In my last post, I mentioned that I would be picking up a mama cat and her three babies to foster. This cat was a friendly stray that adopted my mom and had her babies on my mom’s enclosed porch. The babies were 5 1/2 weeks old, and were meant to be in our care for 3-4 weeks. Instead, they were in our care for roughly three hours.
When we picked up this family, we were told that the mom was “a little growly.” We expected some fear and warning growls – after all, she’d gone through a lot of change in 24 hrs! Our plan was to set the family up in the foster room and then leave them alone so they had time to adjust. However, when we opened up the carrier, both mama and babies immediately expressed interest in exploring and getting to know us. Mama sniffed us and head-butted us and asked for pets. She was a bit skittish and growly, yes, but again, that was entirely expected. I pulled out a Churu treat for her and she ate out of my hand without hesitation. We handled the babies without any objection from them or Mama, and all was going well.
Now, my mom had warned us that ever since the kittens were born, Mama had shown signs of aggression against other cats. She would actively run toward the door if she saw my mom’s cats through it, trying to attack them. (I do wish she’d mentioned this before we volunteered to foster, because our cats are always interested in sniffing at the door!) We knew we were going to need to be careful about going in and out of the room because of this. After about 20 mins with the cats, Jason left the room for a few minutes and returned. I don’t know if Mama caught sight of a cat or if Jason smelled different when he came back, or if there was some other trigger, but out of nowhere, she became an entirely different cat. A wild, aggressive, territorial, extremely feral cat.
I’ve been around a lot of feral cats over the last year, but mostly they’ve been skittish and afraid, only threatening if threatened. This was different. Mama-cat began to scream and yowl the way you might hear tomcats scream when they fight. She ran at Jason, hissing and spitting and screaming. He backed off, and she chased him, then turned on me. I managed to get out of the room, and Jason followed, narrowly avoiding a bite but getting some deep scratches on his feet. Even after we left the room, Mama continued to scream. It was like nothing we’ve ever had to deal with before.**
Immediately, I contacted the shelter. This was not the situation we were expecting and clearly wasn’t going to work out. We don’t know what set Mama off, but obviously we were not the right household for this kitty-family. For an hour while we talked with the shelter, we left the cats alone in the foster room, hoping to give Mama time to adjust to the new situation. At that point, we needed to somehow wrestle her into the carrier to take her back. Oy.
Jason did this part. Honestly, I don’t think I could have gone back into that room. (As a kid, we had a semi-feral pet cat who attacked us constantly, and I developed a fear of cat attacks, so this was really triggering to me.) Jason dressed in full coverage (sweats, long sleeves, gloves, socks, etc) and got a towel to throw over Mama. The second he opened the door – an hour after we were last in the room – she attacked. He managed to get the towel over her and wrestle her into the carrier with only a few more scratches on his hands (through gloves!). Once Mama was contained, I came in to help round the babies up to go into a different carrier. Mama was screaming, and the yowls became much worse if she made eye contact with one of us. She kept attacking the bars of the carrier. We covered the carrier with several blankets, trying to calm her the way you do with feral cats caught in traps, but she wouldn’t calm. Jason had to avoid her claws through the carrier and two blankets as he took her out to the car.
Long story short, we returned the family to the shelter, and instead brought home a mother-daughter duo (Lilo and Stitch) who are the two grey kitties pictured in this post. (Yes, I have a lot more photos of Stitch. Lilo is a bit afraid of the phone so I haven’t wanted to scare her by getting too close with it.) My mom contacted the shelter and was able to get set up as a foster, and brought the family back home to her house, where Mama is perfectly happy and friendly, with no trace of that insane feral behavior she showed here. I have no idea what will happen to her after she’s separated from her babies, if the shelter will decide to TNR or adopt her out. But honestly, I hope she’s TNRed because if a cat that feral lurks inside her and can explode out of nowhere like that, I feel like adoption might not be a good fit…
It’s been a few days since this all happened, and it has really affected me. I jump every time one of my cats head-butts me or rubs their face on me, thinking they’re about to bite me even though they’re clearly not. With the new fosters, I’m extremely wary around Lilo, because her history is unknown and while she’s friendly, it’s clear she wasn’t a house-cat and has very little experience with humans. She needs some socializing despite being sweet, and it’s hard to do that when I jump every time she tries to give me love-nips on the fingers because she wants to play. On the other hand, I don’t have any fearful reaction to Stitch, probably because she’s the tiniest thing that ever existed. So after these guys are ready to go up for adoption, I’ll likely stick to fostering kittens only for awhile!
Lilo and Stitch are really the cutest little babies, though. They’re both tiny, so the shelter labeled Stitch as four weeks old when she’s clearly more like 6-7 weeks old (given her coordination, eating, teeth, and physical development). Because she’s a singleton, Lilo is her only cat-companion, and Lilo has clearly been an excellent mother. They wrestle with each other, and Lilo has taught Stitch not to bite or claw too hard when fighting. They groom each other (and us), and whenever Stitch calls out for her mom, Lilo has this little chirp to let her baby know where to find her. It’s such a sweet dynamic. I hope I can get over my fear to really spend some good quality time with both of them over the next month!
**Note on the foster room: We had the room set up with places for the Mama-cat to hide if she was scared, or to snuggle her babies into, etc. She was not acting even the slightest scared, not for herself or for the babies. Her behavior was definitely territorial, and we were not welcome in her territory.