Common sense, nonsense, the web, the world and life…

Taming the tiny beast

The dimly lit stairwell between our basement and garage has become a miniature brainwashing clinic.  A radio at medium volume pumps out music and human voices 24×7.  The recipients of the brainwashing efforts are two small feral kittens.

As some of you may remember if you’ve read my earlier posts, we foster kittens for the local humane society.  It’s like a revolving door for felines here at times.  Currently we have three utterly adorable babies – a long haired orange and white, a long haired black and white, and a short haired orange and cream kitten with a sweet but mischievous personality.  Although they face somewhat uncertain futures, like all animals that end up at animal shelters, someone had taken the responsibility for providing them with shelter and nourishment and socialization before they were eventually surrendered to the shelter. 

Not all animals are so lucky.  My family and I at various times had observed these young kittens traversing our property for about a week before two of the kittens (my daughter swears she saw a third one with the mother a few days before) ended up trapped in our garage.  In fact, I had contacted the humane society to ask about how best to catch the cat and her kittens and we had been discussing renting a live trap as had been advised.  In the meanwhile, fate intervened.  About a week ago, during an especially cold frosty night, quite by accident, we didn’t close the garage door.  My husband had attempted to close it, and actually thought it had closed, but the sensor malfunctioned, and for the entire night the door was opened.  The next day, after all the doors were once again closed, he realized that one of the kittens had been trapped in the garage.  My son and I were recruited, and we quickly discovered that there were two kittens – a black and white one and a tabby and white one about ten weeks old – huddling beneath the barbecue stored in the garage.  It took considerably longer, however, to actually catch the tiny babies.

Fortunately while we were still discussing what to do about the feral cats, I’d done a bit of research.  One website I’d consulted advised always wearing heavy leather gloves when trying to catch feral cats.  I mentioned this in passing while we were in pursuit of the kittens in our garage, and we all decided to put some heavy garden gloves on – just in case!  Smart move!

The black and white one is feisty.  Catching it (I still don’t know if it is male or female) proved to be very challenging.  It is tiny and managed to hunker down into the smallest of spaces between lumber and drywall being stored in the garage.  With the assistance of a long poled fishing net purchased at the dollar store to help us catch and release wild birds who occasionally fly into the garage, we were finally able to corner this poor, terrified creature.  It was a furball in motion with claws frantically grabbing at anything it possibly could, and the sounds emitting from that poor baby – a loud guttural noise like a wild animal caught in a trap – were definitely intimidating.  The first time we got it, my husband passed it to me, and partly because of the ferosity it was displaying, and the clumsiness of the gloves, I dropped it.  We were able to catch it again shortly afterward, and we placed it in a small animal carrier.

The little tabby wasn’t quite as difficult to catch and was soon added to the carrier.  A larger dog cage we have was fitted with a litter box and food, then I gingerly opened the carrier door and slid the kittens into the cage.  We left them in the stairwell that evening.



Day One – We moved them to the front porch, still in their cage.  Mommy cat was heard, but never seen, howling for her babies.  Poor dear!  Another website had advised feeding them chicken and broth baby food on an outstretched finger.  I tried this on a long handled sundae spoon through the cage bars.  They were still thinking like wild animals and refused to move as if I couldn’t see them if they stayed perfectly still.  The black and white one wouldn’t even blink.  Eventually I gave up and just dropped some of the food on their fur.  If nothing else I reasoned that they’d at least get the taste of the food, and would probably be more interested in it later on.  The cage was moved to the stairwell again for the night.

Day Two – Another website advised separating the kittens so that they would rely more on humans than each other.  This was a rather terrifying task – for me!  Memories of the flying snarling furball were still fresh in my mind!  I readied another cage and stacked it on the other one in the stairwell.  With the heavy gloves on, I opened the door and fortunately the tabby came out first.  It raced up the stairs in an effort to escape.  More deep and distressing howling.  It attempted to climb the doorframe, but would slide down.  After a couple of minutes, I managed to catch it.  It didn’t fight much.  I put it in the second cage.  A radio was put in the stairwell.  I pretty much left them alone for the rest of that day.

Day Three – Tabby started eating the food offered on my finger.  Cujo, the name I’ve temporarily assigned to the black and white one, still cowered when it saw me and wouldn’t come for the food.  They aren’t aggressive, just scared.

The tabby kitten

The tabby kitten

Day Four – I was able to stroke the tabby while it licked my finger.  Eventually I slowly and quietly picked it up, wrapped it in a blanket, and petted it.  Surprisingly it didn’t appear to have any ear mites or fleas, but this could be explained by the probable location of its home base – in the back of the neighbours’ yard beneath some cedar and pine trees.  Cujo decided to investigate my finger with some reluctance.  The fact that I’ve left them with a minimal amount of dried kibble that wasn’t nearly as tempting as the chicken and broth probably had something to do with this coup.  It was going so well that I was able to stroke it a bit.  Then I tried to pick up the kitten and bring it out as I’d done with its sibling.  The effort was going well until one of its claws was caught on one of the blankets in the cage, and it realized what was happening.  Let’s just say, I didn’t have the heavy leather gloves on, and sure wish that I had!

Day Five – While holding and petting the tabby, she started purring and sighing – a very good sign.  I could confirm it was a “her” because she relaxed enough to let me turn her over on her back to investigate.  I brought her upstairs and held onto her tightly while watching TV.  She didn’t especially like the strange noises (sans her ever present radio station), but she settled down not too badly, until my husband closed the basement door.  The noise sent her into flight mode and she scratched me quite badly.

Day Six – I brought the tabby out of the cage, and fed her on my lap where Cujo could see her.  I know that I really have to come up with another name for this kitten because, should I succeed in socializing it, what family will want to adopt a kitten named after a rabid dog?  Sad thing is, it is starting to respond to the name when I half whisper it to it while feeding it the chicken and broth.  Cujo is getting a bit braver about coming up to my hand to take the food, but feels obliged to hiss at me before accepting any food.  This has become routine.  I approach with a finger reeking of chicken and broth and get it just close enough.  The kitten looks at me with darkened eyes, hisses, then steps forward and licks the food off as if we’re best friends.  I refill the finger, and we repeat the process – hiss, step forward, then lick. 

Day Seven – I let the tabby roam the stairwell and managed to coax Cujo right out of the cage using the chicken and broth.  This took quite a while.  The kitten still does not trust me, but I made sure that it saw me petting the tabby.  For a while they both roamed around and accepted the food when it was offered.  It occurred to me after a few minutes that this was a good move, but the hard part was going to be getting it to go back into the cage.  With a bit of luck and maneuvering, I managed to get it to walk back into the cage on its own, bribed of course by some chicken and broth.

We are making progress, but the bottom line is this:  If I can’t get these kittens socialized they will never have proper homes and will probably be put down.  I have hope for the tabby, but I’m quite worried about Cujo’s future.  The prognosis is even grimmer for their mother.  If we do catch her in a live trap, unless she was at one time a domesticated pet and could possibly return to interaction with humans, she would be put down.  It takes months, possibly even years, to socialize adult feral cats, and with so many adult domesticated cats already needing homes, it’s highly unlikely that someone will take on the task of socializing her.  In the meantime she is destined to fend for herself – eating out of garbage bags, being exposed to the extreme temperatures of our winters, and popping out endless litters of homeless kittens that will perpetuate the situation.  How she became homeless is anyone’s guess.  There are a lot of rental units nearby, and sadly, it’s not uncommon for pets – dogs and cats – to be discarded and left behind when the tenants move on.  I will never be able to understand the mindset of someone who could do that.

In the meantime, I’m spending an hour or more every day in my dimly lit and cold stairwell making small talk with tiny kittens…


November 6, 2008 - Posted by | Cats, humane society, Kittens, Pets |


  1. […] Sturgeon presents Taming the tiny beast « E-sense posted at E-sense, saying, “I wrote this posting nearly two years ago when we were […]

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  2. […] Sturgeon presents Taming the tiny beast « E-sense posted at E-sense, saying, “I wrote this posting nearly two years ago when we were […]

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