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Pets Large & Small

No stray turned away

Michael Hillman

(6/2017) My wife and I have a long standing policy that if a stray should make it onto our property, they will not be turned away. Of course, the policy has some unforeseen consequences, especially when it comes to a never ending flow of vet bills, but all one has to do is look into the eyes of a now healthy cat or dog to know it’s all worth while.

Such is the case with "Q".

"Q" as he would eventually be know, alerted us to his presence one night last summer by engaging in a rather loud conversation with our indoor cats in the recently completed cat enclosure which I had erected to allow our indoor cats some "outdoor time."

I imagine the conversion what like this:

"Q" – Hey what did you guys do to get locked up?

"Indoor Cats" – Locked up? Are you kidding us? We got a good jig, plenty of food, water, warm beds...

"Q" – Ya, but look at all you are missing, I get to roam everywhere, everything I see is mine. I can hunt when I want, sleep were want, go where I want. When is the last time you caught a mouse?

"Indoor Cats" – Well…. We can sleep when we want too … which is most of the time, as for hunting, it depends, does the cat nip mouse count as a mouse?

"Q" – What a bunch of losers …

When I went outside with a food bowl for him, "Q" quickly disappeared under an adjoining bush, but by the time I returned to the house he was scoffing down the cat food as if there were no tomorrow.

When done, he took a few moments to groom his clearly disheveled coat, and then slowly wandered on his way. I had no idea if he was a new stray, or was a long established stray and we were on his normal route and the presence of the newly installed cat enclosure had merely caused him to pause and take in the view.

As expected, "Q" appeared the next night, and like the prior night, he took up an extended conversation with the cats in the enclosure, a conversation that only ended with the arrival of a bowl of food for him.

By the end of the 1st week, "Q’s" arrival timing had become rather predictable. "Q" became such a regular that I eventually built him a simple enclosure to keep his food dry in rainy weather. While the enclosure was large enough to shelter him from the rain, he never took advantage of it. No matter how hard it rained out, he always left after eating. He apparently had things to do and places to go and we where just a spot to top off his stomach, which was fine with us.

That all changed however the night he showed up with a cough.

My wife was the first to notice it. It was so loud you could hear it inside the house. "Q" had never really looked good, but that night, he looked bad. Fearful that he could transmit his flu to our cats we were faced with one of two decision. Stop feeding him in hopes he would go away, or trap him and get him to a vet to be treated.

Yes, we had two options, but only one was ever truly considered.

By this time, "Q" was also showing up for breakfast, so for the next few nights, we skipped his dinner with the intent of forcing him to eat in the morning, where we could easily trap him and get him to the vets. The highly suspicious "Q" was not to thrilled about the plan, but by the third morning hunger got the better of him and he walked into the trap and was caught. Unlike most feral cats who flail about trying to get of the trap, "Q" just sat in the trap with a ‘oh well’ look on his face as he awaited his destiny.

Our vet confirmed that "Q" was indeed had a flu, and treated him for it. Ceasing on the opportunity, we also had "Q" neutered, flea dipped, groomed, and given an initial round of ‘shots.’

"Q" arrived home that evening rather groggy, and given all that he went through that day, we opted to place him in an enclosed tackroom in the barn where he could recover in safety that night, and over the next few days we could monitor his incision.

Our intention had been to release him back into the wild, but that plan went by the wayside when I saw him sound asleep on the heated cat bed in the tackroom. It was raining out and it was not hard to imagine that this was his first time being inside, dry, on a warm bed, with a fully belly. It was going to be hard to take this away from him.

The following morning when I entered the tack room, "Q" didn’t run. Instead he simply sat on his bed and looked at me. When I approached him to touch him, he moved his head away, but showed no sign of running away to seek a hiding spot.

I decided not to push it.

By the third day "Q" allowed me to stoke his rough coat, which incited a loud purr from him. When I found the next day that he would allow me to pick him up, our belief that he was an old feral Tom was cast into the dust bin. Clearly "Q" had had a fair amount of interaction with humans, and for reasons that we will never know, he, like many feral cats, had found himself on his own.

Unfortunately for "Q", we already had our full complement in the house, so if he was going to stay, it would be as a barn cat. But that in itself created a problem, as by their nature, barn cats are free to roam around the property. If left free to roam, we had no doubt that "Q" would soon resume his prior routine. As his old route paralleled a busy road, the final outcome of allowing him to roam freely again was obvious. To make matters more difficult, as a former tomcat, "Q" carried a dominant streak that did not sit well with our existing bar cat.

So the tasks before us we clear: "Q" had to learn new boundaries and learn to play nice with other cats.

Teaching "Q" new boundaries involved walking him on a leash, just like a dog. Surprisingly "Q" took the wearing a harness like a duck takes to water. Yes, he fussed when it was put on, but once he learned it meant going out, his resistance quickly faded.

As time wore on, "Q" increasingly showed less and less inclination to wander off his "new turf," and the day finally came to test his understanding of the rules. I held me breath as I unhooked the leash. For more then five minutes "Q" sat and simply looked at me as if to say "now what?" Then he got the preverbal bug up his butt and took off like a flash – right up the tallest tree on the property.

I mumbled a few choice profanities under my breath as I tried to figure out if I could get to him with my ladder, or if he was going to humiliate me by making me call the fire company out. Just when I had decided on the later, "Q" began to make his way slowly down the tree. When finally down, he ran up to me and looked up as if to say: "that was fun, what next?"

Every time we thought we had "Q" set on his boundaries and chanced turning our heads away for a moment, "Q" would disappear. Fortunately, like our others outside cats, "Q" wore a radio transmitter on his collar, which allowed us to track him. On more then one occasion, "Q" was not lost, but simply walking behind me watching me try to find him.

"Q" left the assigned territory just enough times that our confidence level in his ability to resist his roaming instincts was never assured. I soon realized however, the answer to ceasing his roaming was right under my nose.

One of the first things we did when we had moved onto the farm was install Invisible fencing to allow our dogs to roam freely on our property.

"The biggest issue with training cats to the invisible fence is to get them leashed trained so you can introduce them to the fence can train their instincts to retreat back into your yard when they are zapped." Said the expert with Invisible Fence.

"Well that’s easy" I said, ""he is already leash trained."

"In that case, you’re 98% there."

He was right. Equipped with the cat size receiver, the next day I escorted "Q" around his border – which also just happened to be the border for the dogs. At the end of the walk, I allowed "Q" to get his first shock. The collar was set on the lowest shock, so while "Q" technically got a shock, it probably was more a tingling sensation. But it was enough to give him pause as he backed away as to study the situation.

The next day as "Q" approached the same area he hesitated as he reprocessed yesterday’s events. When he proceeded forward he hesitated when the collar beeped its warning. Upon receiving the shock again, he retreated quickly.

The next day, "Q" proved his could learn, when he approached the area again, he backed away as soon as he heard the warning beep, as he did elsewhere along the fence line. Assured that he would never leave the property, the decision was finally formalized that "Q" was officially ours … he had done everything we had ask of him, and did it with a purr. He had earned the right to live here.

Now all he had to learn was to play nice with his fellow barn-cat ….

Read other articles by Michael Hillman