Hanaeleh is currently home to four “feral” cats: Amy, Oscar, Rex and Rascal. The original thought behind having feral cats is that we would help provide a safe place for a cat who was not tame enough to live in a home, while at the same time the cats would keep the rodent population down. This, of course, was before The Great Treaty of Nimh, which very clearly states that “No rat or mouse shall bother a cat, nor eat the food of a cat, nor in any other way antagonize a cat. In return, cats shall not chase or eat or harass a rat or mouse.” At least, that is what we believe occurred; the fact that the cats will literally sit and watch a mouse run in front of them without so much as a passing interest leads us to believe that there are larger political issues at play.
A few weeks ago a cat rescue reached out to us and asked if we would take a feral cat, who was going to be put down if they could not place him. We have been open to having other ferals come to the barn, but they usually get chased off by our current kitties (that is a clause in paragraph 7, sub-section 4 of the treaty, under “Other Duties of Cats”), and we do not want them to die of either starvation or being attacked by a predator (owl, hawk, coyote, neighborhood dogs). The rescue said that this kitty had been caught in the wilderness area so he should be OK- why they didn’t just release him back to where he had been living after vaccinating and neutering him, we don’t know.
Dexter came to us last Monday, and in the spirit of being named after a television serial killer, bit me quite severely while we were trying to transfer him from one cage to another. That being said, I acknowledge that I am at fault; when dealing with ferals, you do not try to change from one cage to another- you put the carrier *inside* of the larger crate. That is a pretty steadfast rule, and it’s not as if this is the first feral cat I’ve worked with before. I was just stupid, and ended up in Urgent Care because of my stupidity, with a lovely bandage, plenty of antibiotics, and a few shots. It was a reminder, I suppose, not to be stupid.
In any case, Dexter pretty much just hissed and growled at me for the next few days, until this weekend when I decided to put another smaller carrier in the crate, so he could have a little safe haven. It helped that I could close the door and clean up his crate, then open it when I was done. Then he could wait until I was gone to eat all of his food- and did I mention the boy has an appetite? He has been eating close to 2-3 cups of food a day- and he’s not a very big cat! We give our cats between 1/2-1 cup of food a day. This poor guy ate as if he wasn’t sure he would ever see another full bowl of food again.
Which, given his history, he may have thought to be the case. In any case, he was not really interested in me- and I admit that the excruciating pain in my left hand did not make me very amenable to his plight. I figured he had food and water, and blankets and a house- in my mind, anything besides food and water were magnanimous gestures on my part.
Until Monday night, when after I cleaned his crate and closed the door, he popped out of his little carrier and began meowing. He walked right up to the food and ate in front of me (apparently having determined I was not going to attempt to steal his kibble from him). He ate for a few minutes while I talked to him, then he began to rub up against the bars of the crate.
“Purr, purr,” Dexter said.
“This better not be a trick,” I told him. “I don’t fancy going to the ER again with a bloody finger.”
“Purr… purr… purr…” he repeated.
“Alright… here, I’ll scratch your ear- don’t bite me- yes, you’re a cute kitty. OK- under your chin? Fine. I’m not a huge fan of cats, though, let me tell you. I prefer other animals, you know. Like lizards, snakes… behind your ear? Well, tilt your head, then… there you go. And insects… yes, they’re quite warm and fuzzy. Especially the tarantulas. Did you know we have tarantulas here? Well, we do. You’d best steer clear of them. The other side, you say? Well, fine then, move a little and I’ll scratch you there.”
So that went on for about 10 minutes, until I had to go and finish up the rest of my chores. Yesterday was more of the same- I was sitting there, petting him, and when someone else poked their head in the trailer to say hi, he would hiss at them, then run back to his crate.
“It’s OK,” I said. “They won’t hurt you.”
Dexter looked at me and looked back out at the door, where Tama had stuck his head in to see why I was sitting on the floor of the trailer, talking to a blanket-covered box.
“Whatcha’ doin’?” he said.
“I’m talking to Dexter.”
“I don’t see a Dexter.”
“That’s because he’s afraid of you and ran back into his crate.”
“Is there food in there? Nevermind, I’ll come in and see for myself.”
Luckily, Katie appeared at that moment, and prevented Tamahome from coming *in* the trailer through the escape door. The minute she moved Tamahome, Dexter jumped back out of his crate, then began rubbing against the bars again. “Purr, purr,” he said. “Scratch my head.”
So now we have a quasi-feral kitty, who is apparently a seriously sweet cat. This is all well and good, but now that he won’t run back into his crate in fear, I have NO IDEA how I’m going to clean his cage now.