Wednesday, October 4, 2023
Daily Featurerescue storiesTNRTNR Seriestrap neuter returnTuesday

A Home Visit for Smokey

Smokey and the feather toy.
Smokey and the feather toy.

This post is my “Tuesday Rescue Story” post, and here it is Thursday already. Smokey’s week has been exciting but by Tuesday I knew there were more changes to come in the next couple of days. I decided to wait until he really settled in to write about it. Of course, everything else is behind now, but with good cause.

Smokey has been doing so well in his crate at Amy’s that Shannon and I have been trying to figure out how to get him to the next step—out of the crate.

He loves to chill in his hammock, and he plays with every single toy Shannon has brought in for him: flat scratchers, puzzle feeders, puzzle toys, a cat track, balls, mice, everything, he loves it all, the more the merrier. We find bizzy balls and little mousies outside his crate on the floor and all the food is gone from the food puzzles. He’s one busy kitty when we’re not there.

When you walk into the basement, he is ready for you, but his greeting is almost desperate. He meows and paces and hops up into his hammock to make a speech and scratches on his scratching post, which is all incredible for a cat who acted so completely feral for his first month indoors. He also hisses and sometimes spits, and may also take a swat at your hand if you rest it on the crate in a way that indicates he’s feeling vulnerable. The swats and hisses are easily stopped by reaching fingers through the crate for him to sniff your fingers, and to give him a good rub on his nose, which is the closest we get to petting him inside the crate. He will also take treats from our fingers through the bars, but even in between that he will still act up.


In part, he’s a hangry cat. I tried leaving dry food along with canned, but he always vomited dry food no matter how much we gave him so we decided to stick with canned. After trying many feeding amounts and patterns he was only good when we fed him one half of a tall can twice each day, a little more than the two 5.5 oz. cans I’d anticipated. But it’s been difficult for Shannon and me to get there exactly 12 hours apart and sometimes he’d gone closer to 18 hours and was not happy about it, hence the several food puzzles which Shannon set up on her evening visits. Amy and her children and grandchildren would also interact with him on occasion and no doubt he enjoyed the extra attention, but that didn’t seem to change his reaction if he hadn’t been fed for a while. If he was hungry when we came in he’d let us know, but when one of us visited him within hours of the others’ visit, he was a lot more relaxed.

I’ve seen this activity as being overstimulated, sitting in the dim basement for most of the day, then suddenly a human comes along and Smokey wants attention and pets and food, but he’s stuck in that crate, feeling vulnerable and very conflicted.

Smokey is a big kitty, very physical, and we’ve gone light on handling him, waiting to see if his hissing and histrionics will fade. But a part of him still feels insecure because he’s stuck in that crate and feels he’s unable to defend himself, so it seems not just food or attention but being in the crate itself is part of the problem. We don’t want to put him in a situation where he feels he has to defend himself and possibly hurt us or himself, and reaching into the crate through the open door to pet him still looks threatening to him. We couldn’t let him roam Amy’s basement, it’s just too big with too many places to hide to set him free in there, and we might not be able to get him back into the crate, and weren’t sure how he would act.

Smokey making speeches.
Smokey making speeches.

I wanted a small room where he could have his crate, but might feel safer roaming in the room. The best way to work with this was to get him into a quiet home where he saw people more often and could be fed on a more regular schedule, with someone who would understand a formerly feral cat who might be defensive/aggressive. Those are not in great supply.

But Shannon offered to take him home for a week, put him in her smaller spare bedroom keeping him in a crate, and see how he reacted. She would be doing most of the work on this but we don’t live far so I would visit too. Smokey has a big fondness for her since she was the one who went every night for a month to feed him and would stay and talk to him.

Smokey surprised us

So the big move happened this past Sunday, and Smokey gave us a big surprise—a good surprise. I was confident about Smokey being in a crate at Shannon’s house, the only issue I couldn’t determine was how to get him into his carrier and out of his crate without really overstimulating him and possibly having an angry Smokey on our hands, traumatizing him and setting him back, and possibly having him scratch or even bite one of us. His carrier was way in the back of the double crate, and he hadn’t gone in there when we were with him for over a month. I had it all planned out that I would toss treats in the back, because he will always chase a treat, stand ready with a broomstick to put through the bars to push the door shut, and then Shannon could crawl in to lock the door on the crate.

So Shannon and I were getting everything ready, trying not to be nervous and have that rub off on Smokey, and…Smokey went into the carrier and settled down on the bed in there. We looked in at him and he looked at us. I reached in and closed the door with the broomstick and he watched. Shannon crawled in and latched the door, and he looked at us like, “Okay, when do we go?”

Smokey in his carrier waiting for us to get a move on.
Smokey in his carrier waiting for us to get a move on.

Shannon and I looked at each other. “I told him all about this last night when I was figuring this out,” I told Shannon. “He understood everything I said.” We agreed, and proceeded to move all his toys and then him, and off we went.

Shannon had the crate set up in her spare room and we put him in, and his litterbox and food, and hooked his crate hammock above the carrier. He was relaxed until we got him there, and by the time we got him into the house he was kind of in kitty frozen state, dilated pupils, staring eyes, and then he hid his face in the corner of his carrier. We covered his crate and left him alone.

Smokey in his carrier at Shannon's house.
Smokey in his carrier at Shannon’s house.

He took a while to relax but made eye contact with us that day, and each day he’s relaxed a little more. He pulled the cover off his crate, one of his special talents, but still seemed uncomfortable, so I reminded Shannon of when we’d covered just the top of his crate early on, and that worked for him. He came out of his carrier, crawling on top of it under the hammock when Shannon was in there, finally eating when Shannon was in the room.

That was pretty much where it stayed until Tuesday. He was definitely eating and using his box, and there was a little bit of litter in his hammock, so we knew he was up there and doing all he should be doing. At night Shannon could hear him playing. He was also quiet and calm, not the usual loud and boisterous greeting, just a soft meow and only one or two hisses.

I was concerned he might also be feeling vulnerable or trapped again in a single crate with not much space. I went over Wednesday after Shannon had come home from work and she reported he’d greeted her when she came home, but was back under his hammock instead of on it. It turned out to be the windows—she had been opening them just a bit to let in fresh air. When we closed them he sat up and looked at us from behind his hammock and eventually settled back into it. The open windows must have made him feel vulnerable again, perhaps not knowing where the noises and the air were coming from. I offered him a treat through the bars and he sniffed it but he would not take it. I dropped it on the carrier for him to pick up. Finally, he did take one from me.

Smokey under his hammock.
Smokey under his hammock.

I considered whether or not we should open the door of the crate and give a try at letting him out. He wasn’t acting as if he was at all interested, and even seemed to be keeping away from the door as much as possible. If he only had this week, maybe we should just keep him in there instead of giving him too much change then taking him back to the basement. Shannon and I discussed how long he’d be there and she said she hadn’t intended to take him back there after the week, she hoped she could hold him for a few weeks and get him adoption ready. That’s awfully generous with time and space and supplies, and I was so glad for Smokey.

So I thought we should open the door for a while and see what he did. I sat down and opened it, talked to him, and offered him a treat. He was listening but not making eye contact, and then he did, and he took the treat with no bars in the way. I touched him on the hip and he just looked at me, but didn’t react badly to being touched. Shannon and I left the room to see what he might do on his own and decided that if he did leave the crate it would be better to try to get him back in after a few hours rather than get him overwhelmed with the new space to explore. I left and waited for a message later.

Smokey in his hammock when I opened the door and gave him a treat.
Smokey in his hammock when I opened the door and gave him a treat.

It took a while, but he did venture out. He was under a table when she came in, but he didn’t run or hiss or react badly to her coming in, so as planned she got the feather toy and offered to play with him. Shannon sent me the next several photos.

Smokey hiding under the bottom of the table.
Smokey hiding under the bottom of the table.

But he was ready to play, and no more hiding.

Smokey and the feather toy.
Smokey and the feather toy.

She had no problem getting him back into his crate that night. He went right in by himself when she filled his bowl. He settled in the hammock, but stopped to put a couple of mousies in his food bowl and talked to her a bit.

Smokey back in the crate after the first night out.
Smokey back in the crate after the first night out.

Today, Thursday, he greeted her in the morning but she only fed him and left him in when she went to work. She let him out when she got home and left again for a while, and he was out again and greeted her with a soft meow when she returned. He was sleeping on the computer chair.

Smokey relaxing on the chair.
Smokey relaxing on the chair.

But then it was playtime.

Smokey waiting for the feather to come his way.
Smokey waiting for the feather to come his way.

He is so darned cute with those round eyes! He’s a big energetic gray kitty. With his reaction to having his own room, calm, playful, social, we really have the hope that he can be adoptable in due time. But for now, he is confident, relaxed and happy, and this is enough to enjoy.

Would you like to help?

As always, I love being able to help cats. My goal is not just to go out and trap or accept cats, but also to help people resolve issues or help find affordable services, and be a good example to others who are following. I write my articles to give lots of information so that others learn how to do this too, and if they find a cat in a similar circumstance they have an idea what’s entailed, whether it’s TNR or fostering to adopt. Even more than fostering, bringing a cat in from a perilous life outdoors is so rewarding. Helping a person with their cats, even if it means taking some of them to be adopted by someone else, is difficult but often necessary, and I try to be as kind and compassionate as possible.

Of course, it’s also time-consuming and has its expenses, and I’m on a tight budget. Thanks to those of you who have sent donations that paid for spays and neuters and food for Smokey and the ferals we TNRd. If any of my readers would like to help me with the spays and neuters for these cats, or gas money, no small amount when running back and forth to fosters and transporting to surgery and to surrender appointments, I would really appreciate it. You can always buy something from my website including the Pittsburgh CAT calendar, below. I’m always working on new items for cat lovers to give as gifts to others or to themselves. Donations can go to my Paypal address bernadette (at) bernadette-k (dot) com, or you can go to Portraits of Animals and purchase a gift certificate in amounts of $5.00 or more and let me know it’s for me, or whatever else you’d like to do.

Thanks for following me, and thanks for reading!

Gifts featuring cats you know! Visit Portraits of Animals


Fine ArtPhotographyGiftsGreeting CardsBooksCommissioned Portraits & Artwork

Bella! Tote Bag Gray Kitty

Bella! tote bag gray kitty design
Bella! tote bag gray kitty design

Gray kitty design even has round eyes just like Smokey! O.M.Geeeee! It’s Bella! On a bag with green button eyes just like her big round eyes! Bella, in silhouette, is stenciled at the bottom of a bag and with just big blue-green eyes that are two-hole buttons sewn on with black thread. Others don’t live in a house full of housepanthers, so I added the white, gray and ginger kitties who are her foster friends. Read more and purchase.


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