of just being there. Our ambulance offices were next door to the vacant house she was in, so I would just sit outside while she grew accustomed to me. Then, she jumped up on my knee while I was sitting in a chair outside. She immediately jumped back down, but it was a step that she was taking. Then she jumped up again and sat on my head. If I tried to pet her, she'd jump down, but she liked sitting there. So I'd sit on the chair outdoors while she sat on one of my legs. Then one day, I realized she was purring. I had never heard her purr before.

    So, as number one, I would say bribe them with food. Number two would be patience. You can't make them want you, so you just have to make yourself available and have patience. That's where a lot of people fail, I think. They think, "Okay, I've been feeding this cat for a week now, and she still won't let me pet her."

    Eventually, I would find that she would be looking for me. My medics would tell me that when they backed the ambulance in, Bird would be there waiting to see if I was in the ambulance, then walk away, disappointed, if I wasn't. At that point, it wouldn't chase her off if I tried to pick her up. She still wasn't letting me do that, but it didn't scare her off. As soon as I sat down on the chair outdoors, she'd be there on my leg. If I was working inside, she would often jump up to the window ledge nearest me.

    Then, one day, she let me pick her up. I didn't push it. I just picked carried her over to the chair, where we sat.

    When a house adjoining our ambulance station became available, I rented it, since I wouldn't have to drive to work. Bird noticed that, immediately. I started leaving food in a bowl for Bird, just outside my backdoor. By then, I could pick her up and carry her around regularly, although she'd sometimes get skittish. She was also answering to her name. Maybe it was just my voice because I wasn't calling anyone else outdoors. At that time, I had Baby Girl, Cutie, and Lydia but, with children and dogs hunting cats, I wasn't letting them outdoors.

    One night when it was cold, for Texas, and raining, I carried Bird into the house. She freaked. It didn't help that Cutie and Lydia were having a fit, too. I didn't close the door on her though, so she ran outside. But she didn't go far. Michelle held Baby Girl, while I held Lydia so that they wouldn't get out. I wasn't so worried about Cutie because she didn't much want to go out, particularly not in the rain. Bird stopped at the door, then looked inside, as if she was taking it all in. Lydia was in my arms, growling. Cutie was at the door, growling, and hissing, trying to make sure the intruder cat didn't try to come back in. I think Bird just didn't want to be seen as running from these other cats. She didn't hiss or growl back at them, but she stood there by the door.

    A few nights later, she followed me home from the ambulance station. I held the door for her and she came in. She was doing a pretty good job of ignoring the fuss the other cats were making as she was taking it all in. When I closed the door, she panicked, so I opened it again and let her out.

    On another rainy night, she came in on her own and ventured into some of the other rooms, Cutie and Lydia shadowing her, with accompanying growls and hisses, which were all but ignored by Bird. By then, she was an adult but Bird was always a tiny little cat. I opened a couple of cans of food and put them in the bowls indoors, and all four of the cats ate. Baby Girl, who was a more tolerant sort, shared a bowl with Bird. Afterward, although Michelle had closed the door, Bird settled down in the living room, with an air of, "This isn't so bad. I think I like it."

    She got up, started to make some digging motions on the carpet and I realized she was about to take a dump on my carpet. I picked her, carried her over to the litter box, and she caught on immediately. Although she preferred to go outdoors for that sort of thing, I have never had a litter problem with Bird. It was just a matter of showing her a better place to do that.

    She never wanted to spend the night in the house, though. She wanted to be let out before we went to bed. Again, the lack of hospitality from Cutie and Lydia probably had something to do with that, although that settled down somewhat.

    At this point, we are looking at...
    1. Food
    2. Patience
    3. Persistence
    There will be more later.
     
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  6. Ken Anderson

    Ken Anderson Greeter
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    Before we left Texas, Bird invited herself into the house whenever she wanted to be in the house. My other cats quit hissing at her, and there were even a few overtures toward friendliness. They never did become fast friends, however. At that point, I could have taken her in as a house cat and she'd have done okay, but she would resent the freedom of being outdoors, I think.

    The people I was renting the house from needed it for a daughter who was moving back to town, so I rented another place across the street and a couple of doors down. Within days, Bird found the new place. I noted that she was very careful crossing the street. I worried about that because her sister had been killed crossing the street.

    After I sold my part in the ambulance company and we were preparing to move from Texas to Maine, we decided to take Bird with us, if she'd have it. By then, she was comfortable enough with both of us that we could pick her up anytime we wanted to, and she had spent a couple of nights in the house when it was nasty weather outside. In fact, she had come down with ringworm at one point, and she even let me bathe her in the stuff I got from the vet for ringworm. She tolerated bathing better than Cutie did.

    On the day we were to leave, I had fitted each of the cats with a harness, concerned that they might have to take a bathroom break somewhere along the way. However, when I put that harness on Bird, she did a flying dervish kind of thing that involved leaping into the air and twisting. She was out of that harness in seconds and on her way to wherever it was she planned to go because she wasn't having any part in being harnessed. I feared we were going to lose her. Fortunately, traffic was heavy on the street she would need to cross and I was able to get her while she waited for a safe chance to cross. She was not pleased with me at that point and even hissed at me.

    I decided to forego the harness. Since we were traveling in two cars, Michelle took Cutie and Lydia in one carrier, while I took Bird and Baby Girl in the other, since Baby Girl got along better with her than any of the others. We stopped at cat-friendly hotels along the way and all four of the cats did fine. They held their bathroom stuff until we stopped for the night. Perhaps from nervousness more than anything else, Baby Girl and Bird were grooming one another in the cat carrier. They were big cat carriers, by the way.

    When we got to Maine, we kept them all in the house for week to give them a chance to get familiar with their surroundings and to identify the new house as home. I would carry them out one at a time, and I noticed that, probably because she was in unfamiliar surroundings, Bird clung to me and didn't even try to get away.

    What we were unaware of when we left Texas was that Bird was pregnant. She had four beautiful kittens. Finding homes for three of them, we kept one - Obadiah. Actually, we had found a home for Obadiah too, but she was a return. The family was moving to an apartment where they couldn't have cats and we told the people we gave them to that we'd take them back if they ever found that they couldn't keep them. Cutie and Lydia took to Bird's kittens from the start, and by the time she was an adult, Obie was siding with Cutie and Lydia against her mom.

    Over the years, Bird became comfortable enough as a house cat that I swear she brightened whenever I told her she was such a good house kitty. It got to where I could even tease her without fear of losing an eye. There were always moments when her PTSD would kick in and her claws would be out, but she got to where she would usually be able to snap out of it before I was bleeding. Cutie had come to look to Bird for direction when she was outdoors because Bird was acknowledged as the expert of the outdoors.

    Okay, so much for the story of Bird. I told that story because that was one way to take in a feral cat, and I think that's probably the best way, although it doesn't have to be done over such a long period of time. A lot of the time involved had more to do with my not being anxious to take in another cat. Before Cutie and Lydia came along, I had been a one-cat person. Now I had five, and there is a point when insanity kicks in.

    More later.
     
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  7. Von Jones

    Von Jones Veteran Member
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    I never knew of a 'feral' cat to me they were all 'stray' cats. I am not a cat person but have been around cats but not too long because I am allergic to them. Some of them are beautiful to look at though.
     
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  8. Ken Anderson

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    I grew up on a farm, where we had barn cats. Although these cats were tame, to varying degrees, I was the only one in the family who viewed cats as pets, as far as spending time petting them, giving them names, and sneaking them into my room at night. Mom wouldn't allow any animals in the house. The barn cats were there to keep the rodent population down on the farm, and they mostly lived in the barn which, between the cow and the horses, was pretty warm, even in the winter. One of our cats, Grayola, was probably the tamest cat we had. She just loved being petted and cuddled. Yet, when she had kittens, she would always have them somewhere away from the house. I know she had at least one of her litters in our neighbor's unused barn across the road because I followed her there once. She would march her brood of kittens home when they were near adults, and as feral as they could be. I don't know what it was, but something in her maternal instincts told her that this was the best option. These kittens would end up on other nearby farms, or disappear somewhere. I don't think any of them ever stuck around.

    At our house, dad would bring home wild animals, like a fox, raccoons, a skunk, and some other ones that I can't remember right now, and we would try to tame them, with varying degrees of success. But I was never able to tame any of Grayola's kittens.

    As I suggested earlier, it isn't necessary to take as long as I did with Bird, although that worked out just fine. When taking a feral cat into the house, it's generally suggested to keep the cat in a room separate from any other cats. That's suggested whenever a new cat is introduced to a household that already has a cat. That's probably a good idea, particularly if they are going to be left alone for any length of time. It might keep someone from being hurt. In that way, the cats familiarize themselves with the fact that there are other cats without all of the territorial disputes.

    In a sense, we did that with Bird, although we did it by bringing her in for supervised visits, and my other cats became familiar with Bird being just outside the door, as she would often hang around outside the house before she felt confident enough to come in.

    Another thing to consider if you have other cats is that you need to know whether the feral cat has any communicable diseases. That's one good reason not to just throw them in with the others. I don't think that a cat should get all of the vaccinations that the veterinary community would have us impose on them, but a rabies vaccination might be a good idea. Most importantly, though, you want to make sure than any existing diseases are treated, as I did with Bird's ringworm.

    So, the feral cat should make a trip to the vet.

    I strongly suggest getting to know the feral cat before you take it into your house, although I suppose that may not always be possible, or safe for the feral. Either way, getting the feral cat to the vet will be more complicated than it generally is with your own tame cats. Sometimes, a live trap might be necessary. It's also a good idea to make sure the vet knows that the cat you're bringing in is feral.

    It has to be done, but you will need to face the fact that bringing the feral cat to the vet might bring with it an erosion of trust since even tame cats usually resent a trip to the vet. You might have to rebuild some of that trust. Of course, if you haven't already established a relationship with the cat, you'll be starting at step one anyhow. Nevertheless, you do need to know that you have a healthy cat, or what problems might need to be treated.
    1. Food
    2. Patience
    3. Persistence
    4. Safety
    5. Health check

    More later.
     
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  9. Beth Gallagher

    Beth Gallagher Very Well-Known Member
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    We've always referred to them as "strays," too. And I'm also allergic to cat dander. I think I'd enjoy a cat but for the allergies (and cleaning a cat box.)
     
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  10. Beth Gallagher

    Beth Gallagher Very Well-Known Member
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    @Ken Anderson --Interesting about the barn cats. My son lives in a "barndominium" on 22 rural acres and has 3 or 4 barn cats that seem tame. They just showed up there from parts unknown at different times; probably dumped by some jackass. They get good care but are definitely outside cats. My little granddaughter can pick them up and tote them around with her.
     
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  11. Ken Anderson

    Ken Anderson Greeter
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    When cats are dumped or otherwise separated from their homes without being spayed or neutered, they have kittens. These kittens are first-generation feral kittens. Since they are feral, the chances are very good that they have not been spayed or neutered either, so they have a second-generation of feral cats, and so on. Some communities have programs where they trap feral cats, spaying and neutering them, then returning them to the colony. At least, in that way, the colony doesn't grow.
     
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  12. Bess Barber

    Bess Barber Very Well-Known Member
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    The one at my daughter's house has a clipped ear. My daughter said this meant the cat was neutered.

    @Von Jones & @Beth Gallagher I never knew there was a difference between stray and feral either until my daughter explained it. Just a coincidence that Ken made a thread about it. I'm also allergic to cat dander. I wish I wasn't because it would be a good pet choice for me. I would want one of those litter boxes with the hood over it though and keep it out of site. Nothing worse than going to eat at someone's house and they have that thing out for everyone to see.....................
     
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  13. Ken Anderson

    Ken Anderson Greeter
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    It’s best to begin the taming process outdoors, before taking the cat into the house. However, this may not always be possible, for reasons of safety to the cat you’re hoping to adopt, or it may not be practical for other reasons.

    If you are going to take the feral cat into your home before establishing a relationship with the animal, use a live trap to capture it, then take it to a veterinarian for a health checkup. Let the vet know that the cat is feral in advance. You decide how many vaccinations you are going to subject the cat to, as I don’t want to go down that road in this thread.

    Upon returning from the vet with a healthy feral cat, or one who has a health plan, prepare a room for the cat. Something small will do, such as a bathroom or small bedroom, but something that is away from the regular traffic pattern in the house. This is particularly important if you have other pets in the house, but would be a good idea anyhow.

    Place a food bowl, a water bowl, and a litter box in the room. Separate the litter box from the eating places as far as the room permits. Just as we prefer not to eat in the toilet, cats prefer to have these things separated too.

    It is best if the room is empty of anything that the cat is likely to knock over. In other words, be prepared for the cat to throw a fit if it’s never been in a confined space before. In particular, make sure doors and windows are closed and that there aren’t any open spaces into the wall or through the floor that a cat could get into.

    It is a good idea to give the cat some hiding places. A small cat tree would be great if the room is large enough for such a thing. Otherwise, an upside-down cardboard box with an entrance cut into it will work. The idea is for there to be a place for the cat to retreat to.

    Some of the books recommend using potting soil rather than kitty litter in the litter box because the feral cat will be more used to digging into soil, but I don’t think a cat is likely to be confused by kitty litter. Bird seemed to think that kitty litter was a good idea.

    A light somewhat dimmer than the usual bathroom light would be a good idea.

    If the cat seems to be more scared than hostile, spend some time sitting in the room with it. Don’t try to pick it up, or pet it. Just sit there and talk to it, calmly. I have never done that, but there might be some sense in placing some pieces of your clothing in the room so that the cat can get used to your scent.

    If the cat seems to be frightened by your presence, or if it is hostile toward you, leave it in there alone for a while. Give it a chance to explore the environment and get used to things. If you have cats in the house, let them sniff around the door. The cats will begin to become acquainted through the door, where no one is getting hurt. Let them hiss and growl if they want to. It’s a cat thing. Let them work it out.

    Oh, make sure to leave a cat bed or something comfortable that the cat can sleep on. Show him or her how much more comfortable life indoors can be. A bed that your cats have used would be a good idea, as that will also help the feral cat get used to your other cats.

    More later.
     
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  14. Ken Anderson

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    Then it’s pretty much a waiting game. Try not to sneak up on the cat. Maybe knock on the door before coming in, or open it slowly so that the cat knows you’re coming. Watch for escape attempts. Spend as much time with her as possible. If you have children, it’s probably not a good idea to bring them into the room with the cat just yet.

    If you’re averse to bleeding, you might want to wear a heavy, long-sleeved shirt, in case you’re attacked. But most cats, even feral cats, aren’t going to attack unless they feel threatened. Make sure she has a place to retreat to. If you have given her a hiding place, as I suggested earlier, act as if you don't even know she's there when she's in her hiding place.

    Years ago, I took in a stray. I think he was a stray because he wasn't all that difficult to make friends with. He was scared once I got him into my apartment, though. It was a small apartment, with very few places to hide so I pretended I couldn't see him when he was under the bookcase. I had that cat for years and, although I could plainly see him under the bookcase, I always pretended I didn't know where he was when he was there. He retreated under the bookcase when he wanted alone time.

    The objectives here are to get her used to your being there and to pamper her with warm, comfortable bedding, great food, and a clean litter box. After all, you want her to get to like it.

    While sitting with her, it isn’t necessary for you to have all your attention on the cat. In fact, it’s probably best not to. Bring a book or your iPad.

    Try not to handle her unless she makes the first move. When she begins to get comfortable enough in her surroundings and curious enough about you, she will make moves toward you. Think of it as a little kid finally gathering the courage to sneak up and touch the monster before retreating to safety, as it will probably be a little like that.

    More later.
     
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  15. Holly Saunders

    Holly Saunders Veteran Member
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    @Ken Anderson ..the cat whisperer.... :D

    Seriously, you know I have no time for cats, I'm allergic for one, and I simply just can't touch a cat without freaking out. The only time I passed out in my life was when I touched a kitten, so it's a full, on phobia.. however I have really found this blog fascinating!!
     
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