Friday, December 2, 2005

Feral Cats

Feral cats are so easy--I wish I had a houseful of them. (Oh, wait--I nearly do...)

After six years with us, Grendel has finally gotten enough confidence to move furitively around the house during the day but she still will vanish if we pay too much notice of her. Although, yesterday she was in the downstairs bedroom while I was cleaning the cat boxes and made to dash into her hiding spot until I spoke soothingly to her. She stopped and watched me warily while I went about my chores. I got both boxes clean before she retreated to what she considered safety. She is such a pretty cat, I would like to see more of her. She must understand by now that we aren't going to hurt her. On occasion, she will walk through the bedroom while we are watching television, then stop halfway down the hall to peer at us. Maybe I am just imagining the questions in her eyes.

Skinny (officially named "Star" but no one calls her that) has been known to sneak up and sleep on the foot of the bed at night but spends most of the daylight hours pretending to be afraid of us. I have touched her several times, getting close enough to stroke her paw when playing with her (and she is a great one for playing with the kitty-teases). She is quick to show me how sharp her claws are when I venture a finger too close, but I don't have the feeling she is scratching out of fear--just playfulness.

Fat Sally obviously belonged to *someone* at some time because she is spayed. She will creep out when the house is quiet--day or night--but retreats if we pay attention to of her. She likes to sleep in the basket by the computer upstairs at night. She is another one that I talk soothingly to when I pass by. She's been with us for nearly a year now.

Black Bart is a strange one. We trapped him two years ago when we brought Baby and her kittens inside. We had him neutered at the time but he was so hostile that I figured he was hopelessly feral and let him loose to live in the yard.

That seemed to suit everyone just fine until this August. He suddenly started showing up on the deck during the day, visiting the housecats through the screen door or the wire of the small cat run. Skinny and Clarence seemed particularly fond of him and I had to wonder if he remembered Skinny from the time she lived outside (up until September 2004.) That he might recognize/remember Clarence as his kitten seems a stretch but Clarence and Lola were allowed out in the cat run a few months after we brought them inside, so I suppose he could have seen them in there from that time on, before the memory and their scents changed too much.

Over the course of a month or so, Black Bart came to take his meals on the deck. Denny built him a little "bus stop"-like shelter that looked into the kitchen from the deck and as winter approached, he was often sitting there day or night, peering in at us. He would still hiss and move away when I went outside to feed him, but he retreated a shorter distance and his hiss seemed more rote than heart-felt. A few times, he even ventured inside the screen door, but if I made a move into the kitchen, he would hasten outside again.

It took catnip and leaving the cat run open to capture him. After he was prodded inside the house, he quickly found the feral havens both in the downstairs bedroom and up in the living room. There was a minimum of hissing as the ferals were all more afraid of us than of a new cat, and he was well-behaved from the start. I have to think that Skinny in particular was glad to see him, though they don't interact much while I can see them.

After a few days of lying low, Bart began coming out of hiding when I fed the cats, keeping to the shadows and out of reach, but understanding the procedure and fitting in. Last night he got up on the second shelf of the cat tree and stayed put while I walked through the room several times, so he is taking baby steps toward us. It would be nice to wake up some night and find him curled on the bed, but thus far, he spends his nights downstairs with Grendel and Skinny, probably taking air in the cat run.

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