The Socialization of Shadow: Part One
Today’s post is all about Shadow, my very first feral. If you have not read the story of Shadow, you can read it here. It is generally known that it is very difficult to tame a feral cat past the age of 6-10 weeks. Yet with perseverance, patience and time it can be done. Although Shadow continues to live outside, I would now consider him to be a semi-feral cat. I always have a goal we are working towards. These goals are sometimes accomplished in a few weeks, but many of them have taken months to years.
From the moment I first saw Shadow, I knew he was not someone’s outdoor cat. Everything about him was different. He moved low to the ground always looking over his shoulder. One minute I would look out and he was there in the bushes and in a flash he was gone. Every single noise and movement frightened him. The look in his eyes was pure fear. Of course I tried over and over to get him to approach me or see where he went when he swiftly ran away. Yet every once and awhile he would sit under the bushes in my back yard and I could watch him through the binoculars. He had such a soulful look in his eyes. I could tell he needed someone and that someone was to be me.
I truly had no idea what I was going to do with him. I just knew that whatever was needed, I was going to help him. I researched for days on how to work with feral cats. I read everything I could get my hands on. Slowly I started trying some of the techniques I learned. It was a very slow process. I managed to get him up on the deck after a few weeks to eat his meals. Next I managed to TNR him. This was one of the hardest things I had ever done. I worried about it the previous day and once he was trapped, I just cried. I was so upset that my husband went with me take him to the spay/neuter clinic. Shadow did great and was so quiet. He stayed in the trap in my basement overnight and even ate some food. When I released him the next day, I was so worried he would never come back. Yet, the next day he was there to eat!
Our progress was met with ups and downs. He did very well when I sat on the deck and threw him pieces of chicken. He would even sit about 10 feet from me and give me a squinty look that is still a classic expression of his.
He was fine as long as I remained still. I began giving him Jackson Galaxy’s Spirit Essences. I used Feral Cat Rehab. It made a noticeable difference in about 2 weeks. By this time, the weather had turned cold. One night, I put my inside animals into closed rooms and opened my sliding door about a foot. Just inside the door, I placed a bowl of tuna. I then sat down a few feet away and called to Shadow. He actually stuck his head in the door. After about 10 days of this, he stepped inside and took a bite of food. I was freezing as the door remained opened for sometimes an hour at a time while he stepped inside and then left. This became our almost nightly routine. He finally ventured beside our dining table and would rest on a special blanket sometimes for 2-3 hours.
I was able to have the door open about 6 inches or just enough so he could get out if he felt threatened.
I would often go and sit on my couch and read or watch tv while he slept. He sometimes would play with a toy and of course he would eat. Sometimes he would sleep so deeply that he would snore very loudly. I tried over and over again to close the door, but each time, he either bolted out the door before I closed it or the few times I did get it closed, he yowled and threw himself against the glass doors. It was awful. Each time I tried this, he would stay away and not come inside for days. I decided it wasn’t worth it to traumatize him.
When spring arrived, he was getting more and more comfortable with me. I so wanted to touch him or pet him. I could sit very close to him as long as I was still. One day I put my hand under the blanket and he pawed at it gently. I then took it out so he could see it. I just left my hand there and gently touched his paw. He panicked a bit, but came back to the blanket. It was then I decided to try some new techniques. The Urban Cat League of NY has a wonderful series of videos on taming feral kittens. I decided to try some of the techniques even though at this time Shadow was now 15 months old. I used Gerber Stage-2 baby food and then made a special wand type toy. He loved the baby food, but my homemade wand toy that was to be used for play and then touching, scared him to death. I decided to use a feather wand toy instead. It took him a few weeks to get used to the toy, but then he began to love it. He jumped in the air and pounced on it. I then decided to try the technique of touching the feather to his body. The first time, he nearly jumped out of his skin. But I kept doing it very subtly. After about 10 days, he began to like the feel of the feather on top of his head and on his back. I would just move the feather back and forth. One day, I got it under his chin. I could hear him purr!!
The next step was to replace the feather wand with my hand. I started petting him with the feather wand and then gently pulled the wand towards my body while pushing my hand in its place. At first he was startled, but when I kept petting he liked it so much he kept coming back for more.
That was one of the most unforgettable days. I had tears streaming down my face. I had been working with him for 7 months at this point.
Coming soon: Shadow’s Socialization Part Two.