a learning curve

The ex-feral cats are both scared and fascinated by regular household noises and routines.
One of the singular advantages of living above the shelter is to offer selective exposure to things like a human’s kitchen, bedroom, bath, closets, locations of windows, window ledges, an intro to the machines, like the vacuum, the dish-washer, the coffee-grinder. Sounds, like toilet flushing, shower running, bath-tub filling/draining, and the ambient sounds of tv, radio, the telephone or other transmission devices, human voices — the beeps, bleeps and buzzing of a relatively peaceful abode. Just in case they ever live somewhere with teenagers who have a rock band in the basement, I now and again put film noir movies (because of the drama and undertones) and MTV (rhythmic beats, usually high volume) on the television. There’ll be an audience trickling in and out usually, and a few who just take up residence near the tv for the afternoon. In the shelter itself, the cats listen to a classical music station 24/7 from a compact boombox radio next to the water main that sounds surprisingly clear and good. I often see them relaxing, grooving on the music. I stop and listen and wonder if it’s a language we can share, if they can feel the flowing of sound emotionally or in any way “understand” the reflection of various emotions evoked, I watch them. Today, during an Aria by Handel, they were transfixed and seemed to be breathing with the sound.

Not just that, but if they are upstairs exploring the human abode, it is interesting to note how they react to any sound of footsteps (not mine, they know my footsteps) coming through the front door, passing the shelter, across the mud room, up the stairs. Over time some have learned to relax and stay put when new people/sounds come into the picture, securely they remain steadfast, maybe not entirely calmly, but the “fight or flight” response has dissipated, they’ve “learned” to temper the stresses with curiosity/acceptance. They once would stampede, knocking over anything in the way, like bowls of dry food or a broom standing in the corner, whenever they heard a sudden loud sound, or a voice calling out at the door they didn’t recognize (in fact, in the early days they would stampede even when I walked into the room), but now they keep still for the most part. Even when the exceptionally loud gravel-crushing garbage truck backs down the driveway bleeping and blaring, and halts, the engine grinding and sputtering as it idles, the crank squealing as it lifts a bin — they stay put, staring intensely. However, the town fireworks display on 4th of July, with the nearby repetitive blasts and bangs filling the air, drives them to scatter for cover every season, without fail. The “night-club” gets filled to the foyer, standing room only.

Hanging out at the Club

Hanging out at the Club

What is important to understand is that short repetitive (once a week for instance, the garbage truck comes) experience (lessons) with unaccustomed/alarming things (pretty much everything to a feral cat newly indoors) works to ease transition efficiently, daily practice more so, but if a particular trigger comes yearly (like 4th of July), or intermittently (like thunderstorms) they’ll be at least in mid-life or later when they graduate. But what is most important to know is that feral cats of all ages, any age, can learn to be good house-mates and companions. It simply is not true that you have to get them as kittens, that after three months a feral cat is a lost cause for any potential adoption, etc. etc. etc. blah blah blah. Hello, animal rescue orgs out there? Stop branding feral cats as intractable and admit out loud to the world that you just aren’t equipped to house and rehab SNR feral cats just yet. Use some of your savvy to get funding for it. Build shelters tailored to their needs, employ people to live/work with them. Find homes for the graduates or let them stay. Be bigger.

Back upstairs, I have to consider sometimes what I must look like to the cats in the home environment.

An example: I was showering, having left the door ajar, and a curiously daring new convert to the domestic scene slinked into the room, sniffing around, up to the edge of the tub, hoisting tenderly up on front paws staring at the rushing water through a 4-inch opening in the shower stall door. Moments later I open the slider slowly, step out, she retreats to the threshold and while I’m toweling off, she’s staring from the doorway, watching every move, her eyes darting all over, and she steals herself before looking towards my eyes, but once there, locks onto my gaze. In order to keep her eye-contact going longer, I quickly look down, turn to the side, and return a look from the corner of my eyes, look down, return a look, squint, look down, return a look, squint, etc. It is an engagement process so to speak and works best in small intelligible steps. If you know that a squint = a smile in human-to-cat body language translation, and prolonged direct eye contact can be felt as a threat, it makes sense.

While I’m busy doing the squint exercise, she’s saying
“omg is that how you clean up? that’s too weird. you don’t have very much fur — why would you want to dunk yourself in buckets of water? how peculiar. that piece of rag, you use that to lick the water up off you? ugh, the water smells like medicine. the whole thing is so awkward — you look like a giant four-legged pink insect stretching, I don’t see you flying though, no wings, thank god, and you move about 4 times slower than my pace, so I can dodge you pretty easily, even if you try to catch me unawares, but…(moving back 1 foot)”

“Yes, this is how I take a bath, you see, it is always a bit uncomfortable at first, coming out of the warm water into the cooler air, that is, especially since people don’t generally have any water-repellent fur covering, that’s why I scoop up my towel as fast as I can and wrap it around my shoulders and pat down at shiver-repellent speed. Then, you see, I change into my clean clothes, one piece at a time, to get warm again, I have to wear clothes, at least after September haha. These are my socks, they go on my feet….”

She cocks her head, watching the putting-socks-on action, but then she dashes away when I stand up to finish dressing.

“There’s only so much a cat can take, after all, you are so peculiar and I thought socks were for catnip toys, maybe your 2 stub-pads called feet double as toys sometimes or something?” she says from outside the door.

“a couple more times, you’ll get it, don’t worry”
I grab my clothes and peek around the door at her. She freezes mid-action, then bolts down the hall, down the stairs, looking for the comfort of the safe-zone, the familiar base. I think if I’d just tip-toed up to peek, she would probably have stayed long enough to regain eye contact. Apparently it was the sudden grabbing of the clothes, my usual inclination to multi-task, that foiled the attempt. As far as opportunities to give attention are concerned, it’s gotta be more presence and more presents.

Speaking of which, toys, especially catnip toys, are needed so send toys or make a donation for more presents. Thank you:)