Thursday, April 08, 2010

The Reddest of the Red

This deceptively sweet face belongs to Camille (name has been changed to protect the innocent....although she's not). Camille is a red cat and she lives up to her name. Her problem is that she wasn't socialized much as a kitten and so she's very unhappy about being handled. The poor thing gets scared when you get close and she shows it by biting, swatting, and hissing. Working with her is an exercise in patience and caution and I definitely got a lesson today.

I was asked to work with her today because I've had some success in getting along with her. But today was not a good day. As soon as I opened her cage door she arched her back and gave out with a hiss you could have heard in Cleveland. I stood and talked to her quietly, telling her all about Easter dinner at my mom's and the plot of the book that I'm reading. Slowly I moved my hand closer and with each half inch she'd hiss again. I was wearing gloves, knowing from past experience that she has sharp claws and sharper teeth. Eventually I got within attack distance and she let me know that was close enough by taking a swipe at me.

After a few more minutes of talking, I laid my hand on her back and got a full-on Exorcist sound. If I didn't know better, I'd swear her head turned all the way around too. But she stayed there, ears flat, looking miserable, but not trying to eat me, which was a positive sign. She let me pet her back for a few minutes but obviously was hating it. I felt like stinky Aunt Maud trying to hug some reluctant kid. Camille was making a low, mid-throat growl and was so unhappy that I began to feel guilty. All I was doing was stroking her back, but her reaction made me feel like I was putting her on the rack.

Working with cats is a lesson in patience, something I've never really had. It's teaching me quite a lot, but it's not easy. Try standing on a hard floor for 20 minutes, petting an unhappy cat, talking quiet nonsense and hoping said cat doesn't decide to amputate your hand. It's harder than it sounds.

I wish I could say that Camille and I had a breakthrough, but we didn't. Eventually I ended the visit because a group of Brownies came in on a tour to get their looking at kitties badge and the noise and commotion freaked Camille out even more than she already was. I didn't want to stress her any more so I ended the visit.

I have decided that Camille is my new project. I am hoping to eventually get her to accept me. If I work with her a little every day perhaps I can even, one day, approach her without gloves. In the meantime, though, I'm just going to admire her photograph. She may be the reddest of the reds, but she's damned cute, isn't she?


Duke said...

The common wisdom I've heard is you really can't tame a true feral cat. Cats have a window that extends to around 8 weeks of age for socialization to people. If they aren't socialized as a baby they grow up feral and will never trust us.

But I've experienced cases where socialized cats are abandoned. Without contact with people they get rather wild and seem feral, but since they were once socialized, can be tamed back.

If Camille was handled before she turned 8 weeks there's a good chance she will tame down once she trusts you. If she is a true feral cat that was never socialized as a kitten, she will not.

Those are the things I've always heard and found to be true in my limited experience. The times I've tried to tame a feral never worked out. The cat people I know say ferals should be adopted out as "barn cats" to farmers and not expected to be pets. Farmers like them for pest control and they feed and care for them. The cats have a good life without the stress of people handling them.

Hopefully Camille will be a tame cat who just went wild due to being abandoned. If so, she will tame down fine in time. If not, maybe trying to handle her is just causing her stress and discomfort.

Anyway, that's been my experience, and like I said is limited. It may be worthless.

I sure hope Camille finds a home one way or the other. She deserves a good kitty life.

Anonymous said...

Your post made me think of the song "Wildcat" by Ratatat:

FinnyKnits said...

This sounds like a good endeavor. I imagine you'll both be better for it after the fact.

Meanwhile, why *would* a troop of Brownies go to an animal shelter?