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?