Eighteen months ago we took in a group of cats that had come from another shelter.
I understand that they had been gathered up as part of a hoarding situation; we were pretty surprised to hear this, because all six exhibited feral behaviour, and it’s hard to see how they might ever have been homed. When released into Pen 6, they did as only scared cats can do, and found a small hole under the cabin where they could wiggle through and be thoroughly hidden. It was hard to find a way to get them all out while it was blocked, but once being in the dark under the cabin was denied them, they took up residence in the cabin itself.
There was nothing wrong with their appetites – they ate all the canned food they were offered and left polished plates. And they all seemed to be in good condition. There were two long-haired tabbies, two agouti tabbies, a little tabby with white markings and a larger one with strong classic tabby markings – and they were nicknamed the Candy Cats: Skittles and Cadbury, Hershey and Butterscotch, Sweetheart (or SweetTart) and Purdy. We let them be for the first little while, and allowed them time to adjust.
The first overtures were made by the biggest boy, Skittles. He and Sweetheart were curious, and Skittles was very food-motivated, so the Kitty Comforters were able to establish contact, and regular visits got the two of them in the habit of emerging whenever the gate opened. The other four stayed resolutely out of sight.
Because we felt there was room for a couple more, two more cats were added – tabby Kiko who had come from the Moore House, and grey Wylee, who had come from another shelter. The Kitty Comforters ramped up their efforts to familiarize the cats with humans.
For a good part of last year, most of the group preferred to stay in the hut most of the time, emerging only in early morning and late evening. With the coming of spring this year they have all started coming out more frequently, and interacting with volunteers.
Skittles remains the boss-cat, the one most interested in humans. He was the first to discover that humans were A Good Thing – especially when chicken is on offer. He is happy to be petted while sitting on the shelf around the pen, but he is still wary of contact on the ground, and frequently very hissy while in the hut. Sweetheart, who was his faithful sidekick at the beginning, has regressed to shyness – I think it’s partly that she is less in his company these days.
Her place has been taken by Cadbury, who adores his buddy Skittles; he is now starting to enjoy human company (especially when play with a wand toy is offered) and he accepts two-handed petting once he knows you. Now his confidence is increased, he’s starting to throw his weight around, and we need to watch that he doesn’t bug old-lady Kiko too much.
Kiko, who was very cranky in the Moore House, is emerging more often, and enjoying petting from volunteers. Wylee is also more confident, and once he gets to know you, he is anxious to jump up and lap-sit. He’s still pretty young, and has a spark of Gizmo naughtiness about him, but he’s the most obviously affectionate cat in the colony.
Hershey and Butterscotch are now happy to wander round the pen even when humans are visiting, but they’re not yet ready for much in the way of contact. A little wand-play is sometimes accepted, and they play solo, but are not food-motivated. The barest finger-to-nose touch is permissible as long as you’re not actually looking at them. Purdy, the shyest of all of them, does not want to be touched at all, but is ready to sit in the sun and watch, just as long as you don’t come too close.
The work of the Kitty Comforters in gaining the confidence of this little colony is consistent and steady. This team of dedicated volunteers is briefed each week on the cats that need attention, on those that have made contact with us, and on which techniques work for which cat. The Pen 6 cats are certainly not ready for Sunday visitors, but Skittles happily follows people around the perimeter of his pen, ready to accept through-the-fence petting. It’s lovely to see such progress being made!