Cat Herding

Monday, August 3, 2009

Taming a Feral / semi-Feral Cat - thoughts

In another 8 days, it will have been one year since my late brother went into the hospital -- not knowing why he was in such pain, and probably not knowing that he would soon die.

In another 9 days, it will have been one year since I took over the care of his many rescued cats -- some cats who were used to my visits and others who were afraid of any visitor. When Casa de los Gatos offered to help, they said that they could take even the semi-feral, but I figured that most of them should be those that were the most adoptable -- young, healthy, and friendly to those they knew at least, so that meant that I would be left with the old and the scaredy cats.

The old ones are not only friendly, they are demanding of attention -- like any true cat. The young ones who were born around the time of my brother's onset of symptoms, or afterwards, always scrambled to see who could hide first when I came in the door. I really never saw them until I was forced to become their caretaker. I didn't know their names, their gender, or even what they looked like -- there were a "bunch" of solid gray cats, and I had trouble counting them to know how many, let alone which one was which.

I have two of those now - Midget (female)and Grayling (male), and they still avoid me most of the time.But Grayling likes the Furminator, and today he saw me "furminating" one of the old cats, Buddy, and he came over close to me to decide whether it was safe to get a bit of furminating of his own. I firmly believe that cats started associating with humans not just for food (they could get their own food, but ours did look tasty) but for scratching their itchy places.

Many of my cats approach each other and give head bumps and rub their faces against the other's body, but cats don't use their paws and claws to help another cat scratch an itch -- they save it for themselves. When they have that "summer itch" with their fur starting to shed, only a human's fingers (or comb or Furminator) can reach down into the deep recesses of that thick coat, managing to both reach the itch and pull out some of the offending loose fur. My brother's old cats, when they were young, would actually line up next to his patio bench waiting to be the next one to be combed. Now they don't wait in line - they push each other away to be the first and only customer, but they all hang around for their chance.

This behavior has brought the semi-ferals, both the indoor and the two born outdoors, to watch and apparently learn about the pleasures of combing and scratching. Today I furminated several of Dick's old cats and a couple of my cats while Cali, Lil Bit, and both grays watched from a distance. Cali has let me scratch her fur before, but I never know whether she will let me approach or run away. Today SHE did the approach, and before she was through, I had pulled out quite a bit of undercoat and she was pushing her cheeks against my hand to be scratched as well as letting me comb her back and sides. Lil Bit came up and let me comb his back and tail. Even Grayling came up for short session - arching his back while I pulled the furminator through his thick coat. Dilly, one of the "outdoor" ferals, has been rubbing up against me for the last week or so, and really enjoyed having the tines of the furminator to lean into once she felt them go deep into her fur. She was purring and leaning and thoroughly looking like a tame house kitty. Her sister, Taffy, (pictured above) was sleeping, and I decided not to wake her for a session.

Summer is a good time to show a cat why being friendly to people can be satisfying -- getting rid of all that shedding fur is almost as much of a treat as a salmon dinner.

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