Taming a Feral Kitten: Two Weeks

January 1, 2023 at 6:44 pm (Uncategorized)

Pretty soon this sweet attack-oriented angel will go to a new permanent home.

How’s his socialisation going? Well, it’s a mix of good and bad. . .

Does he sleep at night?

Yes. Every night I put him in my bathroom and turn off the light. The first night he meowed for a little while. Ever since, he’s been cartoonishly obedient—like a pet parrot that immediately goes to sleep if you just put a blanket over his cage.

Now that I don’t lock him in the shower each night, he tries his best to escape the bathroom any time someone actually uses the toilet. Ah well.

Does he use the litter box?

Yes. This was also an instant success… until it wasn’t. He has urinated and defecated in a variety of locations around my house, but every single instance was in my presence—and his clear favourite toileting location was my bed. That strongly suggested he was deliberately mixing our scents.

I’ve started changing his litter every two days instead of once a week (I’ve always removed his poo very quickly). But I think the real breakthrough came because I stopped feeding him in the bathroom (near his litter) and gave him food and water in my bedroom instead. I THINK I’ve solved the problem—but I still don’t let him in my cupboard or in the kids’ rooms (so he’s not tempted to add his scent to other beds or to our nice soft, fragrant clothes).

Does he claw up the carpet and/or couch?

Yes, a little. Couches are my Achilles’ Heel when it comes to training cats. When a kitten is tiny, it is natural for it to climb up beds and couches because it’s too little to jump that distance. And it’s adorable. But by the time the kitten is old enough to jump that high, the bad habit of using claws on the couch is already formed. Buttons definitely much prefers the cat tower, so hopefully his new owners have a couch that’s not too alluring.

Yes, he has a bow on in this picture.

Does he get underfoot?

Uh, yes. I’ve had at least one cat in my life since I was seven years old, and Buttons is by far the worst when it comes to putting himself next to, in front of, and directly below my feet. It’s worst when he thinks I’m about to feed him (naturally) but it’s extremely common and extremely bad. He’ll circle round and round under my skirt—stuff like that. He’s been stepped on three times and kicked across the floor more times than I can count. The only real solution is to pick him up from wherever he is (even when he’s asleep—he’ll come out of a dead sleep just to hurl himself, kamikaze-style, at your path) and put him down only when you stop moving.

How does he feel about getting picked up?

He loves it. Every time. Even if it’s a young child he’s never met before—he’s all for snuggles, all the time. Having said that…

Does he bite and scratch?

This is where he’s shown the most dramatic improvement (not even counting our initial meeting, when he tried to kill me). He wants to snuggle a LOT but he wants to be playing even more. The perfect solution in his mind is to be attacking his human family. Toes and fingers and arms and unprotected bellies, oh my. Warm, loving, AND delicious!

For the first few days with Buttons, we were all covered in scratches. Hands, arms, legs, feet, and necks suffered the most. The deepest cuts were on the legs, as he was a major climber of human legs. Why not? Such a convenient path to snuggly violence in the warm lap of the legs’s owner. He didn’t particularly care if we were wearing pants or just our skin: we were for climbing.

He’s already learned not to climb humans, or to have his claws out at all if he’s playing with us. (From Day 1, he was clearly moderating his violence in order to not harm us, but he was still drawing blood frequently.) It’s not perfect, but he’s well above the usual standard for his age (now seven weeks). Well done Buttons!

But it’s still a good idea, if one wants him in one’s lap, to have a toy within reach. Because he’d love to be in your lap, but he’s especially love it if he could be attacking something at the same time.

And over the last few days, he has learned that we usually pick him up when we’re about to open a Forbidden Door, and he has started deliberately biting us in hopes that we put him down. This is not ideal.

How is he going with the other cats?

My cats are NOT super friendly, even with humans. (Cats always prefer humans to other cats.) They have gone from terrified to angry to merely annoyed—at which point, although we continue to closely supervise their interactions, we don’t need to be within arm’s reach.

At the ‘angry’ stage, Buttons was perfectly meek and mild, keeping his body low to the ground and backing off when the other cats hissed. But now, after many hours spent carefully keeping out of reach of the other cats, he is getting bored. He wants to play. So although he is still definitely putting himself at the bottom of the totem pole, he is now batting at the other cats’ tails and things like that. Which is upping the annoyance factor, but also continuing to prove that he is not out to hurt them.

In this video, you can see that Zoom (the older cat) is curious about Buttons, and is nervous of him but confident enough to do some experimental slow blinks (remember how that was the very first sign that I’d made positive contact with Buttons?) and to look pleadingly at me. If she was still properly afraid of Buttons, she wouldn’t take her eyes off him—and she wouldn’t try to sniff him.

You can also see Buttons thinking about attacking, but definitely not attacking.

In this more recent set of videos, you can see that Buttons is definitely attacking now (but not in the first clip, where Zoom hisses—but softly—and Buttons makes sweet little mews). As of today, the older cats are still curious about him, and about 89% sure he’s not dangerous, but they’re not in the mood to cheerfully coexist just yet, especially when coexisting with Buttons means a guarantee of being adorably attacked. If they’re really had enough of him, though, they leave.

All of this (and there are many many hours now invested in this process) is about establishing who is boss, and what the rules are between them. The older cats would prefer a “Live and let live” approach (now that, “Make it go away” appears to be off the table) but Buttons cannot be awake without attacking something. Thus, negotiations continue.

He is incredibly sweet, and will often burst into purring just to be near one of his pet humans. Or if one of us looks at him. Or when he invites himself into our lap. When I go to the bathroom at night, he pokes up his stoned little face to see if there’s any chance of a cuddle.

He treats anything and everything as the floor under his feet, and has more than once made himself comfortable on my face.

And, unlike our other cats (who were born suspicious), he adored playing in our Christmas tree.

The friend of mine who was going to adopt him has an older cat with fast-declining health so they had to bow out. However, they have cat shelter connections so we know he’ll find a good home.

I’ll most likely ask the friend to contact their animal shelter person on Tuesday aka 3 January, aka the day when dates and days of the week begin to mean something again.

In the meantime, here’s my favourite pic of Buttons again:

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