After my wife and I started volunteering at the animal shelter, we began to consider fostering shelter cats as well, but the disarray of our basement made us hold off for a while. Since we have two cats of our own, the idea was that the foster cats would live in the basement where we could keep them separated from our own cats. When an extended brownout broke our FiOS box, the scheduled visit by the Verizon tech provided the necessary impetus to clean things up (after all, he couldn’t fix the box if he couldn’t reach it). Four days after the basement cleaning/tech visit, the shelter issued an emergency request for fosters for a pair of new arrivals who were terrified of being in the shelter.
The next day, March 20, we picked up two nearly identical grey cats who were huddled together inside a feral cat carrier. These cats had been surrendered to the shelter after living for eight years in their owner’s basement. Although they had lived indoors most of their lives, they had never been socialized, so they were very fearful of humans – content to occupy the same general space, but only from a safe distance. No petting, no grooming, just drop off the food and leave us alone. For now we’ll refer to them as Goober and The Grey Fox.
When we got them home, I set the carrier in the basement bathroom and opened the door. Although our contact at the shelter thought they might just stay cowering in the carrier for a while, The Grey Fox immediately ran out and hid behind the toilet. For the first few days we planned to leave them alone as much as possible to allow them a chance to explore and become comfortable in their new surroundings. During this time, The Grey Fox was content to hide behind the couch or behind the TV, but Goober quickly began seeking out more secure hiding spots.
A day later he wedged himself into a tiny space behind a large cabinet. It took an hour of searching and heavy lifting to find him and get into a position to prod him out. He was so still and in such an awkward position while I was working to get to him that I was worried he was injured or worse. Even prodding him with a wooden dowel didn’t elicit any response. Eventually, though, he got freaked out enough to run to another hiding spot and seemed to be fine. This began a daily ritual of finding Goober, then blocking off the more worrisome hiding spots he had found.
While we were letting the cats acclimatize, we began researching how to socialize them. We ran across a PDF “Socializing Very Shy or Fearful Cats” that described a method used for dozens of cats from a major hoarding case. The method requires the cats to be individually confined in cages that are big enough for them to move around, but small enough that they don’t have room to hide so that they can be forced to interact with humans. We had one large cage of about 48″ W x 28″ D x 32″ H and began planning how to set it up for Goober. We also set up a pan/tilt/zoom security camera so that we could monitor their activity when we were upstairs (which was the only time they left their hiding spots at first).
On the morning of March 28, I did my usual morning rounds searching for Goober, but couldn’t find him anywhere. I had to leave early for a conference so I couldn’t continue searching, but I wasn’t too worried. That night, however, my wife informed me that she hadn’t seen Goober all day. After a thorough search I finally located him. There is a five foot tall, four foot wide bookcase that Goober hid behind in his first couple of days in our basement. I had blocked off both ends behind the bookcase with four foot tall boxes that filled almost all of the space in back. Almost. Goober had jumped on top of the bookcase, then down into a one foot gap between the boxes. So, there he had been trapped in a four foot high, one foot wide well for at least fourteen hours and possibly a full twenty-four. We definitely had to get him in the cage for his own safety.
Two days later we had the cage ready and I set out a long, narrow box on the floor that I figured would appeal to Goober as a hiding spot. The next morning I peeked in the box and found that he had taken the bait. I quickly moved the open end of the box into the cage, upended it, and closed the door.
In the next post I cover Goober’s cage time.