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A Tale of Two Kitties.

ChanceChance Registered User regular
I've got your TL:DR right here at the top!
I have a 7-month just-past-kitten who was found feral on the streets, has only been with the humane society since July, is very very wary of me, and hasn't met our home's other cat, Doug. Doug is very social, a bit of a moron, and a very energetic older dude.

The humane society's instructions were to keep the new cat in a separate room for ten days to two weeks, or else they might freak out - but there's this part of me that worries that basically shoving this poor homeless kitten into solitary confinement aside from like, feeding time, is only gonna' mess him up more. For the first 24 hours he hissed whenever I came close. Halfway through today (day 2), he licked some wet food off my finger, hissed every time I approach, and ultimately let me pet him and immediately began purring like a motorboat.

Still, he won't come out of the corner of the room. He's terrified. I tried to see if he'd go for a laser pointer.

He just looks at it kinda' passively. He doesn't follow it with any energy, like he'd even consider going for it. Whatever that crazy red light is may be, it's less compelling than the safety of his corner.

Should I introduce him to Chill Idiot Doug and let Doug kinda' lead by example?

At the same time, there's this other part of me that says I'm anthropomorphizing an animal and there are professionals who suggest I keep him confined separately for ten to fourteen days so just chill out and let the cat sit in the spare room, alone, all day. The second part's right, right? Science, right?


Doug is getting on in years. My Dad got him 'cause he seemed like the friskiest young cat at the humane society. He came right up to the glass and needed to know whassup - and they wanted a mouser. He's not a terrible mouser. Not particularly good, either.

Doug's also a dumbass. Always has been. I think he musta' been raised by a dog at some point in his youth, because he doesn't... stalk or prowl like a cat does. He stares at a target real, real hard for a moment, standing fully at attention, and then like bounces sideways at it. Doug is a spaz. As a kitten and for several years after, he was the kind of cat who would freak out on account of nothing. He'd be just sitting there, all cool, suddenly look around and jump 4 feet straight up before tearing out of the room like he'd seen a ghost.

Doug also has no sense of self-preservation whatsoever. This is a cat who will not get out of the way when he sees a foot coming down on him, and on the rare occasion he's escaped the house, he always returns sick from something he ate or bleeding from an encounter with one of the more streetwise puddies roaming the rough and tumble alleys of downtown Winnipeg. I'm amazed a car didn't get him.

For some reason - even though Doug didn't know me for most of his life - he also seems to like me best. I don't take shit from Doug, and I'll shove him away when he goes for human food and give him a quick push with my foot when he's blocking the hall. I think because of this, Doug sees me as the alpha or whatever, and likes to snuggle on my tummy when I'm stretched out on the couch - he loves tummy rubs. Doug is a dumbass, and I love him - and he's getting on in years.

I decided Doug should have a cat buddy. I went to the humane society to see what they had, and decided to go with whatever cat seemed to speak to me. There were two lovely juveniles in a small, closet-sized room together. They looked so similar, I imagine they're brothers. Noah looked identical to his brother, medium-long hair but smoky gray all over, save for a white patch on his nose. Noah was terrified, and refused to be seen. He immediately bolted into a little round thing and hissed at even the gentlest approach. Noah's brother, the black one with the white stripe on his nose, the lady told me, was named Harley. He immediately became a frontrunner.

Harley was no more welcoming, but he didn't bolt. He just stayed where he was, in the corner, and kept his eye on me.

Apparently, Noah and Harley are both graduates of the humane Society's Scaredy Cat Academy, and while very, very shy, they had their diplomas and were thus deemed suitable for adoption. Why are they so shy? I ask.

Noah and Harley were found three months ago, outdoors and feral. By most cat-standards, Noah and Harley have severe emotional problems. Seven months old, neither kitten or cat, free one day, abandoned to the elements, captured, caged and neutered the next - Noah and Harley just want people to stay the fuck away. But Harley doesn't bolt. He just stares at me, fucking daring me to try to come closer with a posture implying I'll draw black a bloody stump if I try. Harley's scared, but he doesn't bolt. He's seen some shit.

I don't know, precisely, what shit Harley has seen. His file doesn't have that information, but he's lovely. Young enough that maybe I can make something resembling a good first impression. A cat with emotional problems may be a bad idea, but don't we all have a soft spot for wounded animals? I want him to be okay, and know that whatever he's been through there are better days ahead. I wanna' take care of him, and I tell him I'm gonna' do my best for him.

The humane society's advice for Scaredy Cats is to lock them in a separate room, the lady in the cat enclosures tells me, for up to seven days as they grow accustomed to me and the new environment. The lady who does up all the paperwork for adoptions tells me it should be ten to fourteen days. The documentation they send me home with - including a special photocopied black and white pamphlet on Scaredy Cats, says fourteen to thirty days.

We have a spare room on the second floor with an old couch in it, a big cat-climbing tree, a glass shelving unit, a weight machine and the detritus that builds up in spare space over the years. I set out some food, put in a clean litter, opened the cat carrier and left him alone for the evening.

This is Harley.


Harley spent most of the first day behind the couch. I angled one end away from the wall to talk to him a bit. The paperwork says to take his food away during the day in order to make him associate me with the sweet sweet taste of kibble, and he wouldn't come out from behind that couch at the smell of some nice wet chicken cat food. I dropped a dollop behind the couch just to see if he was capable of moving from that corner, and sat there while I listened to him nom on it. I looked over the back of the couch, and he was already back in his corner, staring at me with those big moon eyes.

I waited with the bowl of food but he wouldn't budge. Dipped my fingers in it, and held them out to him. He hissed. I moved them closer, slowly and he hissed. I moved them closer, slowly, two inches from his nose, and he stretched up a tiny bit and licked the food off them. Then he hissed at me and pressed back further into his corner.

This went on with every feeding for the rest of the second day. I tried two more times, but he wouldn't come out for food if I was present - and so, Harley didn't eat. He hissed every time I came close.

I'm not too thrilled with his ability to completely avoid interaction, so I pull the couch further away from the wall and go back there. He bolts into the closet (pictured above).

At the evening feeding, I sit in the doorway of the closet and place the bowl of food halfway between us. He sniffs the air, but doesn't move. I reach out towards the bowl, and he hisses. I slowly push it along the floor until it's touching his paws, and lean back. Harley eats.

I sit there, watching Overwatch videos, as Harley finally has a good meal. When he's finished I draw the bowl back, and Harley doesn't hiss.

I reach for him again, and he hisses. I reach forward and brush his cheek. A great, deep, loud purr immediately rumbles out of him, and he nuzzles my hand. An indelible movie quote immediately springs to mind.


Y'know how a cat will shove its face into your hand for petting? Harley's doing that. We stay like this for a bit - I don't want to overstay - and I call that a successful night. I leave him dry food for overnight, and take it away this morning.

Today, I clean out Harley's room. The documentation says to give a Scaredy Cat a few good hiding places but not so many that you can't get to them to interact. Doug - who has taken up a semi-permanent vigil outside Harley's door since his arrival - gets locked in my room, and the door to Harley's room is basically left open as I disassemble the weight machine and shelving unit. I don't know him well, but I know Harley's not a flight risk - he never leaves the corner of the closet as I work.

Then, I go in to feed him. I sit in the door, push the bowl towards him, watch some Overwatch vids, and then we make with the face rubs. He purrs deeply, and when I gently put a hand behind his back and draw him towards me he tenses his whole body. He doesn't struggle or bolt, though, and he lets me scoop him up and place him in my lap, and continue the petting.

He's purring and nuzzling and seems to be loving it, and through his stunningly soft and fluffy fur, I can feel that Harley is deceptively thin under his longish coat. Oh God, what if this only-feeding-with-me thing is resulting in some sort of weird kitty anorexia?


Today, day 3, he's not yet been here 48 hours. Now, at this point, I come to my question for the group. It strikes me as insane to leave Harley alone in that room all day, every day, for two weeks or more. That feels like tantamount to cat abuse, in the same way solitary confinement can't possibly be good for any person or any animal with social habits. Poor Harley's already had it rough, and now I've separated him from Noah and I'm keeping him locked up all alone.

Wouldn't Harley benefit from learning from Doug that the house is a safe space where a cat can frolic, free from fear? Doug, with all his years of not imagining that anything could possibly hurt him, could teach Harley by example that corners are for sleeping and houses are for exploring and people are for annoying in general and sleeping on in particular?

I'm worried that the official advice might actually be harmful, but... but but but...

I'm no vet. I'm not an academic studying animal behavior - I don't know this at all, it's just what I intuit. In either direction, I just don't wanna' fuck this up.

Having Harley in my lap today was obviously a huge step, but he's got a ways to go yet - I can intuit that too, by the way he hissed at me when I checked on him an hour later - so while last night I was very worried about this process, today I also feel like it might be best.

Can someone reassure me that with a history like Harley's, this isolation and gradual introduction really is best for him? I've never had a cat you didn't just toss into a house, say "check it out" and walk away.

I should do what the professionals tell me to do, right? That's definitely the right thing, right? Like, it seems to be working and at least it doesn't appear to be making his crippling fear worse. And science is science! This is advice from people who just deal with cats all day - they must know what they're talking about, right?



Thank you.

'Chance, you are the best kind of whore.' -Henroid
Hahnsoo1CambiataL Ron HowardSkeithKristmas KthulhuRingoAegis


  • Hahnsoo1Hahnsoo1 Make Ready. We Hunt.Registered User regular
    Definitely do what the pros tell you to do, especially a shy cat. One thing you can do to help the two cats get accustomed to each other is to have them sleep on beds or towels and swap them while they are still apart or bring some of Doug’s stuff into Harley’s area so Harley can smell it and get used to it. Gradually increase contact over time. Shy cats aren’t likely to be social immediately, and they may learn the wrong lessons if there is a more gregarious cat all up in their business.

    PSN: Hahnsoo | MH Rise: Hahnsoo, Switch FC: SW-0085-2679-5212
  • TNTrooperTNTrooper Registered User regular
    The room isn't Harley's prison cell it's his safe space.

  • OrcaOrca Registered User regular
    I'm going to second what Hahnsoo1 said. Give it time.

    I've interacted with a pair of ex-feral cats before, and in that case, it took 3 days before I could even tell there were cats around beyond needing to clean the litter box and refilling the food and water. Give it time.

    Time for them to get comfortable with the new surroundings, to get their scent on things. They're going to be traumatized and it's going to take them time to get used to the change in circumstances. Your cat needs to feel safe, and if he's hiding in the corner he's probably not feeling very safe yet.

  • CambiataCambiata Commander Shepard The likes of which even GAWD has never seenRegistered User regular
    Cats need to be introduced slowly, and this is especially true of shy cats. IF you want to help the process along, you can try bringing the smells of each cat to the other - either by taking poops from their litter and trading it out (yes, really), or simply taking something that one cat has spent a lot of time with - like a toy or cat bed - and bringing it to the other. Introducing them by smell before you introduce them by sight should help. Chill cat probably will be able to have a positive impact on shy feral cat eventually, but don't expect that process to be instantaneous - there will be hissing when they first meet.

    Slow is best with new cats, even ones that aren't partially feral!

    While it doesn't seem that any rich were eaten. It definitely feels like a soup course with broth made from rich stock - bouillonaire if you will - was had.

    My Dragon Age Origins Let's Play

  • ChanceChance Registered User regular
    Thank you so much everyone ^.^ I feel way better about this now.

    'Chance, you are the best kind of whore.' -Henroid
    crzyangoKristmas KthulhuRingoMartini_Philosopher
  • JaysonFourJaysonFour Classy Monster Kitteh Registered User regular
    Cats need their own space in which they can feel safe before being able to accept others as friends- somewhere they know they can retreat to in case a newcomer ends up being more of the territorial type than the friendly type. Once he's assured that this is a safe space he can retreat to, he'll start being more social. Do NOT rush this. He's obviously relaxing around you, and he's starting to trust you (which is why he's not busy trying to tear off your hand as you pet him), and once broken, especially with a cat, it's hard to regain.

    Once he's feeling comfortable, start introducing the smell of chill cat, like Cambiata says. Get them used to each other, and then once he doesn't mind, introduce them. There will be hissing, but if chill cat keeps being chill, eventually they should accept each other and iron out whatever disagreements they seem to have. Once Harley realizes that Doug isn't wanting to chase him out of the room to claim it as his, things should go well.

    Also: make sure they're both neutered. Uncut males will go absolutely apeshit if you try to push them together and they start marking.

  • mtsmts Dr. Robot King Registered User regular
    as someone who fostered cats, i tend to go take the thunderdome approach. Just let them figure things out. This is with the caveat that i have some spray bottles and blankets at hand and they have a save exit.

    if things start to go poorly then, you work on slow introduction, but if your one cat is super chill my guess is it would go ok.

  • azith28azith28 Registered User regular
    I went through a similar 'meeting of kitties' recently (Except the new one is a kitten). It hurts to keep her locked up, but it really is her safe space for now.

    The key is to get them use to each others scent. What i would do is let the new kitty explore her safe space, then the next attached room with the doors closed and my older cat locked out. then put her back in the safe room so they have had time to smell the other cat in a 'common room'. You might also want to put a towel or blanket where they sleep, then trade blankets after a day or so. Eventually you may want to put the new kitty in the cat carrier and let them meet each other through the carrier. hisses and growls are likely but don't be disheartened.

    Take it slow. eventual face to face meetings will occur, and then you should monitor when they are in the same room, letting them be free, but being ready to interfere with a water bottle if they get too close.

    you may hit the jackpot and they will get along easily.

    My 6 year old cat and my (current) 6-7 month old kitten current get along pretty well. there was a lot more growling and hissing from my older cat then i expected cause shes a sweetheart and she grew up with another kitten (who passed shortly before). Now a days the growls mostly only come when the little one is too frisky. They obviously play and endure each others existence, with the kitten wanting to treat the older one as more of a mom or sibling then the older one is quite comfortable with, so i don't fear leaving them alone or anything.

    Stercus, Stercus, Stercus, Morituri Sum
  • MadicanMadican No face Registered User regular
    I had a feral while growing up and yeah follow the experts' advice and keep Harley separate for a good period of time. This isn't a domesticated cat, it's a wild animal and in some ways it always will be. Even the cat I had never fully became domesticated and much like you and Doug she seemed to deem me as alpha because I was not afraid to get physical if she was in my way or laying on something I needed to make use of.

    That said, while she was still partly wild she did become mostly domesticated. All it really meant was that she was a bit of a spitfire if you ticked her off, which was actually pretty hard to do. Also we had to break her of her hunting instinct, because she viewed white socks as prey (this is my dad's fault) and she blended into the darkness. We had to warn guests staying the night not to go walking around lest she strike unseen.

  • Inquisitor77Inquisitor77 2 x Penny Arcade Fight Club Champion A fixed point in space and timeRegistered User regular
    One way to think about it is that going slow likely won't cause irreparable harm, but going too fast can cause severe unforeseen consequences. For example, your chill cat Doug might, for whatever reason, dislike Harley so much or get so shocked that he wants out of the house entirely, regardless of how chill he was before or how much he loves the house or the people in it. This is, unfortunately, not an uncommon reaction for cats. When threatened or uncomfortable, their first instinct is going to be to get away, because they can generally get away from pretty much anything that might actually threaten them. They generally only fight when they feel like they can't get away or when they are protecting their established territory. Which might also happen - Harley may get so freaked out that he just goes batshit and destroys everything, including you and Doug.

    Cats, unlike dogs, don't have to be social. While they can be, and they do have their own types of social structures, for the most part cats can lead perfectly content lives not socializing with other cats (or other people, for that matter).

    Forcing the issue probably carries more risks than just letting things play out slowly. Anything you can do to mitigate any preventable issues, like an unfamiliar scent, will go a long way.

    As for gradual introduction, after swapping scents for a while, you can try stuff like letting them paw at each other under the door, or leaving the door open a crack so that they can see and smell each other (but nothing more). If you plan on using the cat carrier then you should be acclimating and training your cats to get used to them now. Do NOT use the cat carrier if you have not trained them to use the carrier in the first place.

  • NoughtNought Registered User regular
    Inquisitor just posted a lot of what I wanted to say.

    Cats are not humans. Confining Hayley to one room right now is letting him slowly start to feel safe.

    Also keeping food away isn't hurting him. Generelly cats will quickly let a human get close if they are starving.
    As a two year old bathing in a small tub in my grandparents garden a stray cat let me cuddle her and even lift her into the bath.
    They took her in and in her later years only one person was allowed to pet her.

    One thing that might help if you stillhave doubts is to search youtube for videos about socialising feral cats.
    Some of them show the process of how they work to slowly get the cat used to humans.

    And grats on the new cat. Black cats with white markings are great. As are grey striped ones. And all the others. :)

    On fire
    Island. Being on fire.
  • ChanceChance Registered User regular
    Sitting warily but purring in my lap, a small plate of wet food balanced on one knee, Harley meowed for the first time tonight.

    Soft and hoarse and barely audible, it was one of the sweetest sounds I've ever heard. I've been wondering if I would have a cat that only communicated in nonthreatening, casual hisses.

    Which honestly sounds a little bit awesome, but that tiny little 'mew' has me really hyped to see how he'll grow. My heart swelled at it ^.^

    I'm trying to give extra attention to Doug now so he won't get jelly lol

    'Chance, you are the best kind of whore.' -Henroid
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