It was just one week after Patches #2 was put to sleep that another cat found its way onto my deck. The date is February 3, 2014. I was so distraught when I saw the cat on the camera that I just cried. This cat also looked just like Patches, but quite thin. I didn’t see this cat very often, but it came up onto the deck a few times in the evening and was gobbling the food. I kept watch for the cat and after a few weeks it began to appear between 7-8 pm. If I placed the food on the deck, the cat would not come up to eat. I needed to place it just under the deck. This cat was ravenous. It would eat 2-3 cans of wet food at a time. Yet dry food was hardly touched. I could tell by the wild eyed look of this cat that it was most likely feral.
I decided to move one of my surveillance cameras under the deck so I could tell when this cat came and also I hoped to get a better look. I did get a better look and I just kept hoping it was my Patches. Shadow really liked this cat. He would sit near the cat while it ate and after a few weeks, Shadow and this new cat were sniffing noses and sitting side by side. Stellar as usual kept his distance. This cat was beautiful with striping of brown and black. He had a very small head too. I also noticed there was no ear tip. With the surveillance camera under the deck, I finally got a good image one night. It was another unaltered male.
By March of 2014 this cat was still coming each evening and had even started coming as early as 3-4 pm. I tried so hard to go out after placing the food and see if the cat would come out while I was there. He would just hide until I was safely inside. I decided he needed a name and so he became Hampton. When the weather was warming I would go out to feed him and sit on the deck and talk to him. At first he wouldn’t eat at all until I went inside, but gradually he would eat and dash back to hiding, then eat again. I hoped that this would lead to him being able to eat on the deck.
In April of 2014, Hampton started coming on occasion in the mornings too. I decided it was time to trap. I had the trap lined and a can of tuna ready at all times. One morning he showed up and I carefully set the trap and waited. Shadow and Stellar could smell the tuna and were so interested. I had to keep shooing them away. Hampton crept close to the trap and he could smell the tuna. He started to go inside and Shadow out of no where came running and shoved himself into the side of the trap. The trap went off with a bang and scared all of the cats. Hampton took off. Ughhh. It was a long time before he came back again in the morning.
Hampton continued coming all of April and May, but usually only at night. I was not making much progress on getting him onto the deck. I could entice him up onto the step with chicken, but usually he would take a piece in his mouth and go eat it under the deck. The only progress I had made was sitting on the deck and talking to him while he ate under the deck. Yet if I made the slightest movement, he would bolt. The only time I ever got to see him was through the surveillance cameras. I so longed to just get a good look at him. The only thing that did not frighten Hampton was Shadow. They would often sit side by side under the deck, share some food and always sniff and greet each other. Almost every time that Hampton arrived, Shadow would rush to greet him.
In June of 2014, another cat showed up one morning. There was a bit of a scuffle under the deck and Hampton took off. He did not return for 10 days. I was so worried about him. A new cat who was starving was coming and crying for food. I decided to feed him in a different location as I didn’t want there to be a problem when Hampton returned. This new cat came for about 2 weeks then disappeared. I assumed he was a stray or someones outdoor cat as he was not completely frightened of me.
Hampton returned more skittish than ever. He was very afraid at all times, constantly turning around to check his environment. It took him a few weeks to get comfortable again. He often was not coming every day either. I placed a small catnip mat under the deck where he often would sit and wait. I sprinkled some catnip on it and he went crazy. He rolled and rolled and really liked it. This was the first time I had seen him let his guard down.
In mid August 2014, Hampton started coming again in the morning. I had purchased a new humane trap; The Tru Catch LTD30. It was very easy to set and was much quieter when the door shut. I decided to get the trap ready and watch for him in the mornings. I had my husband go out and place the trap this time. I corralled Shadow and Stellar with their own tuna on the deck. At first Hampton would not go in as I had just sprinkled tuna and tuna juice on a puppy pee pad. I went inside and grabbed his normal food bowl and that did the trick. He went in quickly. The trap was covered and away we went for the neuter. It was estimated he was 1-1.5 years old. I kept him in my basement overnight in the covered trap. He had a very hard time. He too thrashed around and tried to claw his way out. The next morning when I released him, he was gone in a flash. I have not seen him since.
Looking back I feel so very very sad for Hampton. He was the most feral cat that had come to me for help. I had built a trusting relationship with him. The TNR process was just too much for him. I should have kept him in my garage all night instead of the basement. I am unsure what else I could have done. It broke my heart he never came back. I think of him daily and hope that he found another caregiver. It was also very hard on Shadow. He missed Hampton and would constantly search under the deck for him. It was another difficult loss. Additional pictures of Hampton are available on my Flickr site.
UPDATE: Hampton returned on April 2015 after being gone for exactly 8 months. I have no idea where he had been. He wasn’t terribly skinny, but appeared very hungry. He decided to re-enter my life and has now been a part of my clan and has been back for 8 months now!
Update September 2016: Hampton has now been back for 17 months. He has grown and changed so much. He is now apart of the clan and does well with Shadow and Stellar. He loves to be pet and brushed. He also loves to eat! He has made the most incredible changes since being my under deck kitty, then gone for 8 months and now back and fully adjusted. He went from being completely feral to now a semi feral kitty. He only allows me to pet him and runs from most everyone. He is getting better with my husband, but all over humans are feared.