Thursday, November 29, 2012

Interview with a Fosterer - Kitty Jay

The interviews are coming fast and furious!  I love it.  If you foster consider yourself begged for an interview.  I'm way too introverted to ask, you totally intimidate me (you know who you are) and I would be beyond honored if you'd just answer the questions, send me some photos and the answers (email over there on the right-----> )

Our newest interviewee I met on Facebook.  I have really enjoyed meeting Kitty Jay and reading her posts and seeing everything at her "I Love Fostering Cats community page".  I am so very glad she offered to participate when I called for interviewees on Facebook recently

Kitty Jay ~ Courtesy of Kitty Jay
Introduce yourself and where do you hail from? Kitty Jay, born and raised in Houston, former 8th grade teacher, and mother of kitties: Gwen (8 yrs old), Jack and Pixel (7 years old), Luna (1 yrs old), and Graymalkin (6 months old). Daughter Éowyn is 4 years old and dog Blackberry is 2.

What rescue group, shelter or sanctuary do you foster for? Previously for Friends for Life, and currently for Houston SPCA and the South Houston Animal Shelter through Saving Pets Lives.

What kinds of animals do you normally foster? Kittens or nursing momma cats and their babies. My family and I started fostering about 1 1/2 years ago and have already fostered and helped adopt out almost 20 cats. That is when we "technically" started fostering. I've been raising and helping find homes for kittens since I was in college and on my own. My father was allergic to cats while I was growing up, so I was never allowed to have one.  I'd love to foster bottle babies as well, but I never have the time. My favorite fosters are always orphaned kittens about 4 weeks old that think I'm their momma.

How did your adventure being a fosterer begin? As I said, I've been caring for kittens since college (ferals were everywhere in my apartment complex), but I didn't get truly immersed in it until my daughter got old enough to be more independent and I found myself having the extra time to volunteer at Friends for Life. While there I was asked to start fostering momma cats with litters, and later moved to kittens with no mothers, and now I foster sick and weak orphans for the Houston SPCA.

Fosters from April 2011 ~ Courtesy of Kitty Jay

How do you keep yourself from becoming too attached to the fosters you help? And have you ever adopted one?  It is easier for me not to get attached when I foster a momma cat and her litter. Those kittens already have a mother, available milk, and siblings to play with. It is when I get the orphans that it is hard not to get attached. I like to keep the orphans close to me for warmth and socialization, and they often require medications every few hours. I do get attached to each one, but I always tell myself I have to send them to a home so I can help the next needy kitten. I currently have one 'foster failure' at my house. Those tuxedo kittens are good at tricking you into loving their personal kind of crazy.

What is most frustrating for you as a foster? Spreading my time evenly between my fosters and my own cats, and upsetting my own brood by having fosters around that they don't know.  I'm sure what is most frustrating for most kitten fosters is actually losing a kitten to sickness and malnourishment  but thankfully, that hasn't happened to me yet.

What is most rewarding? The most rewarding thing is taking a sick and homeless animal and helping it become healthy and vibrant, and finding someone that will adopt it and form a bond with that cat that will last its lifetime.

What experience moved or inspired you the most? Any time I can turn a cat's health entirely around by my actions, I am inspired. The first momma cat I ever fostered was a very young female that was practically a skeleton with three kittens nursing off of her. I was able to fatten her up, and thus fattened up her babies. I kept one of her daughters, the one that purred the loudest. The mom just got adopted this week, after looking for a home for over a year.

Do you have pets of your own? How do they respond to the foster animals? Yes, I have 5 cats and one dog. My older cats tend to completely avoid my fosters and ignore them. My two younger cats are up for tumbling around with kittens when they get old enough, if there is no angry guard of a mom to go after them. I tested my dog with cats before I adopted her. She is too busy harassing my younger cats in a good-natured way to pay attention to the fosters, which are usually separated from the main living area anyway. My personal cats used to HATE when I fostered and refused to hang out with me while they were still in the house, but the more I foster, the more they are getting used to it and coming around.

What advice can you give to someone who might be wanting to become a foster? If you love and want to help animals, fostering is the best thing you can do. I absolutely LOVE having a constant influx of kittens in my house. Kittens are my favorite animals. But before you foster, make sure you have sufficient room to keep them separated in, that your personal animals are up to date on vaccines so they do not get sick, and get ready to have fun but also be willing to deal with grief in case you lose one, and be ready to clean, scoop, and clean some more!

When you are not saving animals what do you like to do? Ironically, I am a dog walker and pet sitter by day. So I love playing with dogs all day (it relieves stress!), but I also like to read about animal behavior, and hang out with my cat-loving husband and daughter.
Daisy - adopted ~ Courtesy of Kitty Jay

And now the questions from Inside the Actors Studio:

What is your favorite word? adopted!
What is your least favorite word? torture
What turns you on? witty geek humor
What turns you off? people that do not care about the lives of animals
What sound or noise do you love? the content purring of a tiny kitten warming itself on my neck next to my ear
What sound or noise do you hate? an animal in pain
What is your favorite curse word? all of them (but I only use them when I'm mad or playing video games) ;p
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt? What I really would like to spend my days doing is being a cat behavior specialist, a la Jackson Galaxy. I want to help people keep their cats in their home, and out of shelters where they could be euthanized! I started a Facebook page,, in an attempt to help people in the Houston area with their cat behavior problems.
What profession would you not like to do? animal control. I could not stand to see animals in abusive situations every day and also be in charge of euthanizing the animals in my care if adoptive families can not be found. That would be a nightmare for me.
If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates? Thank you for your empathy and taking care of animals that could not care for themselves.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Tough couple of days and tough choices

I found these two songs on my computer a few years ago when I was going through some tough times.  I don't remember how they got there, but I was really happy to find them as I found them of some comfort.

Now I'm faced with something I don't want to face, I find myself singing these songs like some earworm that just showed up, so I thought it appropriate to share them.

For those of you on Facebook with me, you know that I had an incident this weekend.  My Kit started acting a little off, being a little guarded.  DH told me that she meowed a bit as if uncomfortable the morning before the incident - and didn't he get a talking to about mentioning those types of things to me! :)

Anyway.. Sunday night Kit came up and sat on my husband and then she growled.  She doesn't growl.  I tried to get a feel as to what was going on and she was most guarded over her hind end and a look at her anus showed a bright red spot on it.  By the time I had found that she was shivering miserable looking and DH and I were looking at each other trying to figure out if we should take her to the emergency clinic or wait till the morning.  Neither one of us is good at making these kinds of decisions due to the emotions involved, so I tried to step back and treat him as a friend who might ask me for advice.  She was up and mobile.  She was reactive and alert.  She wasn't eating but she did eat a little deli meat (her favorite) and she did use the litter box for us.  We locked her up in the bedroom with us for the night and she spent the night in her favorite place in the entire world - on her daddy.

Next morning DH had to go out of town.  We gave her a preliminary exam before he left and she seemed better.  Mewing not growling, the red spot was now pinkish. and she was more willing to eat different foods besides deli meat.  So off he went.  I gave a call to the vet leaving a message about what was going on and didn't hear back from them (Tuesday I checked the caller ID and saw they did call - some how I didn't hear the phone ring)  So I figured I would let the fates play their hand and went off to work with the intention of returning at lunch time to check on her.

At lunch she was the same as she was in the AM.  Still very nervous to the point of shivering when I tried to look at her.  She has a ton of fur for such a little kitty so getting a good look at anything is awful hard.  I couldn't stand not knowing, so I called my vet.  Well the vet I normally see was booked up, but he has since taken on a second vet and he was available, so I made the appointment and went down.

The vet was nice enough, very personable.  I'm never a fan of having to reintroduce myself.  I know I come off as one of "those cat people".. but I have a great deal of experience a lot of your average cat owners don't have - even if they have been cat owners for a long time.  I've had a diabetic cat.  I've fostered other diabetic cats.  I've had a cat with VAS.  I've dealt with lumps and bumps and URI and UC (urinary crystals) and more cases of diarrhea than I care to mention as well as a few cases of constipation. I've volunteered to help at a few spay/neuter clinics,  I've given enemas, fluids, shots, injections, vaccines.. I've shaved kitties, I've trimmed more nails, bottle fed more babies, etc.. but not knowing all of this I'm sure that I'm just clumped into one of those cat owners who "think" they know a lot.

So anyway.. he gave her the once over (after wiping her down a few times because she drools something awful now when riding in the car) and then got to the area in question.  At first he thought it might be an anal gland issue (which is what I was kind of hoping for) but then thought it might be an abscess. He wanted to take her outback and 'get it cleaned up' so he could get a better look at it.

Now, I fully admit that I was emotional and not processing everything perfectly - cause frankly I forgot his name - but I am reasonably sure he just mentioned cleaning it up to look at it. I was pretty sure he was just going to shave it up to see.  I asked him if he could shave her belly because she has very long belly hair (like Ollie did) but won't let me give her a shave/trim (like he would).  He mentioned he didn't have guards so it wouldn't look pretty, I said I totally didn't care.  He asked if she was indoor only - because he was worried about frost bite - to which I laughed and said yes, she is indoor only - very much so.

Well he took her outback.  I sat in the room and waited.  I then heard the tech mention convenia.  I ran to the door and asked if he had already given it to her, which he had.  I was LIVID.

When he finally came back, she had a half dollar sized patch saved around the top of her leg, just to the side of her anus.  Apparently he had lanced the abscess and given her pain meds and convenia - all of which was done with out my consent.  He apologized but said he had never heard of an adverse reaction with it (and went on with his justifications as to why he gave it), and I told him I had first hand knowledge of people who had cats that had.  I have second hand knowledge of cats who have died from it.  the problem with an extended use medication is that once it is in the system there is no getting it out. (not to mention I have no problem pilling any of my cats - catching Eli is an issue, but once I've got him I can pill him easily)

I tried to get a look at the area that he lanced so I would know what I was looking at and for in the future, but Kit wasn't cooperating and the area he shaved was so small that it was near impossible to find.  Had I not been so angry and so afraid of doing or saying something I would regret I would have insisted that he take her outback and shave more of her fur off that area, but all I wanted to do was get out of there.  When I did look at what he did shave (since I asked her belly be shaved) he took a patch off her chest, but left most all of the floof down her belly intact.

I got her home and she wanted nothing to do with me.  She ran and hid.  I went back to work and tried to release some of the nervous/anger/upset energy going on with in me.  When I got home she still wanted me to stay far far away from her, but I couldn't.  She looked uncomfortable, preferring to stand against the wall, and walking with an odd gait when I would get closer,   With all that fur and with that area so close to her anus - meaning it would be put very close to the litter box, I felt it would be irresponsible of me to not get a look at it.  So I half tricked half cornered her and got a look.  Well the drainage was horrific.  The blood, and I'm sure the puss, had formed what looked like a great big fecal clump on her back side.  I tried to clean it, no go. I put a hot compress on it, which was sort of OK with her, but according her I was so very much not allowed to look.  I got out my heavy duty shaver (that I used to shave Ollie with) and she would not sit still and I ended up fearing I would do more harm than good.  Finally I settled on a sitz bath which she would only sit still for for so long.  Finally I had to give up because really the stress of trying to fix something can often do more harm than the good you can do 'fixing' it.

In the morning she still wanted nothing to do with me.  When I finally got my hands on her things looked much cleaner.  She still walked funny, but the feeling I got was she was a bit more at ease.

That night "Daddy" came home, and there was much rejoicing   She was still wary of us trying to do things, but at least she got comfort from him.  Me?  Yes I was still very much the 'bad guy'.  This morning?  This morning was a riot.  I could pat her, she rubbed against my ankles and then dropped to the ground and showed me her belly, but I still had to be hands off.

It was a little ironic that the vet discussed vaccines with me, as well as the fact that a bite of unknown origin required six months of indoor quarantine for unvaccinated animals.  ha ha ha.. that cat is "quarantined" for the rest of her life.  They don't even really want to go outside.  He cautioned that a bat could have gotten in and bit her.. which again I can only laugh at.  If I had an older house or if I had anything larger than a fly enter my house I might not laugh now.. but the idea that a bat got into our house, bit Kit and hung out in the house with out the cats alerting us.. *rolls eyes* not to mention the stats I just posted on Saturday. (btw, I know who did bite her.  It had to be Jack, as he is the only one who occasionally gets in a snit over her and will chase her around for a few days)

So the vet knows I'm not happy with what happened.  The tech whom I have known for many years is pretty darn sure I'm not happy.  Yet the owner of the clinic has not called.  In fact no one has called to follow up on the visit in general - which is usually standard practice for the clinic.  So I have decided to change vets.  I trust the owner of the clinic with my pets, but I've been less then enthusiastic about how I have been treated over the past year or so as his clinic becomes more and more prosperous.  I know I'm a sort of high maintenance client.  When something goes wrong I forget everything I know and I need/want someone to 'hold my hand' if you will and just remind me of things - sometimes several times.  I also know I'm one of 'those' clients that questions everything and wants answers.  My husband said he appreciated that I knew the risks with convenia and that what the vet did was not right, because he is one of those pet owners that puts 100% trust in the vet and would say OK to whatever happened.  He might not have even considered the fact that the vet 'operated' and medicated with out consent.

Having worked within the vet community (I was a receptionist at a vet clinic) I know too many stories about my local vets. I have first hand experience at three of them, and I don't really want to go to any of them.  There is another about 20 minutes away that a co-worker uses, but I know nothing about them.  There is a cats only clinic about 25 minutes away but I went there once with Em for a second opinion on her cancer and while it was OK, I saw a falsehood on their website.  Something tiny, but it bugs me.  I got a recommendation for a clinic that is 35 minutes away from me.  There is another cat only clinic a few minutes closer but pretty much right next door..  So what do I do.  Go in the door and say "Hi, my name is Connie, I'm pretty sure you'll consider me a PITA, but I have seven cats that I'd do pretty much anything for.  I feed raw, I don't vaccinate, and I know enough to ask that you not do anything (except life saving measures) with out my consent. Do you want me as a client??" :)

What do you look for when you are looking for a new vet?

(and to top it off Evelyn and MLFF won't even look at me now that Jackson and Elsa and Ella aren't in the room.. *sigh* back to square one)


Fleurp has been confusing the living daylights out of me for the past few weeks.. by doing this

All too often I am covered in kitties having a good snuggle but when I get up to go to the bathroom I find her sitting on the bath mat.  She is delighted to see me and stands up and chirps at me and begs for attention and then follows me out of the bathroom, only to end up there again later.  I lamented that she is in there all alone, and I would feel guilty.  I know I know, it is her choice, but I couldn't figure out why she did it.

Recently I told my husband how much I wish she would lay on me as much as she lays on that rug, and he joked that maybe you should cover yourself in the rug.  Which got me thinking.. if I moved the rug would she follow it??

So now I have a bath mat on my desk.  and Fleurp has a new place to sit.

Think that is the end of the story?  well it isn't.  I bought a different type of bath mat and replaced the one I put on my desk.  Guess where she is sitting now?  *sigh* yes, back in the bathroom.  why oh why Fleurp?

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Elf on the Shelf

Growing up we had a little elf that looked just like this one.  I so wanted one for my house but never found one until "Elf on the Shelf" became popular a couple of years ago.  If you have never heard of it, the original story goes that some elves leave the north pole to watch the girls and boys to help Santa.  The story is much more elaborate and there are rules that no one can touch the elf or the magic is lost.  Each day your elf gets into mischief and kids enjoy what the elf has been up to.    If you are curious, there are a LOT of awesomely clever ideas on Pinterest and around the web.

I thought it might be fun to add my elf to my blog for the month of December, but I didn't want Ella and Jackson leaving with out meeting him.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Lets get ready to rumble..

momma, ow.. 
ow ow ow
bet you can't catch me!
ha ha ha
you can't get me, nor my ear.. 
Don't you just love my force field??
Momma, why'd ya stop??

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Thanksgiving at Casa de Gato

This Thanksgiving was a little different from us than the norm.

Thanksgiving is my husbands FAVORITE thing.  He loves it above just about anything thing else, so when we were first married he had grand dreams of huge Thanksgiving events.  Being an introvert that was the last thing I wanted, so I told him we could do Thanksgiving if he did all of the cooking.  Well wouldn't you know he would take me up on it.  And darn it if he didn't do it in spades.  The man makes a mean mean turkey.  For the past couple of years he has made a turkey and we took it to his brother's house.  They have a whole houseful of kids and it has always been a lot of fun but we are left with a house smelling of turkey and no turkey.

This year his brother had to work and we were invited over to my parents house.  We were told we didn't need to bring a thing (and we so didn't.  My family goes overboard with food and there was enough to feed quite a few more people) and so it looked like my husband wasn't going to get (yes, get.  not have) to prepare a bird.  Well he wanted to, so we decided to have two Thanksgivings.  Once on the day, and another the next.

He brines the turkey,
notice the heart shaped splashes.. it is made with love
The spread
Photobomb Jack
Um, Daddy, I was elected to tell you.. 
we want that.. (cause you obviously didn't know before)
Our serving plates
I love these
and this mug is huge and awesome.
nom nom nom nom

I felt quite bad about not being able to give any of The Crew some turkey.  There was onions and garlic in the brine and in the cavity of the bird.  I am not sure how much of these can cause problems in a kitty already dealing with anemia issues (Fleurp), so I opted to forgo giving any to The Crew this year. (Well except the small piece I slipped Jack - I justified it because he is the Alpha.. well at least he should be) and oh didn't they lay on the guilt.  The meowing and carrying on was almost too much to stand.  They did get a special dinner of turkey cat food in small cans that they totally appreciated.  It was complete junk and they LOVED IT.

Surprisingly the fosters ate the turkey but did not devour it.  Lady Friday Floofface enjoyed it the most, which was nice because I not only got her to eat out of my hand, she licked my fingers.  She is still way too tense and can not accept any hands on attentions.. so this was a nice.  I think I'm actually looking forward to working one on one with her and Evelyn.  See now that Ella is of size it is time for her to go back and find her forever family.  There are still a surprising number of kittens up for adoption, so I'm not overjoyed at the idea of bringing her back, but there is something to having her family pick her out of the group and not pick her because she is the only one.  She goes back on Monday, will be neutered shortly after that and a day or so later go up for adoption (probably not before Wednesday).  Elsa is already neutered so she will go on the adoption floor as soon as the staff assess her and see what they are comfortable with.  I am going to send Jackson Pollack along with them.  He is 90-95% tamed.  He freaks when your hands go straight at his head or front end, but the second your hands are on him he is A-OK with, do getting love and attention.  And since a lot of cats don't much like that too, I'm going with it might even just be him.  Speaking of him, don't you just love his :( markings on his side??

Saturday, November 24, 2012

What I know - Rabies & Vaccines..

Recently I have been reading more and more about Rabies..

As someone who has made the controversial decision to stop vaccinating my cats, this subject interests me a great deal.  There was an article in my local newspaper about incidences of rabies in the area.  That scared me more than anything else, because if it is "in my back yard" than my cat's risk is greater.  But all of my cats have been vaccinated in the past, and they are indoor only (and show almost no interest in going out - if I leave the door open for an extended period they'll investigate but they are too afraid of being shut out to go far) so I think my risk is minimized.

Then I read this blog post* by Dr. Ernie Ward a vet (I am assuming a DVM, but it does not specifically say on his website) and a triathlete and TV show personality.  This post scared me even more.  It is the story of an indoor only kitty who became rabid.  It bit the owners, so they had to go through rabies treatment.  The kitty had apparently had the vaccine in the past but was currently not up to date.

Talk about frightening.

The added graphic showing that the incidents of rabies in cats and dogs in 2008 & 2009 seemed to highlight the dangers of rabies for cats.. as 75-80 dogs and around 300 cats were infected.

But the thing is..

There is no context to these stats.  Did you know there are 86.4 million owned cats and an estimated 70 million more that are homeless? (some how I find it a good thing there are more cats owned than are not)

So the incidents of rabies in cats is minute.  Even if we are talking just the owned cats being responsible for that 300 number then we are talking 0.000004% of the population.  or 1 in ever 288,000 cats being at risk.  That number may be higher or lower depending on the incidents of rabies in your area.  Prior to the reports, there were only a handful of rabid animals reported in my state, and all were found hundreds of miles from my home.

Did you know the incidence of Vaccine Associated Sarcoma is as low as 1 in every 1,000 cats?  I've seen 1:5,000 and 1:10,000.  Even if we went with the highest ratio the odds of getting VAS are almost 30x greater than getting the disease. (and 300x if you go with the lowest number)

Now granted, VAS is associated with all vaccines, FELV in particular so these numbers are probably a little skewed as I can not adjust for "rabies vaccine incidents only"

The whole reason I'm posting this though, is because that original post didn't even MENTION that there is a darn good reason to consider not giving vaccines.  VAS is not the only adverse reaction.

I think we should all know the risks of the choices we make for our kitties..

*Update 2015: That blog post was removed by Dr. Ward. Other posts from the time frame are still up, but not this one.  Science has also shown that animals in which the rabies vaccine they have been given was expired do just fine after an exposure if a booster shot is given.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Post Turkeyday nap

Who's with Twee?  Actually I think she is just so happy she isn't spending THIS Black Friday like she did the last one..

I can not tell you how much I adore the fact that she tucks herself in!

Thursday, November 22, 2012

Thankful Thursday

What better Thursday for a thankful post..

I am thankful for cold noses in armpits at 5 AM, because it reminds me that my Jack misses me and wants me to start my day with him.

I am thankful for fur and whiskers up my nose when I wake up spooning Muffin because she likes to snuggle.

I am thankful for high pitch squeaking that sounds a lot like nails on a chalkboard, because it means my Eli has finally found a use for us.  After spending the first part of his life being that typical "aloof" cat, he's finally forgiven me for saving his life with all that medication as a kitten.

(we interrupt this post to comment that I'm still currently laughing from Eli trying to jump onto my shelves of sweater to take a nap.  DH was just commenting how he tends to do that and knock the sweaters over, and not 5 minutes later he jumped up there and missed the landing and fell to the floor taking 10 sweaters with him.  He's fine, but I've got more work and a very good laugh out of it)

I am thankful for Twee's utter cluelessness and lack of tact and subtly.  She may be a little touched mentally, but she is so sweet she makes your teeth ache and you know that when she wants your attention she has no clue that walking over the keyboard or stepping on your tender bits might be a problem, she just wants love - and who can fault her for that?

Yeah, I really have no negative to turn into a positive here.. I adore that Kit adores my husband, I adore that he adores her, and I love that she lets me dress her up in cute clothing and hats because it makes me giggle..

I am thankful for the hairball at the end of the hall because they remind me that my cats are generally healthy at this point in life, and I'm not overly stressed over Fleurp's recurring anemia (even if it is on my radar)

and I didn't step on it.

I'm also thankful for being drooled on because it means that Skippy has worked his way past Muffin, Jack, and Twee and found a way on my chest and is spending part of his day with me.  He adores to cuddle and always has.. but he is intimidated by the older bigger kitties a lot of the time so when he does it is special.

and I am thankful for fostering, which led to this blog, which led to this photo..

Ella in mid jump
Which led friends on Facebook to have fun with it..

by Red Puff

by Rene and her mad Photoshop skills
to the caped Ella I laughed and laughed but said she should be flying over somewhere saving the day..

And then we had other discussions which led to..

I seriously could look at this all day
and an adorable Christmas one, but according to my husband, we shall never celebrate Christmas until AFTER Thanksgiving.. (with one exception of the local holiday church fairs)

So we shall save that one

The paper now awaits me.  I know all the Black Friday deals are online, but I so much prefer to look at the paper ads.. The last year I did door busters was the last year they were at 6 AM.. Personally, I think this "Black Thursday" or "Power Weeks" are inane.  They say that is what people want, but what they want is to save money, and if they can only do that by giving up their Thanksgiving, that is what they will do.  I am very thankful that Maine has blue laws that prevent these stores from opening today.  Only ME, MA, and CT still do.  I think it is a shame.  I wish we could go back to the 6AM openings (heck I'd be so freakin happy if they'd not open till 9AM) but in this country where profit is king and people will do anything to earn another penny out of every dollar, the business who opens at 5 will get those shoppers first, so then someone else opens at 4, and really it is just wrong.

If any store would return to normal hours, I bet a ton of us would go shopping there..

and I am thankful I have a blog where I can talk about this and the financial footing that I don't feel I HAVE to find a store opening at 8pm tonight.  I can wait till I wake up on Friday and just go out and enjoy the hustle and the bustle and peace and goodwill.

May this find you thankful for things you weren't even considering, and may you either be full of turkey (or Tofurkey if that is your choice) and pumpkin pie.  And if you are not in the US, I still hope you find this day full of wonder and joy.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

What I know - Taming of the Kittens

As some of you know, taking hissy spitty kittens is one thing I like to think I specialize in. I've taken many sets and had fairly good success with most of them, and great success with many of them.

I've had a few people ask for help with it recently and I thought it would be beneficial to do another "What I Know" post. As a reminder, this is what *I* know, either through what I've read and/or from first-hand experience. I might not be the world's leading expert on the subject and someone else might have suggestions that work better *for you and your kittens* but this is what has worked for me.

First, you need to determine what you are dealing with. There are several types of hissy spitty kittens. There are those that are fearful because they are feral (not stray, but actual wild animals) and have the instinct to fear you and their mother taught them to trust nothing. Then there are those that are fearful because they were caught up by a great big huge being, shoved in a box, put in a car, and driven to a very loud oddly smelling building. Then they probably had more people grab them and give them injections and flea medications, etc.. so not only are they overwhelmed by it all but they haven't had a lot of positive interactions with humans.

You also need to account for personality. So-called "Alpha" cats are going to put on a tougher front but will be more willing to challenge you and thus often come around a lot quicker than your "beta" or "omega" personality kittens. (Alpha, beta, and omega are not hard and fast descriptions of personalities as you might be accustomed to them, but they are decent descriptors or what you will be facing. An alpha will challenge you. A beta will sit back and wait and see how it goes. The omega expects that everything is going to go badly for them and waits for you to engage them)

Age is also a very important factor. Kittens are designed to be pretty open to new experiences the younger they are to help them be more adaptable to accept and thrive their surroundings. They learn from their mother what is safe and what isn't. Around 7-8 + weeks a feral kitten is MUCH harder to pull out of its shell than a 3-4 week old kitten. The older the kitten, the more time that needs to be invested and the trickier you need to be.

Do not be discouraged if it takes longer than you think it should. Do not give up. The kitten may never win congeniality awards, but it can turn into a very loving companion. And besides, winning the trust of a kitty who doesn't trust easily.. it makes it all worth it. I quite often come close to tears when I see a feral kitten take that first step of trust on their own.

First thing you need to realize is there is the language of cat and what you are communicating to them in your interactions. Coming right at them, looking them in the eye and then reaching your hand out to them to pat them are ALL huge challenges to a cat and each one on their own would frighten a kitten. These could be the actions of an adult cat set to put a smackdown on a kitten but they are also actions of predators to their prey. You think you are being soft and generous, but chances are they are reading this as "I am going to kill you". Considering what their experiences with humans have probably been up to this point, all they can do is believe it.

Your job, over however long it takes, is to desensitize your kitten to these moves. Look them in the eye when you feed them, put your hand out towards them to the point where they just start to flinch and then just leave it right there.

When interacting with your kitten, try to always have yummy food. I like to make them 'work' for food. By getting something totally yummy, such as chicken breast (raw or cooked) or meat-based baby food (meat and broth only), you can often entice kittens to walk toward you. If you can't, then move the food toward them and place it under their nose and try to get them to eat. Cats won't eat in front of perceived danger, so whatever step you need to take to get them to do this will help them understand you are not a threat. For those very afraid I will often put a dab of the food on their nose so they have to lick it off. Someone who is going to eat them isn't going to feed them. (No, kittens haven't read Hansel and Gretel) If they won't lick it off while you are looking at them, turn away. Hopefully, the next time you offer food they will take it, then the next time they will come closer to you to get to it.

Happiness and Joy 2008

Touching your kittens:

You can't tame a kitten you can't touch. You can't touch a kitten that has a hiding spot that you can't reach easily enough to very easily pick up. Because of this, I have a cat cage, but I have also used my bathroom. I provide hiding places but make sure they are something I can get a kitten out of pretty easily with a high degree of confidence. You want to minimize that transition as much as you possibly can, so put yourself in a position that once you have your hands on the kitten you can get them up off the ground and into your arms as quickly as possible. I make myself comfortable on the ground so that I do not have to do much before they are secure.

Another good reason to limit the space kittens have access to is the cat's sense of smell and how much comfort and security they gain from their environment smelling like them. This is why when cats are stressed they often start spraying. It is also why giving kittens run of the house is overwhelming. They want to explore and scent everything and the more there is the longer it will take. They don't know what is around so they only feel comfortable moving when it is quiet. Keeping their space small will help them spread their scent easier.

Happiness ~2008

I believe in "imposing myself" on kittens, but not forcing it. The second the kitten struggles to get down I put them down, but I do not let them go until all four paws are on the ground. This builds trust. If the kitten struggles hard on the way down, I return them to the security of my arms and try again when they calm down. You never want a kitten jumping out of your hands/arms and certainly no more then a simple step off of you if they are on your lap. If they think "I have to escape there is no other way" each time they are picked up it is going to take longer for them to accept being held because they will be constantly looking for an escape. If they learn that "when I ask to be put down I will be put down safely", they are more apt to sit quietly in your arms longer.

Petting your kitten while you aren't holding it will often involve trickery. Wait until their head is buried in some food or if you are lucky enough while they are asleep. Come at them from the side or from behind slowly and if you are lucky enough to have a kitten who has 'elevator butt' then go right for that spot. (you know elevator butt, don't you? When you pet at the base of their tail and they extend their legs as far as they will go so their butt goes high in the air.. ) and if not pat gently a few times and stop as soon as the kitten realizes what is going on. If they don't make to run you can try for a few more pets the next time, but the key is to end on a positive note and not one where they are running from you. This is why you freeze your hand when moving it towards them if they tense up as continuing will only make them run and the more times they run from you, the more likely they will run the next time they encounter you no matter what you are doing.

Kate and Pippa 2011
At this point, I think it is important to discuss that the attitude you bring to the kittens matters a great deal. If being hissed at and swatted at scares you, then they are going to feel that fear and continue to do it hoping you'll leave them alone. If you are afraid of your kittens, then wear protection, do whatever you need to do in order to let them know that their hissing and swatting is not going to make you retreat. Generally, the younger kittens can't do more damage than a red mark on your hand, but older ones can bite to draw blood. Wearing gloves and long sleeves will protect you fairly well but try not to make your hands bigger (oven mitts) or more imposing. The easiest way to prevent being injured is to slow down. If they hiss at you when you sit down, don't try to reach for them until they stop hissing. If they start hissing at you when you reach in to pick them up, simply stop moving forward and wait. It might take you two minutes or ten, but go at their pace. Once you get past that fear of being hurt by them, you can be totally amused by such small beings thinking they can frighten you away.

NEVER "punish" a fearful cat for being fearful. Never yell, heck for a while don't even tell the kitten not to be afraid. They are doing what comes naturally to them and it is the right response for the situation. I will often praise kittens for being upset with me because in the wild it is what will keep them alive, but then I gently go on to tell them they aren't in the wild now and I will keep them safe, and warm and well-fed. I constantly tell kittens "I know what I'm doing" and will work with their physical reflexes to help calm them - but more on that in a bit.

You need to make sure the kittens associate you with all things awesome. When I set up kittens, they have food/water, litter, and a bed/box to hide in. That is is. That is what they get for being alive, that which they do not need to work for. Their basic needs are met, but all extras need to be earned. Canned food is offered each time I go into the room. Toys are introduced and used while I am in the room. For kittens afraid when I get near I use stick or fishing pole type toys.

Feathers and other natural fibers such as fur are almost irresistible to kittens, for kittens so frightened they can't seem to move, often sliding a feather or some fur over their paw pads will pique their interest. Being far enough away that you can't seem to be able to grab them will open them up a bit, and with the little bit you have gained another foothold into "humans are awesome".

Getting kittens running after "prey" turns them from prey themselves into the predators that they need to be to be confident. They often lose track of that fear while "on the hunt" and at this point you can often circle them around closer and closer to you. See if you can't get them running near your feet or sit on the floor and see if you can't get them running over your legs. Sometimes they will and won't notice. Sometimes they'll notice and freeze up and runoff. Just keep the play session going and try again later. If you can, get someone to help you, and have them (or you) lay on the floor (face down feels safer to me) and see if they can get the kittens running over all of you. I can quite often get kittens on my back that won't even look at me when I am sitting up or standing. Sometimes just laying there is enough.

Kate and Pippa explore my husband ~2011
I also think that the "hand monster" is another invaluable tool to get a kitten's trust. When they reach out and smack you, it builds confidence. Remember, "play" isn't just "play" to a kitten. It is that time of their day where they work on their hunting skills, where they learn what they can do, what pounce moves work, how to wrestle, etc. This is why feathers over paw pads work. If they were still in the wild with their mother she would bring home small wounded animals for them to "play" with and work out their hunting skills, and later she would bring home not so wounded animals. Finding out if your kittens are mousers (liking toys dragged across the floor) or birders (loving to jump through the air to catch a bird) will help you tailor games to their skills and enhance their experiences with you.

For kittens that lack confidence, a friend may be a good idea. Seeing if the shelter has a kitten of similar age that is outgoing can help shy kittens accept that climbing over humans isn't going to result in immediate death. Allowing them to see another kitten having fun, purring, venturing forth might spur the interest in the shy kitten.

Outgoing "Bug" challenges Kate and Pippa to venture forth to try the food - 2008
On the other hand, a very outgoing cat might dampen the true spirit of a kitten - as I am currently facing with Jackson and Lady Frida. Every time I start to engage her in play he comes along and steals the toy and she just lets him because it is easier than facing her fears. Only you can decide which course of action might help a particular kitten. Do not be afraid to make a decision. If you think it will help, it probably will. If you were wrong, there is often very little that you can't 'undo'.

Self-confidence is very very important. Right now your kitten's job in life is to survive. To that end, it should be learning to hunt and kill and feed itself. Engaging with toys to work on that "stalk, hunt, pounce" instinct to help them 'learn to kill' will help feed that self-confidence. Engaged play will help the kitten realize it can engage in the environment and survive, and then it can enjoy the process.

Having the mother cat does often seem to inhibit bonding. While in general, I believe having a mother cat with kittens is very important, sometimes you have to make the call to separate them to help enhance their desire to bond with you. If mom is hanging around offering uber delicious milk and very comforting licks they are going to be less likely to seek you out. It is a judgment call if you think the mother is doing them some good. If they are of age to be weaned, it might just be the right decision to separate them sooner rather than later.

I have also found that taking the kittens out of their 'nest' and letting them investigate new environments can help a great deal with their self-esteem.

Squirrel at work - 2012
I am very lucky that my boss is kitten friendly and my office does facilitate being able to bring kittens. Unfortunately, the owner of the company isn't as kitten friendly so when he is in the country the kittens can't come to work with me. At that time I will bring the kittens to the shelter and ask the staff to cuddle the kittens or trim their nails.. anything to get someone else's hands on them and give them an 'outing'. The more often you do this, the better for the kittens. It might seem "overly" stressful, but it really is good for them. Often their confidence is noticeably improved upon returning to the kitten room no matter how unsuccessful the trip appeared to be at the time. Sometimes just taking the kittens out of the room they are in and letting them play in a different room can help. But remember, if your kittens are dealing with any sort of illness, the stress of this type of outing very well could tax the body to the point where they become sicker. If you think they might break with something, keep the trip small (do a different room or even just a trip around the house) and see how it goes. The last thing you want is to have to medicate a feral kitten.

a 'faked outing' bring the kittens to my rabbit ~2009

If need be, do not hesitate to use some "chemical" help to soothe the edges of their fear. Often kittens are so fearful they forget what they are afraid of, and simply respond to the instinct. There are a few products that can help with that. I have personal experience using a couple of them and highly recommend Rescue Remedy by Bach's Flower Essences. It is often recommended for dogs who are afraid of thunderstorms. I've used it myself in times of stress. I've also used a few of the individual flower essences both for myself and my cats. Flower Essences are not a 'medicine' but more of an herbal, it works subtly, but cumulatively. A lot of people think they are hooey and it is simply a placebo because it is subtle or possibly because they chose an essence for a different problem than what they are hoping to help; but even if it is, I've seen it work, so I say give it a try. I've also used Spirit Essences and really liked those as well. Now each individual responds differently because they are coming from completely different spaces. What works for one fearful cat might not work on another because what they are afraid of is different. I had Spirit Essence "Safe Space" work very well on two different sets of timid kittens. It is doing almost nothing for Frida. Feliway is a mimic of the welcoming pheromone that cats rub on things with their chin. It does not "calm" cats like a lot of people say it does, but makes the environment less frightening by making it smell thus feel more familiar. I've seen a lot of people say it doesn't work, but they have been using it to "calm" cats, and not understanding what it is doing and what its actual purpose is for. I used it when I moved my cats in my new home, and I liked it a lot. I've used it with a few adult fosters. I know several vets who use it in the cages or carriers for cats in their care.

I have started implementing routines. When I go into the foster room I knock on the door and announce my presence - letting them run and hide if they need to. I then have a set routine for my first interactions, I pick up old bowls, refill food/water, scoop boxes, all the time telling the kittens what I am about to do next and if what I am doing is taking a while explaining what I am doing (aka - just opening this can of food for you and now I'm scooping it into the bowl) This helps kittens get used to you as you are no longer this random ball of chaos that comes in and interrupts their day but it is something they can expect and get used to.

I have also found that keeping the noise level consistent keeps kitties from regressing. I have used talk radio, classical radio, general TV, home shopping TV, among others to help the kittens get used to the sound of people. I also will do "challenge noises". If you have ever sneezed around a bunch of unsuspecting kittens you know what I mean. Loud clapping, sneezing, coughing, banging of cans pretty much anything out of the ordinary will help the kittens realize the world is not out to get them. They will tense, they will run, but the next time you do it, they won't tense as hard, or run as fast, because "it didn't go after them" the last time.. Just last night I made a few challenge noises and the kittens who run when I walk in the room just sat there and looked at me like I was crazy. It was pretty cool.

Three off the wall things.. first, make sure the kittens see you scoop their box. I'm not quite sure the reasoning behind this, but I've noticed it helps. Generally, box scooping is a source of great fun for kittens and they like to participate in this "digging for treasure" (or is it "hey I buried that for a reason!!). Another is to eat in front of your ferals. Not sure if this helps them realize you aren't going to eat them, or if they just like the idea of food. Lastly, talk to the kittens and tell them what you want from them. Tell them about snuggles and cuddles and all the wonderful things you want to do once they trust you. Praise them for being afraid. Praise them for eating. Praise that they are adorable. Praise each pounce and praise each gain you make. You will often feel foolish, but keep doing it because it works.

Showing the kitten you know how to work with their natural reflexes can make you a bit less scary. Scruffing is one of them. A mother cat will bite them on the neck 'aka scruffing" and it helps them carry the kittens safely. It relaxes the kitten and they seem to go into a trance and wait for it to be over. Scruffing a kitten might be the only safe way to handle it, but remember two things, first not all kittens scruff, second you aren't a mother cat, so it should not be the only hand on the kitten. If you have to scruff the kitten to pick it up, as soon as you can, use the second hand to support the body. A lot of people feel scruffing is inhumane and if you carry the kitten around only by the scruff it is. Also, forcing a kitten to be picked up this way can break the trust you are trying to build. Again, if you need to pick them up and you don't have the time to go slowly, do this, but I don't recommend using it as the only way to pick them up.

For those kittens where the scruffing reflex is strong, I will often employ a secondary "hold". With the kitten on their back and their head between my hands, I will massage the scruff. This takes a bit of trust on their part; I mean just getting a kitten on its back can be a fight. But when it works, they simply melt in your hands and almost look hypnotized. Kittens also have a spot just beyond the corner of their mouth on each side that they often adore being rubbed gently. Using your fingertips in a soft circular motion is often enjoyed. Young kittens still like having their bellies rubbed as it is something their mother does to help aid digestion and to stimulate. If you rub on the back of their thighs they will often extend their legs and splay their back toes... this helps mom gain access to help with elimination. Once they are 3-4 weeks you can do this pretty easily without risking being peed on. If these work for you, great. If they don't then don't feel bad. While some kittens have very strong reflexes and react almost immediately at being touched, some kittens have weaker ones and they just don't work no matter how much experience you have at it.

And lastly, make sure you spend as much time as you can ignoring them. Read a book, take a nap, watch a movie, write a letter, knit if you can. Do all of those things your own cats find absolutely irresistible and cannot keep from getting in your way. Cats HATE to be ignored. Curiosity killed the cat (and satisfaction brought him back) isn't a cliché for no reason at all. By not challenging them all the time they can start to relax around you, and it gives them a chance to investigate what could possibly be more interesting than they are.

Questions? Comments? I would love to hear them..

Update 12/2/12
I saw a post on Facebook suggesting that giving a feral kitten a bath would help 'deferal' them. David Kraft said that if you put them in a warm bath, preventing them from seeing the water before they enter it, then wrapping the kitten up in a warm towel, drying them off then giving them something yummy to eat it would work wonders.

I had such a hard time believing it, I stressed about doing it for a couple of days, and then thought that I doubted it could do much harm. I spent a few minutes with each kitten prior to the bath. I dosed them with some Spirit Essences and heard them both purr for the first time. They both went into the water easily. I put them in tail first while holding them by the scruff (the other hand on their behind). I simply got the outside of them wet. No soap, no scrubbing, I'm fairly certain the water never even fully penetrated their fur. Did Evelyn first and handed her off to my husband to dry while I worked with Frieda. Frieda did so well that when she showed interest in seeing her sister and so I let her go. She voluntarily walked across my husband's lap and sniffed at Evelyn. She freaked a little when he reached out to pat her, but it would have gone very well if he hadn't.

I am going to try this again with the next set of ferals I get... preferably long before they hit 2lbs.. I can't imagine how or why this works. It wasn't like I washed any scent off of them, nor did either myself or my husband dry them in any way resembling their mom.. but one does not have to know why it works if it works.. they just have to be glad :)
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