One of the things that visitors love about the Sanctuary – well, we do, too! – is the way that cats roam freely. They can choose whether to be in or out, hidden or in sight, alone or cuddled with a buddy. There are limitations, of course, the Leukemia (FeLV) cats need to be kept isolated from the general population for everyone’s good, and we keep the AIDS (FIV) cats separate for similar reasons, though, strictly speaking, it’s not essential.
But the concern that so many people have before they experience the place is the thought of dealing with cats in cages – and that’s simply not the norm with us. In fact, some of our cats have come to us from the Adoption Centre because they don’t handle the inevitable cages in that smaller space, and show shelter aggression – as happens to many animals in confined spaces. Elvis, Hunter, Mango, Lunette and many others have settled well now that they are no longer shut in, and can take their time to find the person who is right to adopt them from the Sanctuary, rather than returning to the Adoption Centre.
Cages are necessary, though. Most of our cats are caged when they first arrive. The caged period gives them a chance to settle, to hide behind a drape if they need to do so, to encounter first the highly cat-savvy med staff, then the calm, encouraging Kitty Comforters, and then the other volunteers, and to learn that no harm will come to them and they’re getting food and care. This is the period when they get their vaccinations and health checks, and when we get to work out whether we have a scared stray on our hands or a fearful feral. Many scared or angry cats choose to stay in their cage once it’s opened; it becomes a place of security for them.
Cages are also necessary when cats need specific medical attention. For many receiving care, it’s a matter of getting a little plate of something tasty with meds in it, and you will often see the med staff around with a tray of little dishes, watching that a cat eats all its dose (or turns its nose up, because the food is chicken and it wanted fish!). But there are many cats who will not take their meds that way, or who need it syringed into the mouth, or who need eye-drops or cage rest for an injury – and each of the main buildings has cage space, so that cats who need caging can at least have it in a familiar area.
Sometimes there’s even an advantage to caging. When big tuxedo Luke was diagnosed diabetic, he was one of the semiferals on the DoubleWide Deck. Because he needed twice-daily insulin, he was initially caged so that the med staff could monitor his intake, work out what his favourite foods were and give him his “treat” plate along with his insulin shot. From being a wary boy, Luke decided that he was definitely on to something, and when the cage was opened he decided to stay – after all, that was where the good food was! And with all those humans who came and fussed over him, Luke became a lap-cat, and persuaded his pal Bodhi that he should join in too. Luke now loves lap-time and fuss – he doesn’t need food-bribery, just love.
I just spent time this evening with Amelia, similarly caged. Amelia is interesting, because she’s a feral farmcat from Pen 4; she came in many years ago with her sister Willow and was named Amelia Earheart for her flattened aeroplane-ears. Most of the Pen 4 ferals want nothing to do with us – it takes the patience of Lisa or Catherine to make any headway at all, and it’s measured in inches. But both Amelia and her friend Annie had to come in for medical care, and while Annie preferred to hide behind the drape, Amelia would emerge at mealtimes and let us know what she thought of this restaurant and the service. Annie is now back in Pen 4 and still hiding, but Amelia is bunting and preening and talking in a way that makes us wonder how she’ll be when she’s returned to her home pen – will she forget all about her enjoyment of human company and go and hide with her cat-pals, or will she be more like Ranger, and come looking for attention?
The general rule is that if you don’t tame a feral cat within a specific window of time, you probably won’t – but general rules are made to bend, and sometimes a feral will decide that humans are OK, after all. We do often see it with the old cats – when an old feral becomes friendly, it’s often a side-effect of senility. But though Amelia’s no spring chicken, she’s got plenty of life in her still, and we would be delighted if the rest of that life was spent enjoying more contact with humans at the Cat Sanctuary.
Featured Image: Plum caged for one of her Manx-syndrome bladder infections by Michele Wright