Mariposa just passed a year with us, and I’m still so surprised that she started out with all the marks of a feral kitty and yet one year later is totally my buddy, friends with each of the other cats, and getting accustomed to visitors. Each kitty takes their own time to socialize, but even that first time I really looked at her in the trap I had a feeling this was what she’d wanted all along.
Here she was, the first time I saw her.
She is so intuitive, intelligent and flexible, and I guess that’s what helped a small kitty survive in a big colony of not very nice feral cats. She had made herself so accceptable that the feeder had no idea she existed. It didn’t help that medium to long-haired tabby cats with white paws and crooked white blazes were kind of a theme. Here are the three in their traps, Sammy, Mariposa, and Braveheart, possibly mothers, sisters, cousins, but definitely related.
When I showed the photos to the feeder, she had no idea there were three longhaired tabby cats with white paws and bibs, and no idea at all the smallest one existed. So Mariposa went unrecognized, at least by humans, until just before we began trapping and I took photos of as many cats as I could see.
She was trapped fairly easily, and at that time I named her Betsy because she was small and very cute, and the name suited her. I looked at her in her trap in my back seat, that photo above, and while I clearly felt a feral tenseness from the other girls, the little one kept eye contact with me, searched my face, kept her ears upright and turned toward me, and seemed relaxed.
Because all the cats had to be removed, they had to spend some time with a foster before I moved them to Birgitta’s farm in Meyersdale. All the people who held the cats I trapped tested them for temperament, and Elle fostering Betsy/Mariposa said she was easy enough to handle, moving from a crate to the carrier and back with little trouble. She seemed to enjoy watching other cats, and in time seemed to enjoy a little petting and even being taken out of the crate to sit on a lap for a few moments. Maybe there really was some difference about her.
I took the first shift of cats I’d trapped, who did not have kittens, to Meyersdale, then brought Mariposa home on August 2 last year. I’d have another shift of cats to take there, and if she didn’t socialize I could take her there later. Because she would be in the adoption system I had chosen a name that hadn’t been used by any cats in the previous year to avoid confusion. Looking at those pretty ears with the ear hair I thought she looked like a butterfly, which was already used, so her name became Mariposa.
We did get off to a bit of a difficult start.
I don’t have space for a crate anywhere, which she was accustomed to, and that meant she was loose in my bathroom. Small as it is, that much space can make a kitty feel completely unsafe and find the smallest spot in the room to spend her time. I know this was what she needed to do for a day or two and was willing to let her do this, sitting on the floor and talking to her while she looked doubtfully at me. She didn’t eat the first day, which is not unusual, but she did use the litterbox. I moved her food bowls to a more protected spot. and replaced with fresh food, the food she’d been eating. The second day, still nothing disappeared from her dish. I worked her gently out from under the cabinet and gently petted her. She went right back underneath.
The next morning I syringe fed her chicken baby food and some water, hoping that getting her digestion restarted would help her get back into the swing of eating. She didn’t put up too much of a fight, but still the third day, she did not eat. I would take her to our clinic for an exam and possibly an appetite stimulant, but the fourth day I was moving the Cherrydell cats to their farm. I considered which calming aids would help her feel more secure in her new space. During the day I found a calming collar which I knew would help ease her into the new strange space, and Rescue Remedy, a flower essence combination which had calmed many a frightened kitty like her in decades past. That night I syringe fed her, put on her collar and added doses of Rescue Remedy to food and water and right on her. The next morning there were about a dozen pieces of food left in her bowl, and she’s never looked back.
That was a lot of handling, but frightened kitties sometimes lash out, sometimes they go into a “frozen” state where they just remain tense and don’t fight at all, and there was a tiny part of her that trusted me. After she’d started eating and relaxed from that state where I could handle her minimally, she indicated she did not want to be touched right then but I could be in the room with her and talk to her and she didn’t hide.
After a few days she let me touch her, then pet her, just a few pats, but each day a little more.Then she was greeting me at the door.
A week after that I could handle her enough to take a selfie and introduce her.
She turned around and nuzzled my mouth and face.
I learned from that first week that she was aware of what she wanted and could communicate very clearly. She trusted me, but she was going to do this socialization exercise at her own pace. That was fine with me as it’s always worked best. I followed her lead.
The way she’s managed herself here shows how aware she is of not only her surroundings but her own need, something that likely kept her safe in the colony and in the neighborhood. She spent her first three months in the bathroom, not even looking out the door or showing any interest in what was out there. We became great friends and she initiated affection and play with me, and even seemed to understand the camera thing. She ate huge amounts of food for a while, two whole 5.5 oz. cans each day though she ony weighed about six pounds.
At the end of October she began looking past me out the door when I left. I always keep a baby gate as a baffle across the bottom of the door so that it slows kitties down trying to run in or out. But as she became more curious I blocked off the landing, then a bit of my bedroom and step by step access to the upstairs. She spent the days in my bedroom and studio and returned to the bathroom at night for food.
For a full month we kept this schedule and she was a happy little kitty all day long, meeting each of the other cats one by one as they came to nap on my bed or hang out in my studio, then she got to go back to her safe room and eat and sleep and use her litterbox. She was very deferential and sensitive to each of the other cats, gently approaching, or just keeping her distance as they required. There was never a discouraging cat word spoken. She and Basil became fast friends.
Then one day at the end of November, while I was working downstairs, she came down a few of the steps, coming down a few more steps as a few days passed, with Basil and Jelly Bean encouraging her.
Eventually she came all the way down the steps. Once she had a view out the big casement window at all the birds, she never looked back and spent her days on both floors.
Normally, I need to block off areas so that kitties don’t go running around the house and getting scared, but Mariposa said she didn’t need to know about those places right now, like the basement. She spent the day usually wherever I was working, and joined the crowd in the kitchen.
She cautiously approached each of the other cats and carefully introduced herself, and has never gotten into an altercation of any sort with any of them, though she can easily read when they’re not in the mood for her snuggles or play.
She had always returned to the bathroom at night for dinner. I began leaving her out when I fed the others and she wandered in, and eventually wanted to join them for dinner.
One night I didn’t put her in the bathroom because she was sleeping on the bed. I climbed in under the covers and she cuddled up next to me. The next morning she joined us for breakfast.
She found her place in the household, and has always trusted me, cautiously at first, but as long as I’m aware of her body language she’s never made any aggressive moves toward me. She never said a word in her first few months, but now she’s developed a little vocabulary of chirps and trills and every so often a soft meow. She talks softly to herself while she plays, and makes the sweetest little contented burbles while she’s settling down for a nap. She has been the easiest former feral cat I’ve ever socialized, and really, she did most of the work.
All that intuition and sensitivity she used to keep herself alive and safe in the colony she now uses to manipulate me. Right now, as I’ve been writing this, she’s been sleeping on my lap, which is not typical of her in the afternoon, but she is no doubt sensitive enough to feel me thinking about her. But I’m so happy she’s brought her big white mittens and long white whiskers into my life.
Did she long for a home indoors with people while she lived there? Did she welcome the people who came with the funny foods and the wire cages? Did she use her intelligence and intuitive nature to just go along with the plan and get herself socialized in the process, as she’d always wanted? I guess we’ll never know, but if that’s what she was dreaming of, her dreams came true. She’s getting easier with strangers, but who knows, maybe she’ll just stay.
You can find the story of where she was trapped and all the other cats under Dunbar house TNR project.
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