No one knows where Blue came from, but he certainly chose the right front porch to visit.
At the beginning of December 2016 a friend I’ve known for years messaged me on Facebook about a friendly male cat in her neighborhood she’d decided to take in. She had adopted from me way back in 1992 so I knew that she had good intentions and would take care of the cat, and I’d be glad to help her in any way I could to make this a successful rescue. “Success” in rescue is measured in many different ways and Blue ended up being the recipient of most of them.
When she had seen him outside as the winter approached and he didn’t seem to have a home, she put out some food to see how often he’d come to eat. He looked fairly young, maybe a year or a little less, and still intact, and pretty friendly. He came to eat regularly so she took him to her vet and had him scanned for a chip. Aside from fleas and earmites he was healthy, tested negative for FIV/FeLV, got rabies and FVRCP vaccines and made a date with destiny for his extra parts.
She didn’t want to upset the balance with her cat Lucy and two dogs in the smaller house she lived in with her husband so she built him a shelter and fed him on her porch. Apparently someone had told him how to put the moves on a human because soon he began asking to come in. Of course, that was part of the plan.
He wouldn’t be neutered at her vet until December 22, but we had temperatures near and below zero degrees at the beginning of December. She felt bad that he was out in the cold and wanted to bring him in before neutering. How would she introduce him to her current dog and cat?
I cautioned her about him coming in contact with her cat after just coming in from the outdoors—even if a cat tests negative and appears healthy there could be any number of things they could be carrying, even just an upper respiratory infection, but that could pass to her other cat. Other things could be more serious. And behaviorally, a slow introduction is the best idea, letting him stay in quarantine and get used to the sounds and smells of the house, so the two things work together. But until he was fixed he might spray so she wouldn’t want him in the main part of the house and suggested a shelter in the garage. I also offered to see about getting him an appointment sooner so she could bring him right in and start the process sooner.
She thanked me and said I’d mentioned a few things she hadn’t thought of. She wanted to make sure everything was done right to help make it successful and she’d call her vet and see if she could bump up the appointment.
A week or so later she told me she’d tried to take him in but she wasn’t sure he wanted to be in at all. She had him in a spare bedroom, stayed with him a while and played with him, went to bed and then heard him meowing at 2 a.m., looking out the window and jumping up onto things, so she put him outside at 4:30 a.m. He was on the porch and in his insulated house. She brought him back in to eat but he only ate a bite, finishing it all when she put him and the food back outside. She was glad that he had used the litter box and was still friendly. But she just wasn’t sure about him in with her cat and dog, and already her cat was hissing. She really didn’t want to take him to the shelter, but she didn’t want him to have to live outside when he was such a nice cat.
I told her about the magic of neutering, and how she’d be surprised how different he would act once he didn’t have his hormones telling him what to do. Her cat Lucy would feel different about him once he wasn’t reeking of feline testosterone too, even her dogs would. It would take time to integrate, but if she felt she needed to surrender him I’d help find the best place and manner of surrendering him. I explained about how the Beaver County Humane Society, very close to where she lived in Beaver County, worked very hard to find their animals homes and were very successful, and they also worked with the rescue I volunteered for.
She understood and thanked me for responding so quickly. I could tell she was very worried about whether or not this would work after the experience the night before.
The next time I heard from her was just after Christmas when she messaged, “I’m excited to write you and tell you that the neutering went well and, it did make a hell of a difference…I almost can’t believe it’s the same cat.”
Ah, success. I was shocked the first few times too, but now recommend spay or neuter as the first step toward good behavior, or socializing a cat who’s a little on the wild side. At that point he was just sniffing with her cat Lucy under the door. She would do the introduction very slowly and in time she was sure it would work out. I gave her more tips on introductions to the area of the house and to other cats and dogs. With his reaction to being indoors before neutering and her cat’s reaction to even seeing him outside, she had almost given up. But I’m glad she asked, and that I could help her.
She messaged me again just after the new year. “My boy Blue has been doing really well in the house. I’ve been doing small things to help with the introduction to my other cat Lucy and my dogs,” she said. He had been inside for two weeks and it was time for the face-to-face introductions and she wanted a few suggestions.
I had described scent-swapping earlier, giving each of the cats a blanket or bed the other had slept on to use and then giving it back so both cats’ scents were mingled on it. To let him explore the house without coming face to face with any other animals she could put Lucy in a room by herself and the dogs outside and let him wander the house to get to know it alone. One of the things that makes them defensive is that they don’t know the territory, and if they meet another cat, then they have two problems to deal with and it often doesn’t end well. If they are familiar with the territory and then meet the resident cat, they can focus on getting to know them because they already know the territory. Increase the time he is out with everyone and play with both cats, roll some balls across the floor, use the red dot, things which they could both chase and enjoy.
But I received another message from her in mid-January saying she was very sad she had to surrender Blue to the shelter. For some reason her 13-year-old dog was nervous around him and she didn’t feel the integration was progressing. “I really wanted things to work out. I feel like I let him down but then again I tell myself that maybe I gave him a good shot at a really good life,” she said. “He did nothing wrong at my home and I feel that he will make someone very happy. I adopted my cat Lucy from the Western PA Humane Society 2 years ago when she was 10 years old. She got a good home and that’s what I pray for for Blue,” she continued. She gave me his name and ID number and said it looked like he’d gone out to the Petco offsite adoption area.
Surrendering a cat you’ve rescued and welcomed into your home can feel like a betrayal, a failure, convincing the cat to trust you and taking it into your home, and then giving it away to strangers. But sometimes the real failure is if you know it’s not going to work and yet you try to force the situation on everyone anyway. Sometimes the more compassionate thing is to put them in a position to find a home that is ready for them, and that’s what shelters are for. Especially a shelter like BCHS, which is an open-door shelter but really takes care in finding homes for their animals and works with rescues for those who need a break from the shelter.
I understood completely, knowing it was possible from the beginning; that was why I’d told her about the shelter back then. I checked the shelter’s website and didn’t find his ID or name, so I checked with the person I always check with about surrendering cats. Blue had already been adopted within two weeks of being surrendered!
Despite the fact things didn’t work out the way she wanted them to, there were still many successes in this rescue. Blue showed up on the right porch and approached the right human. He was neutered and had all his tests and vaccines. He moved indoors and had the chance to be loved by humans. And then he went off to meet the world, and found his forever home. For a young kitty who found himself without a home in winter his story could have turned out very different.
And my friend needn’t feel bad about surrendering him to a shelter because she did more for him than most people do who find a stray cat. Imagine if more people would do these few simple kindnesses for cats who show up on their porch, how many more cats would have happy endings.
Read other Rescue Stories on The Creative Cat.
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More rescue stories in Great Rescues Day Book
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Weekly schedule of features:
Sunday: Essays, Pet Loss, Poetry, The Artist’s Life
Monday: Adoptable Cats, TNR & Shelters
Tuesday: Rescue Stories
Wednesday: Commissioned Portrait or Featured Artwork
Thursday: New Merchandise
Friday: Book Review, Health and Welfare, Advocacy
Saturday: Your Backyard Wildlife Habitat, Living Green With Pets, Creating With Cats
And sometimes, I just throw my hands in the air and have fun!