Newsletter - Animal Writes sm
5 September 1999 Issue

Born Wild
by Greg Lawson, [email protected]

She was small, I guessed that she was no more than three or four months old. She was a cute little tabby and she was feral. She would wait at a safe distance in the backyard while I put out food and water and when I was back in the house she would cautiously approach and eat. I left the storage shed open so she would have a place to stay and placed a blanket inside for her comfort. I would leave the food dish just outside the sliding glass door on the patio as close to the house as was possible.

One evening, after a week of feeding her, I decided to bring her inside. I really didn't want another cat. My favorite had just died and I had told myself that I would continue to take care of my other cat, Genghis, but that I wasn't going to take on another one. But I forgot my rationale that evening and scooped her into the house while she was eating. She hissed and backed away from me and disappeared in a gray streak behind the washer/dryer.

For the next few weeks I put her food on a placemat on the kitchen floor and allowed her to have the run of the kitchen and adjoining dining room. I closed the door to the kitchen to prevent her from spreading some possible illness to my other cat until I could figure how to get her to the vet. She would not come out from her hiding place to eat until I had left the room.

There was a table in the dining area that was stacked with books and boxes. Often she would be on that table when I entered the room. She would wait, hiding behind the boxes until my back was turned and then she would race to the safety of that space behind the washer/dryer. I put an open cat carrier on that table with a towel inside and my kitchen cat took to staying inside that carrier.

I asked my vet, Dr. Gee if he would be able to alter a feral cat and give it an examination and vaccinations. I told him I didn't know if the procedure would be a spay or a neuter because K.C. (Kitchen Cat) hadn't allowed me to get close enough to determine if it was a he or a she. I also asked him for advice on what to do with it. Was there a way to tame it? My vet said that yes, he would alter it and that he believed a feral cat could be tamed by confinement and hand feeding. Dr. Gee suggested that if I really wanted to attempt this, I would need some sort of cage, a pair of thick gloves and patience, as the process could take a month or two.

A friend helped me build a 4x4 foot by three foot high cage out of chicken wire, with several openings. One opening fitted up against the cat carrier so that Casey (K.C., Kitchen Cat) could sleep in the carrier and go into the larger cage to eat, use the litter box and there was even enough room for some toys and a scratching post. The top of the cage could be opened to remove her litter box for changing.

On the morning that I had made a tentative appointment with my vet for the alteration, I did a load of laundry. As usual, once the washer was running and I had left the room, Casey relocated from behind the washer to the cat carrier on the table. I was able to sneak back in, close the door of the carrier, and take her to the vet. Dr. Gee told me afterwards that he had had to dump the hissing spitting animal from the carrier into a pillow case and that an assistant had held her down while he gave her a shot of anesthesia thru the pillow case. He said that instead of using sutures, he had used surgical glue to close the incision, so that he wouldn't have to see her again to take the sutures out, and he wished me good luck and reminded me again about the gloves.

She was still groggy from the drugs when I took her home and joined the carrier against the cage which was taking up a considerable portion of my living room. For the next couple of weeks I did nothing more than open the small door and change her food and water and allow her a chance to get used to me. After a little time had passed she began to sit in the cage and watch me as I surfed the net or watched television, but would always retreat to the adjoining cat carrier if I tried to approach her. One night I sat down by the cage and held a Pounce brand cat treat through the mesh of the wire cage. When I grew tired of waiting I dropped it into the cage and left. After several repetitions of this procedure, she finally came out and took the treat from my fingers.

I fed her a lot of Pounce with my fingers through the wire of the cage, but whenever I put food in my hand and placed my hand through the small door of the cage, she would strike out with her paws and try to knock the food from my hand. I had decided not to bother with gloves and I had plenty of scratches which indicated I should have considered that piece of advice.

Finally, after a couple of months, Casey was taking the treats from my hand through the door. She was, at last, eating out of my hand. It was soon after that, that she let me touch her head with one hand while I fed her with the other. Then she was rubbing her face against my hand, and then letting me pet her along her body.

Ironically, at this same time, I had joined an animal oriented book chat room hosted by Arkangel10 and the first book we read was Born Free, by Joy Adamson, the story of Elsa the lion who was raised from a cub by humans and returned to the wild. Elsa was taught to hunt by her foster human parents and eventually returned to the wild in Africa. Here I was doing the exact opposite, taming my feral kitty.

After our chat about Born Free, I knew it was time, so I separated the carrier from the cage and allowed Casey her freedom. Day by day she is getting braver about exploring the great unknown of my house. She has become an affectionate companion to me and a playmate of my other cat, Genghis. My vet, Dr. Gee was right, feral cats can be tamed with love and patience. Casey is getting over her fear of humans and discovering a whole new world.

Animal Stories
An AOL Animal Books Chat Room
AOL Link... Animal Stories
we meet at The BC Salon III
Join us for Karen Iacobbo's ("[email protected]") new bi-weekly book discussion chat in AOL's Oprah forum.

Meets every other Monday 9-10pm est. Next meeting is September 13.

We have discussed the book Born Free, and the next chat will focus on the sequel...Living Free. Come if you have read either book, or if you have seen the movie, or if you have an interest in this incredible story. We will be discussing other books about animals in the weeks ahead, such as: When Elephants Weep, The Emotional Lives of Animals, Gorillas in the Mist, The Human Nature of Birds, God's Dog, and others.

You can email Karen for more information at [email protected]

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