Saturday, January 30, 2016

A TALE OF TWO KITTIES - PART 4 - Marvelous Max Comes Home To Stay

The story of our two cats


PART 4 - Marvelous Max the Miracle Cat Returns

 We have two cats now - Spot, our first feral kitten, and Max, our feral cat who adopted us.  This is their stories told in a few parts.

This is mostly taken from memory.  Unlike with Spot, I kept no record of our interactions with Max. We didn't think of him as our cat so I didn't  feel a need to keep a record.  Now I wish there was a better record of dates and such, but there isn't.  How long it took to get him to trust me enough to pat his head and rub his ears - can't say exactly.  It was a few weeks into the feedings.  The improvements happened exponentially, one building on the other and each one a bit quicker than the last.  I ALWAYS offered my hand to him first, before any other moves.  He'd sniff then butt my hand or bend and rub his head against it.  Slow and easy.  Two steps forward, half a step back.  When I tried touching his back, near his tail, he'd freak out but each time he'd come back quicker.



Now, after weeks of patience and tender, loving handling, I had to trap him.  It was betrayal, but necessary.  That didn't make it any easier.

Before I met the cat lady, I went into the veterinarian's office and spoke with the receptionist about the neutering and vaccines he'd require.  She told me she would block out a time for Max and be sure they did everything he needed.  Since the organization would be taking ownership, the vet would be working with them but they were very kind in reassuring me about the care he'd have.
 I met the cat lady at the veterinarian's office where she gave me the trap and showed me how it functioned.The plan was for me to capture him late in the day and bring him inside for the night.  The trap needed to be covered to keep him calm, and I was to call the lady and tell her I successfully trapped him.  She would then arrange for the Vet to operate the next morning and let me know what time to deliver him to the veterinarian's office.

First, I put the trap near where Max was regularly fed with both ends of the trap open (as if it were a tunnel).  Spot walked right in and through to the other side and Max followed. This was going to be so easy and that made me feel even worse.
I then closed the back, put the food in place and then (with Spot in the house) set the trap. I stepped back and Max walked right in.  Bang!  He was terrified, trapped in a small space and hissing like crazy.  I covered the cage and brought him inside, placing a dish of food and one of water in the cage.  He started to cry, such a pitiful sound like his heart was broken, so I cried too.  I wasn't sure either of us would last until morning.  Spot paced around acting upset and he eventually went upstairs; me, too.

I called the cat lady as soon as he was in the trap and told her he was safely in the cage in the house and asked her what time to bring him to the vet.  They wanted him at 9:00 AM - OMG!  Hours and hours away.

Finally the time came to take him and, as I left him there, I could hear him crying.  The vet called later in the day to tell us he came through the surgery fine and the cat lady planned on picking him up the next day.  She would keep him for the duration of his medical work up and then place him in a home if he was judged a good cat for home living.  About two days later she called me to say he was not tamable, would never be a pet, and although she was led to believe he was friendly - he was not.  I sensed she was unhappy with me, and I even think she thought I'd lied when I told her how loving he was.

I told her he was very affectionate and I had pictures of him showing his sweet nature.  "Well", she said, "He certainly isn't showing me that, but I might be able to find a barn home for him.  Many of these cats just make their way back to where they came from, though, so he might show up at your door someday.  He needs booster shots in a couple weeks and I want to groom him.  He needs to be anesthetized for that, so I'll be keeping him until he's ready to go to a barn."

"He can come back to us," I said.  "I will cover all the expenses."  Visions of Max trying to get back home, across roads with traffic, trying to find food, and who knows what other dangers could befall him as he journeyed back to us.  NO.  He needs to be here.  I told her we'd make a good home for him, and he knows this place.  There's been too much trauma up to now with more to come.  She said, "Yes, he is traumatized and who knows if he'll ever return to being the cat you knew.  He could easily revert to being totally feral and distrusting."

I spent a few days researching and finally decided on an outdoor shelter for him.  When it arrived, I placed it between two big trees up against a boulder so the wind wouldn't hit it directly.  I used a half sheet of plywood and leaned it up on the rock and over the house, then I filled the house with nice straw and packed all the spaces around the house with straw to help keep out the wind.  My husband made a platform that sat about two inches off the ground so the house would stay dry in wet weather, and I put straw all around there, too.  

This is Spot in the Cat House; he loves it.  It appears the hay is moved around and settled so I think Max may be sleeping there at least some of the time.  Can't be sure, though
We couldn't know if he'd ever choose to go into this house but at least it was there - a good option for him when the weather turned nasty.


Then we waited.  And waited.  No word from the cat lady and it was a week before Thanksgiving - longer than originally thought.

How can I describe the anxiety?  Nothing seemed right without Max at the kitchen door every morning.  The world was all akimbo without Max and Spot running around playing leapfrog.  It was lonely without him, and images of Max in a cage for all this time were terrible.  He was accustomed to being free, unfettered, and now he was held in a cage.  I could hardly stand it, but the way she talked I expected Max home before Thanksgiving.  

The Monday before Thanksgiving I called the Cat Lady and asked when we might be getting him back.  She explained that they'd been so busy that things were backed up.  He still needed some shots and grooming so it would be after Thanksgiving.  It would be at least a couple more weeks. More waiting and fretting.

Around December 8th I called her again to check and she said all that remained to be done was grooming.  She'd bring him to us in a couple days and she had a kitty playpen for us to keep him in.  It was a joyous moment!  

I asked how long we'd need to keep him in the pen before we let him outside, and she said, "He can't go outside!  He's been compromised by being kept inside."  I asked her if she'd been keeping him in the house, and she said, "No, in the barn."  Since I don't anyone who heats their barn (but there may be some people somewhere who do), I figured his fur was still thick and would be okay.  I needed to see him to do my own evaluation.



 The day finally arrived when our Max was coming home.  The cat lady showed up with him in a carrier, cowering and unhappy, and a kitty playpen.  I know she had to do some fancy things to get me a playpen, and she thought he'd be in it until April  This was December.  She put it together without much help from me, released Max into the pen, and told me not to let him out.  "You don't want a feral cat running around the house!"  she warned.  "I will be shocked if you can tame him at all," she said.

I set up the litter box, the food and the water, and he went and hid in the litter box.  She gave me the formal adoption paperwork (Officially he was her's once I turned him over, so now I was the adopted Mom) which, luckily, did not say I had to keep him strictly as an inside cat.  I also noticed he now had a micro chip and his left ear was cut off at the top.  This is a way vets mark the cats that are neutered and cared for but homeless. It helps later to ID them if they are found.

The cat lady left, probably mentally washing her hands of both the cat and me.  In fairness, she felt she was misled as to Max's potential as a house cat and her time was so short and needed elsewhere, in her opinion.  Still, she got him all fixed up and healthy and got him back here to us with a big kitty playpen.  She did good!  Her help is greatly appreciated.

Now, with her gone, I turned my attention to Max who was cowering in the litter pan and looking terrified.  No wonder!  How many strangers had handled him?  How many cages was he in and how small?  Did he even remember me?

I sat down next to the cage and began talking to him just like the old days when he was free.  "You're my beautiful boy.  Now you're home.  Purrrr, purrrr,"  I said over and over.

He relaxed a bit and I tried to scratch his ears through the bars - HISSS!!! and he ran to the other side. 

I stayed right there, on the floor, for a couple hours having a nice conversation and I kept trying to pet him.  Little by little I got close and then, about 9:00 PM that evening I WAS petting him :>) Still, he looked absolutely miserable.


I asked my husband to take those two pictures so I could tell the cat lady and show her the pictures.  I wanted her to know he was letting me pet him.  

We went to bed and Max began to cry.   He missed having us around and even Spot deserted him.  Spot sleeps most of the night on our bed.

You can see how pitiful Max is in the cage.  When we came downstairs in the morning both my husband and I knew we had to let him go free.  It was taking a chance that he'd decide to move on and we'd never see him again.  He might also stay around but never come near.   Whatever the result, he'd be happier free and in the world of caves, boulders, and woods that he knew so well.

We rolled the playpen to the kitchen door (remember, that opens out to the hydrangeas) and I lifted the door.  It took only a few seconds, a couple puzzled looks and he was off and running.  I watched him for a couple hours as he wandered around the property, rubbing his chin on twigs, marking his territory, and reacquainting himself with the lay of the land.  Would he come back to the bird yard for food?

I tried calling to him or approaching him when he settled on a log or rock nearby, but he would ignore me or get up and move if I got too close. At least he wasn't gone, just aloof.

Late afternoon came and it was feeding time.  I got the dishes ready and made sure the door banged and the dishes rattled.  Sure enough, Max came cautiously into the yard.  He came to the bowls and I actually got a moment to pet him on top of his head then he retreated.   At that point it was best to let him alone to eat and do whatever it was he wanted to do.  There was hope and I'd settle for that.

The next day I caught a couple glimpses of him, left food out, and the food disappeared.  I wasn't positive Max was the one that ate it - we have wild critters all around.  The day after that I didn't see him at all and my heart sank.  I didn't know if he was still around and just hiding or if he moved on.  

Spot would go to the kitchen door and stand up to look outside.  He was looking for Max.  

Then, without any warning, Max was outside the door at break of day crying for his meal.  I rushed around getting it ready, heart in my throat, and walked outside to the rock.  Max was right there beside me, meowing and purring.  I reached down to pet him, he gave a little shrug, then butted his head against my hand.  When he was done eating, he jumped up on the table to clean himself and let the meal settle.

The world suddenly seemed to be on it's proper axis once again.  It's true - when you're happy the sun shines brighter.

Each day that passed brought a little more progress, and soon Max was enjoying the chest rubs and back massages.  He began to come to the door, asking for attention.  He was even more friendly than before he left.

He used to be scared of my husband but now he became a watcher, an observer of my husband as he did outside work.  He curled up in the big rocks, looking for all the life of him, like a sleeping red fox but, on closer inspection, Max was watching every move.


 Max is now a huge part of our lives.  I still need to work with him and get him to where I can pick him up.  I've been able to pick up his front body and immediately put it down; once I picked up his whole body (about half an inch) and moved him over a few inches.  This is something he doesn't care for, losing touch with terra firma is a new and scary experience so it will take time.  Everything with Max takes time, and every minute is worth it.

It was time to dose him with Frontline  - the unusually warm weather means there are many Ticks still around, and fleas, too, I bet. I got that done without any problems at all.  What a good boy!  He thought I was petting him:>)

He has some "meat on his bones" (as my Mother would say) now that his meals are healthy and regular, and he has a special bowl with Tony The Tiger on it (a cereal bowl giveaway), and my husband made Max a special box stuffed with newspaper and with a cutout to fit his bowl.  This helps keep the wet food from freezing, but I still need to go out now and then and bring it in for a shot in the microwave on these truly cold days.


Max does NOT want to come inside; perhaps in the Spring, when we can leave the door open for him to come and go as he pleases he will try out the house to see if it suits him.  For now I'm happy to have him, this powder puff of a kitty, as an outside buddy.  He will, eventually, come up to my husband and ask for affection, and he will, eventually, let me pick him up and hold him.  Until then, we love him as he is.




The following four pictures were taken January 30, 2015 (a year ago) and, believe it or not, the snow got worse after that and had been worse before.  Wildlife suffered terribly - it was a very tough time finding food; wild turkeys and whitetail deer came daily to the bird table - Max's table - to grab a snack.  You can see the hydrangeas on the right.  The kitchen window and door are about 15 feet away, but the animals were undeterred; hunger is an undeniably strong force that can erase normal caution.

We have no idea how Max survived through two terrible winters with no help, but he did.  We didn't see him for days at a time, but back then we didn't really miss him when he wasn't around.  He was, after all, our neighbor's cat - NOT :>)