Some feral cats come to us and let us know that we are too terrifying for words – mostly they’re the ferals that end up in Pen 4, where disturbances are minimal. In their early cage days with us, they find a corner to hide in; they remain behind the drape that is always in place for new cats, and you can sense their fear. Other feral cats are scared, but they deal with their fear by showing anger; the opening of the cage door is accompanied by hissing and spitting, and some really bad language. New volunteers learn that it’s rarely as bad as it sounds, but they also learn that it’s OK to go to staff and ask if someone experienced can clean that cage.
Darla was one of those cats! She came to us from CATS Rescue, who in turn received her from another rescue who brought her in as part of dismantling a feral colony when the caretaker died. They hoped she might tame up, but were unable to keep her long-term when she showed no sign of socializing. CATS had her for 6 months, and then passed her on to us, knowing that she could safely live as a feral in our care. If they had just released her, she probably wouldn’t have lived long without her own colony. We think she’s around 5 years old.
When she was released from her cage-stay, she managed a quick getaway into the back gardens, and as far away from us as was possible. This was generally the area between pens 3 and 4, where there’s plenty of shrubbery, and places to hide, and where the bushes offer enough low branches to encourage a scared cat to climb in order to be out of sight. There are a number of other little ferals who hang around there – plus the not-so-scared but endlessly curious cats from Alberta who base out of pen 3.
You can always tell Darla – if you can see her – she’s a good solid girl with a lot of floof, and a magnificent white collar/bib that is as good as a flashing light to ID her. She obviously realized that staff would check the back gardens at least once a day, if not more, and if she wanted to be undisturbed, she needed to take her hiding place very seriously. So rather than hiding near the gate with the rest of the cats, she took herself up a laurel tree halfway down the courtyard.
I don’t know how many other cats use that tree, but Darla has now claimed it for herself. At the right angle you will see her white ruff shining through the leaves; if you get closer, all you will see is a glaring shadow; she does NOT want to be disturbed! In her earlier tree-climbing days, she climbed to her usual perch and was obviously attracted by something, because she edged out along the ledge leading to the top of the pen 1 gate. Bad mistake! It was a little too narrow to be comfortable, so she backed up. But oops! – she couldn’t turn, and she couldn’t go backwards all the way. We watched as she debated the next step. Before we could get a nearby cat tree into position for a safe descent, she took a amazing flying-squirrel leap sideways to land on the trunk of the big tree in the centre, pulled herself out of sight on the other side and made her descent that way.
Darla is still not a fan of humans, and will take herself into hiding when approached. But increasingly, she will come down to ground level while people are sitting nearby, give us a quick disdainful glance, and vanish across into pen 5 where she can explore in the longer grass at the back. She’s not sociable with other cats, but ignores them, as if it’s beneath her dignity to acknowledge lesser beings. She obviously feels more secure in her favourite tree, and is welcome to it as her refuge within the Sanctuary.
Blog by Brigid Coult