Me? Ow!

posted March 23rd, 2019 by
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Me? Ow!

The Crazy Dog Lady Takes on Feral Cats

By Nancy Gallimore, CPDT-KA

If you know me at all, you know I’m a self-proclaimed Crazy Dog Lady. Yes, you capitalize that. It’s as official as a royal title at my level of crazy.  Me? Ow!        

Trust me when I tell you I have earned it. I care for more dogs in my paw-smudged, fur-festooned home in the course of a day than most people do in a lifetime. My professional life is filled with four-legged friends of all shapes and sizes to boot. There really isn’t even one tiny part of my life that doesn’t center around dogs.

 

That is, until I found the cats.

 

They showed up at sundown, peeking through the shrubs and darting across the parking lot surrounding Pooches, the dog care business I co-pilot with longtime friend, Lawanna Smith. Little fuzzy tribbles seemed to be popping up everywhere. With a serious cold snap in the forecast, the shiny little eyes peering at us just couldn’t be ignored.

 

Initially, the dog care professionals—that would be me, Lawanna and our business manager, Lindsay Henry—thought we could coax the little kitties out. You know, like you would a helpless puppy. Of course, little kittens who have entered the world with zero help from humankind are highly unlikely to fall for that ploy. All our high-pitched babbling fell ineffectively on disinterested, distrusting pointy ears.

 

Next, we decided to corner them and just, you know, grab them. Oh, naïve, silly dog people. Compared to agile, streetwise kittens, we had reflexes that could only be compared to those of an aging, beached walrus.

 

OK, “plan c.” We borrowed three humane traps from a local rescue group, baited them with yummy-to-them-stinky-to-us canned cat food, and tucked them away in kitty-friendly havens.

 

Bingo. Night one secured two tiny balls of cringing, gray fluff. Poor little critters had no idea that the metal monster that swallowed them whole was really a first step toward a much better, safer life. Once we trapped those first two kittens, we realized we didn’t exactly have a “what now” plan in place. Seems natural to house two feral kittens within the walls of a dog daycare, right? Not perfect by a long stretch, but with a little creative rearranging in a storage room, the Pooches cattery was born.

 

Night two delivered another shiny-eyed baby and one adult cat. OK, we hadn’t really banked on trapping feral adults, but here she was. But hey, how hard could it be? (Cat people are murmuring, “Bless their hearts…”)

Over the next few nights we trapped an additional five cats—three more tiny siblings and two 6-month-old-ish adolescents. First things first, the kitties made reluctant visits to our veterinarian for testing, shots, worming and spays/neuters for the older kids. We confirmed we had two teenage boys, one adult female, three baby boys and two tiny girls. Necessities out of the way, it was time to roll up our sleeves and turn wild kitties into lovable lap cats.

 

As a dog trainer, you can hand me an unsocialized puppy, and I know what to do. You can bring me an unruly year-old pup, and I know what to do. But put me in front of a row of hissing cats who want absolutely nothing to do with me? Yeah, I was a tad intimidated.

 

The older female cat, a petite tabby girl with some calico markings, seemed the calmest of the crew. In fact, with a serene expression on her sweet face she was practically begging for us to pet her, right?

Wrong.

 

The tentative offering of my hand was met not with purring gratitude but rather with a lightning-fast slap and menacing growl. Fortunately, it was only a warning slap—sans razor sharp claws—and I escaped with nothing more than jangled nerves and a scratched ego. Oh, how 9 pounds of angry cat can send this full-grown human scampering.

 

So, here’s the thing about cats versus dogs—nine times out of 10, I find dogs to be very predictable. They don’t have poker faces. I can usually determine if a dog is stressed, scared, angry or happy with a quick glance.

 

But cats! Especially the older, wiser cats. They can mask their emotions and just bait you right in. I know experienced cat people out there are snickering right now, and I sure don’t begrudge you that right. You can likely spot the mood behind that Cheshire cat grin. Me? Not so much.

 

Having escaped with my trembling hand still in one piece, I looked at our momma kitty with a whole new air of respect. Her contented expression was not born of a desire to befriend me; it was born out of confidence that she could absolutely fillet me.

 

This leads us to the next issue I have with cats. They are very, very sharp. There are so many parts of a cat that will poke, cut or slice you before even a nanosecond of your life has a chance to flash before your eyes. Fingers, or any other body part a ticked-off kitty can reach, beware!

 

Leaving all dog training skills at the door of the storage room, we decided that our older, wiser-than-me girl and one of the teenage boys might do best as barn cats. Fortunately, Lindsay has horses and a very nice barn where the feral cats would have safe, warm shelter and regular food and water placed out for them. It was the perfect solution for this duo.

 

OK, two down, six to go. Wow. Six to go.

With an abundance of stray cats and kittens already flooding shelters and rescue groups, our little tribe of unsocialized felines found themselves waiting for a safe place to land in a line that rivaled the worst day at the DMV. After caring for our charges amid kennel smells and sounds that surely made them cringe, it was time for a new longer-term housing solution.

 

So, I loaded the remaining kittens and took them all to my house to set up a new temporary cat condo in my garage. You know, where I could spend more quality time with them. Yet, day after day, the five tiny kittens continued to protest at the mere sight of me.

 

“Good morning, fluffies,” I would call out as I entered the garage each day. To which they would unanimously respond, “Pssssttttt,” followed by several emphatic spatting sounds as they curled their little lips into ferocious sneers.

 

Admittedly, these imps were a tad comical in their attempts to send me running in terror. Even though they already had some sharp parts in their arsenals, they were not yet very skilled in wielding those weapons. I called their tiny hissing bluffs and held each kitten several times a day. I can’t say I won them over quickly, but they did start relaxing a bit with each I-WILL-pet-you-and-you-WILL-learn-to-like-it session.

I dubbed the kittens Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Wouldn’t you know that Friday was the first of the little hissers to press his face into my hand and reward my efforts with a soft, buzzing purr. Ah Friday, my favorite day, my best little kitten.

 

Thursday soon followed suit, trading hisses for purrs. Monday through Wednesday held out a bit more stubbornly, but all were easy to handle and would surely be able to adjust to life as pampered house cats.

 

But what about my teenager? I was a little less enthusiastic about calling his bluff. He never hissed. He rarely moved a muscle. He just crouched in the back of the crate and stared me down with his unblinking emerald eyes. Was that a calculating look? Hopeful? Friendly? Angry? I had no idea, but I had to figure it out.

 

I named him Mr. Rogers because I furtively hoped it might help him channel Fred’s kind, gentle demenor. After spoon-feeding him canned cat food for a week, I finally stretched my arm into his crate and lightly rubbed him on top of his head.

 

For a hold-my-breath moment he did not move. Then I saw his ears relax and point slightly sideways from his head. His eyes closed a bit, not in the demonic slits demonstrated previously by his moody peers, but in a somewhat blissful squint. And wait… was that purring? Yes!

 

Success! Full of optimism, I jumped headfirst into the avalanche of the previous summer’s cat population competing for new homes. I begged shamelessly. I pleaded. I guilt-tripped friends. I posted adorable photo after adorable photo. And finally, the little hissers found their happily-ever-afters. Every one of them.

 

I am still very much a Crazy Dog Person. In fact, I raced back into my dog-centric world of chewed shoes and muddy pawprints with unbridled glee. But I did take with me a whole new respect for you Crazy Cat People.

 

To those hardcore, dedicated folks who rescue, rehab and rehome cats every year in numbers that make my fledgling feline rescue effort look like a droplet in an Olympic-sized pool, my dog-hair-covered cap is off to you. I may never go down this prickly path again, but I vow to donate kitty litter and cat kibble each year to aid you in your mission. And leather gloves. I might toss in a few pairs of leather gloves, too.

 

I’m picking up a new foster dog tomorrow. I will know her mood immediately. I will know exactly what she needs; I will be able to teach her new life skills necessary to ensure a successful adoption. But I must admit, I will smile each time I see a fuzzy tribble at an adoption event, and I will give a knowing nod to the mad skills of the band-aid-clad foster person who saved that kitten. You officially have my unwavering respect. Long live the Crazy Cat People!

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