It all began with Shadow. He came to me in mid July 2010. He trotted through my yard for weeks with me only catching a glimpse of him. As time went by he was skinnier and skinnier. I tried running out and shaking dry food, but he took off and didn’t return for days. I realized after a few attempts that he might be a feral cat. He appeared so small and young.
In mid August 2010, he started coming through the yard more often. I made the decision to place a small feeding area in the back of my yard. I placed some dry food and a bowl of water. It was only a number of hours before he found it. Soon he was coming a few times each day and I began to offer wet food. I fed him only during day light hours to keep other wildlife away. Each time I brought the food out, he would run and hide for 20-30 minutes until he was certain I was no where in sight. I decided to name him Shadow as he was always lurking in the shadows. I was uncertain if he was male/female, but thought Shadow could work for both. After I had been feeding him for a month, I looked out and say a coyote standing in my yard. This was very unusual, but over the years I had seen one or two others. My little Shadow had been in the yard eating just a few minutes prior to the coyote’s arrival. I knew I needed to move his feeding station to my deck. It took Shadow a few days, but in the end he decided he could not pass up the delicious food. He began eating in a corner of my deck away from the door.
In October 2010 I decided it was time to Trap, Neuter and Return (TNR). I fed him in the trap with the door secured open for a few days and the morning of trapping wasn’t too difficult. It was estimated that he was around 9 months old. He was released the next morning and returned the following day for food. After the TNR was complete it was time to work on socialization. I naively thought that I would be able to get Shadow to live inside my home.
I worked daily with Shadow. I would coax him closer and closer to me with plain cooked chicken. It was a painstakingly slow process. If I looked at him near his eyes, he would bolt and that was it for the day. It took so much patience. Of course winter was knocking on the door so it was difficult to get outside. In December of 2010, he began to sit close to my sliding door. One day I decided to put my dog and inside cat away and see if Shadow would come inside. I placed a dish of delicious food right inside the door. He did come inside, but was a nervous wreck. This started a daily pattern where he would come inside many evenings. He would not venture from the door and I had to leave the door open enough for him to get out.
The first winter with Shadow was rough for us both. He would come many times each day to eat, but he refused to use any of the shelters I made or the Feral Villa my husband and son built. I stuffed each with straw and tried my best to entice him to enter. Yet no matter what I tried he wouldn’t use it. It was a nightly worry for me. I often went to bed crying hoping he was safe and warm. One day it snowed and I was able to find kitty tracks. I found that he was sleeping under my neighbors screened in porch. With my neighbors help, we pushed a thermal cat mat under his screened porch up against the house. At least I knew Shadow was safe and most likely staying warm. Fortunately by the second winter, I had made many improvements to the shelters and Shadow happily stayed on the deck.
My first major event with Shadow was when I was finally able to touch him. This occurred in mid March 2011. He stretched a paw out to me and I gently touched it. I progressed to using a wand toy to play with him. He loved it so much. I then started to touch his head with the toy. This allowed him to get used to touch on his body. He really started to like the feather wand on his head. One day at the end of March 2011, I pulled the wand toy towards my body and replaced it with my hand. He momentarily freaked, but he loved to be pet. So finally after having Shadow in my life for 8 months, I was able to pet him. This began a long list of mile stones for Shadow. I am now able to lift him off the ground, but I cannot hold him. He will occasionally come inside the house, use a litter box and hang out or play for awhile. He has spent a few nights inside the house during terrible weather. It has not been easy, but it was manageable. In January of 2013, he finally sat in my lap. He still likes to sit in my lap and have me brush him.
Shadow was been with me for over 4 years now. My dreams of having him live inside the house have dwindled, but I have not given up hope. His life is outside and he has so many comforts. When life inside my house settles and when I think the time is right for Shadow, we may make the decision for him to come inside.
He continues to live on my deck in a fabulous shelter. He rarely ventures far and has been through so much with all of the different cats that have come and gone. He was/is my guinea pig. I had no idea what I was doing, but we learned together, one day at a time. He taught me about patience which is something that was severely lacking in my life. He also holds a very special place in my heart. If there is such a thing as a “cat soul mate”, Shadow would be mine. We have a very strong bond that is unique and different from all my other cats. The picture on the left is of Shadow hiding on my deck in the fall of 2010. The picture on the right is him today. You can view more pictures of Shadow as well as the shelters on my Flickr site.