Yes, still snapping daily life photos with my iPhone. Here’s a little story for you with a few snapshots from the phone. For those of you who aren’t “cat people,” stay with me, because you might be just a little bit touched anyway. 🙂
Once upon a time in late 2008, there was a short-legged, somewhat crazy-eyed but totally cute stray cat that lived outside the office building where I work during the day. She came daily to eat – and boy did she come to the right place. We have a corporate cafeteria and this kitty got a variety daily – tuna salad, sausage, bacon, and whatever daily delight was on the lunch menu. But then, oh, then there was the night security guard. Who brought her Fancy Feast every. single. night. She was the fattest homeless kitty you’ve ever seen.
The security guard was the only one who could touch her and he’d feed her every night at precisely 5 p.m. And so, even though she’d wander away for a nap or a mouse hunt or whatever it was she did, she’d appear at the side door where he’d feed her at 5 p.m. on the dot. Rain, snow, sleet, cold, hot, didn’t matter…she was always there. Appropriately, he named her “Mooch.” I began visiting with Mooch in the fall of 2008. Being a cat person, I immediately had a little cat-crush on her sweet meows and yes, even her somewhat crazy eyes. Winter came and I couldn’t stand the thought of her lonely, cold and wet when my cats were snug as a bug in a rug in bed with us. I took a cat carrier to work, we tricked her into getting into it (with food of course!), and I brought her home.
That’s when it got interesting. I knew she didn’t have a home. I didn’t know she was essentially, totally, completely….feral. Wild.
I don’t think she’d ever been inside a house. I kept her in the carrier that first night and took her to get shots the next day (and testing, to make sure she wasn’t sick). The vet at animal control stuck his hand in the cage without thinking and she tried to scratch him. “What do you want me to do with this THING,” he asked with a very alarmed and somewhat annoyed look in his eyes. They drugged her a bit, tested her, vaccinated her and she was sent home with me – not sick but not very happy, either.
I studied website after website about how to handle feral cats. I quickly realized that I didn’t know what I’d gotten myself into. We kept her in our medium-sized guest bathroom as the feral cat instructions suggested. She didn’t like us much. By then, I’d done a lot of reading and found zero websites that encouraged keeping feral cats for housecats. Most said, “just get them fixed and let them back out in the wild, that’s the best you can do.”
After a few weeks of bathroom living, I moved her “into” the guest bedroom. Olivia and I began going in the room and reading out loud in the room to get her used to being around people. This went on for most of the winter. I could tell that Mooch liked Olivia even if she pretended otherwise.
One night I got in the bed and read while she ate. She’d never once jumped on furniture in the room and she stared at me. The next day, there she sat like a little queen cat in the middle of the bed. She’d figured out that she could do it since she saw me do it. From then on, she spent most of her days in the window sill or on the bed, curled up like a typical housecat. By now, I knew she must be getting tired of that room and we’d started thinking about the next step. I knew she’d need another small space, but one bigger than the guest room.
Olivia and I sat up an elaborate maze to get her into the master bedroom without “losing” her into the rest of the house. We “moved” her into the master bedroom. She stayed under the bed, only sneaking out for food or a litterbox break. (By the way, she uses a litterbox perfectly and is the neatest of all of our cats and we have 3 – it truly is an instinct.) We’d go to bed at night and she’d be asleep under the bed. A few weeks later, she began exploring a bit. I found her in the window a few times, but she’d run when she saw me.
A few months into her stay in the master bedroom and she began coming out and “visiting” with me if I’d feed her treats. She’d still scratch me if I tried to pet her. Eventually, I began brushing her when she’d get close enough and she loved that. Slowly, the brushing evolved into her letting me touch her. I will never, ever forget the first night she let me pet her. Then, one night I felt a thump on the bed. She’d jumped on the bed while we were sleeping. From that night on, if she thought we were sleeping, she’d sneak up and sleep on the edge of the bed.
The major breakthroughs came in December 2009. She’d let us touch her but only on her terms. In December, she got very sick and fate stepped in to force me to trust her the way she’d begun to trust me. She had to be given multiple treatments a day – ointment put on a sore on her bottom, pills in her food, on and on. To my complete shock (and the vet’s!), she was the most well behaved cat of my three. No biting or scratching – she’d just freeze and let us do what we needed to do. One night I put her on my lap and began petting her – she purred for the first time that I’d ever heard.
It was during this time that the vet did an x-ray and confirmed that her strangely shaped back end was the result of her hip having been broken when she was a kitten. (We think she was hit by a car.) Her bone healed outside the socket and as a result she looks “uneven.” It’s a miracle that she can jump on our beds or that she walks without a limp. I began to understand why it was so hard for her to trust people – this cat had been through more than just being homeless.
Once we bonded over her sickness, it was all love from that point on. She now sleeps so close to me that I have to move her over repeatedly at night because she takes over my pillow. She sleeps with her head on my shoulder or her back curled up next to mine. She even sleeps next to my husband – who has also fallen in love with her.
Our work with her lately has been getting her to explore the house. She’s still so unsure of the house (and of our other two cats), that I carry her downstairs to get her to spend time there. Her favorite thing to do downstairs is to sit with me while I process photos at night. She loves sitting next to my keyboard (sometimes on it)!. One night about a week ago, I heard her meowing and looked all over for her upstairs since she’d never come downstairs by herself. I was startled and became teary eyed when I discovered her sitting in my office chair, meowing away for me as if to say, “I had the courage to come down here by myself and you aren’t here, where are you!”
This has been a long journey but one of the most rewarding journeys – truly up there with motherhood and marriage. Laugh if you will, but there’s nothing like working to get this little animal to trust you and being rewarded with watching it learn how to become a loving member of the family. There were times when I feared we’d have to give her away to someone on a farm where she could just wander free. My heart is so grateful that we gave her the time and space she needed to come around because I can’t imagine our lives without her in it. I’m also grateful that Olivia has seen the progression – it’s such a teachable opportunity for her. She’s learned that hard work and selfless love can pay off.
So here are few iPhone snapshots of our girl Mooch (we tried many other names, but that name just felt right). In the bottom two, she’s hanging out with me while I process photos. And yes, it can be hard to process photos when she sleeps ON the keyboard.
(These photos taken with the Shake-It app for the iPhone. I also love the “Polarize” app that makes photos look like a Polaroid.