Rosie & Mo!

Below is a diary following the progress of two feral kittens on their path from being wild outdoor kittens to tame domestic cats. It is posted here on the website as encouragement to others who adopt feral cats and kittens so that they might find some encouragement. No two kittens are the same but over time all cats can become trusting of humans if provided with the right incentives and patience.

There are many ways to socialize kittens. Although one can enclose kittens in a small space and step up the bonding by forced proximity with humans, the diary below is an account of the low pressure bonding that we prefer at Urban Cat League. It’s not often that we can place kittens that haven’t been completely tamed but this is the ideal way for cats to slowly learn to trust and bond with their caretakers.

Background on Rosie and Mo:

Three kittens from the same litter had been caught in a TNR (Trap, Neuter and Return) project on Roosevelt Island. The kittens were neutered and were ready to be released back to the outdoor colony with the rest of the adult cats. Although the kittens were several weeks older than the age where kittens can easily be socialized, one of the trappers had worked with them and felt they could be socialized if adopted by a patient person with the right information about how to work with them. An Urban Cat League volunteer, Catharine agreed to foster the more feral of the two kittens and eventually decided to adopt them permanently. The third kitten also found an adoption. Catharine received the female kitten first, and the Male kitten a couple of days later. Here’s their story. We’ll continue to add installments of their progress.

First Month

When the kitten, which I named Rosie (short for Roosevelt), arrived at my house, she wouldn’t come out of the cat carrier for 3 hours. She looked terrorized every time I so much as looked at her. She ventured out after 11:00 PM and explored my apartment, all 400 square feet of it. I could hear her walking around and meowing in the night. When I got up the following morning, she was wedged behind the TV and expressed no interest in coming out. She had obviously helped herself to some food and water overnight, and left footprints in the litter box although nothing else. She didn’t seem anti-social as much as just scared and shy. She showed no evidence of being high strung or anxious. I decided to let her take her time and not pick her up or force her to come out. I figured that once she became acclimated to her new environment, she would probably come out more often. She is very curious, and had climbed on every surface and into every corner of my apartment.

Day 3

I got a call that day that one of the males was adopted and I could now have the other. The male arrived at my house on Saturday. I am calling him Mo. Upon his arrival at my house, Mo was out of the cat carrier and joined his sister behind my table immediately. Neither one came out for a long time. Rosie had been with me for 2 days and nights and still did not come out or interact with me at all. She plays with toys, eats, drinks, and uses the litter box, but not when I am watching. When I peeked behind the table this afternoon, both cats were huddled together. They seem happy with each other’s company. Rosie is definitely nocturnal. She gets going after sundown and seems to be up most of the night. This is not surprising with outdoor cats since they are so vulnerable during daylight when they can be seen and only come out after dark.

Day 4

The kittens still had not made an appearance by Sunday night. I knew they were happy because they were eating, drinking and using the litter box. Also, Rosie had meowed for the two days before I got Mo, and had not made a peep since he arrived. They are inseparable and sleep, eat, and play together. I enticed them to come out from behind the table by opening a can of tuna fish. I also got them to play with a toy: an elastic with a bell and feathers on the end, which they chased and batted about. They seem less afraid of me in that they will cross through a room while I’m in it, but they don’t come close. Rosie is much more outgoing than Mo, maybe because she has been with me longer. She came out to eat the tuna and play with the toy while Mo warily watched from a distance at first. Mo got jealous and did play with the toy a little bit but lacked her energy and enthusiasm. They are both obviously healthy and active and completely devoted to each other. I would not recommend that they be separated.

Day 5

I got home late last night and coaxed Rosie out with food and then she played forever as I dangled the feather & bell on an elastic that she chased and batted. In her focus on the toy, she mostly forgets I exist and runs around and near me with no concerns. Her brother, Mo, on the other hand did not come out. He watches from a distance in his hiding place with an expression of extreme boredom on his face. I don’t know if his issue is fear or simply disinterest.

This morning I put all their food in a bowl in the middle of the couch. Needless to say, both cats came out to eat but as soon as I came into the room, they took off. Rosie came back to eat and also played with a toy by herself while I was on the computer. She obviously is getting used to my presence. As long as I ignore her, she’s fine sharing the same space. As soon as I look at her, she gets nervous and moves away. She’s showing a lot of progress though. I’m going to need to work harder with Mo or find something that will make it worth his while to come out for. The toy is just not his thing.

They continue to eat like pigs, drain the water dish, and use the litter box. So they are healthy, growing kittens who are not acting out. As I write this, Mo has come out to join Rosie to see what she’s doing. If I win her over, maybe he’ll follow by example.

Day 6

Kittens being kittens and cats being curious, Rosie & Mo are venturing forth more often. I deliberately left a smaller amount of food out when I left the house this morning which was completely gone when I got home. When I returned home I put out a large bowl of food in the middle of the couch hoping it would coax them out. They didn’t really go for it, but they did play with some toys, and went into the kitchen and bathroom while I went about my business. I think it’s just a timing issue with them wanting to play/hunt after dark. They are wary of my presence and keep track of where I am, but seem comfortable with me in the house although not anxious to get too close. The progress continues and I look forward to the day when I can hold and pet them. The good news is that they’ve shown no signs of aggression to me or to each other. I haven’t heard a peep out of either one of them since the two were reunited: no meowing, hissing, or growling.

Day 7

Rosie & Mo are coming along. They are moving freely around the apartment although mostly when I am not looking. Rosie is much bolder in her willingness to move about in my presence. However, she is much more timid about being touched. Both will eat out of my hand, albeit very reluctantly. Mo will allow me to pet him while he’s eating, but Rosie still flinches every time I touch her. However, when she sees me touching Mo, Rosie is less freaked out when I try to touch her. Hopefully, each will be an example to the other since their fear areas seem to be different. They both like to have a play session with me and the toys at night. Using food and toys as an incentive, they should continue to make progress. This may take awhile but no danger signals so far.

Day 12

I’ve been home all weekend and have seen less of the kittens than during the weekdays. They really do sleep all day long. I ran the vacuum today and they didn’t budge. Before I left the house tonight I had to poke them both to see if they were still alive. Around 6:00 PM they start to stir and come out. They play all night and early morning, retiring shortly after I get up or leave the house. They are very comfortable in my apartment. They will move about freely and plop themselves down at the other end of the couch from where I’m sitting to take a bath or nap. They run around and play together or with their toys as if I’m not even around. However, they are not comfortable when I move in their general direction, scurrying into one of their hiding places. I haven’t forced the issue of trying to touch them as it prevents them from coming near me at all. I want to get to the point where they treat me like a piece of furniture instead of a giant ogre about to overrun their village. When they are comfortable sitting next to me, the touching part won’t be a problem. As I type this, they are each sitting at opposite ends of the couch a couple of feet away from me. As soon as I lean forward, they are off and running.

They seem much bigger already and their activity level increases daily. The pitter-patter of little feet running about and the sound of the bells jingling on their toys and the muffled “thump” as they jump on and off furniture are wonderful sounds.

Day 15

The last two days I’ve left the apartment really early and returned really late. They must have missed me, because when I came home, even though there was food still in their dish, they came over to greet me when I sat down on the couch. They come close but don’t like it when I reach or move toward them. Mo will eat out of my hand and lick food (usually soft cheese) off my finger. Rosie will eat food out of a dish next to me, but won’t get near my hand. The cats have made themselves at home and go regularly into the bedroom which they didn’t before. They run around everywhere chasing each other and playing with toys. One of them loves to remove the drain trap in the bathroom sink while I’m sleeping.

Both cats are enjoying my apartment and each other’s company. We can all go about our business without terrifying each other. Some day I may be able to touch them, but we are taking baby steps. We continue to make good progress.

Day 19

The cats continue to enjoy my apartment. They seem to be switching to a less nocturnal way of life. They still run around while I’m asleep at night, but not as much. They both love to chase the toys so I can wear them out if I’m home. They both seem to be getting bigger. Mo is bigger and stronger than Rosie but doesn’t take advantage of it. They play so nicely with each other. The two cats I had growing up which were from the same litter, beat the crap out of each other, screaming, and leaving tufts of fur behind. I inadvertently scared the begeesus out of Mo yesterday when I pulled a box out from under a table not knowing he was sleeping on it. He hid behind the toilet for the rest of the morning. I’m fortunate that neither shows any signs of aggression toward me (or each other). Surprisingly, they don’t howl, hiss, growl, or moan at all. Rosie cried a lot the first couple of nights she was here but hasn’t made a sound since Mo arrived. They are still comfortable in my presence but cringe and get ready to run when I move in their direction. As they realize that I’m not going to touch or chase them, their flight reaction decreases. I find them enchanting and adorable although I’m sure they don’t think the same of me. We continue to progress.

Day 21

I bought baby food and have the cats eating out of my lap while I pet them. They are less afraid every day and come out when I’m around. They sit and lie near me without terror when I move. They are really coming along. My attempts to get them to sleep through the night are meeting with mixed results. I can still hear them chasing and playing with each other. I put all the toys out in the morning and take them up before bedtime to discourage them from playing in the middle of the night. They are both using the litter box – no accidents/incidents as long as I keep the litter box clean. I come home at night to find shredded toilet paper, pens and other objects on the floor, and small area rugs bunched up in the corners, so I know they are having a good time when I’m not home. As long as they have a good time while I am home, they should be fine.

Day 23

Rosie and Mo will let me pet them while they eat baby food. We had a nice long play session last night with the toy on the elastic. They come over and sit next to me all the time so they are comfortable in my presence, but they still don’t like to be approached. They are getting big. Rosie is still smaller and skinnier but she eats plenty. They are obviously healthy and happy and continue to progress well.

Day 26

Rosie & Mo continue to be adorable. They enjoyed a fair amount of turkey baby food this Thanksgiving weekend. They are fine with my petting them while they eat the baby food and I increase how much and where I touch them each time. They still will not let me touch them when no food is involved but they love to sit near me as long as I don’t reach toward them. Rosie is much bolder and likes to watch whatever I am doing and plops herself down in the middle of the couch or floor while Mo watches from a safe hiding place. They both love to play and take turns chasing the toy on the elastic. I’ve never seen siblings play so well together. They are becoming less nocturnal. They are getting big! Rosie is still skinnier and smaller and always will be. One of them (probably Mo) likes to steal the drain catch from the bathroom sink and hide it for me to find. Other than that, they don’t jump up on things or knock things on the floor. They do sharpen their claws on my rugs and furniture and I’m glad I didn’t invest in a new couch since they are tearing mine up. I don’t mind in the least since everything I own is crap anyway. As kittens go, they are very non-destructive but they do love to wrestle and chase each other when I’m out or asleep. They continue to enchant and amuse.

Second Month
Day 32

Rosie and Mo are the cutest. They eat like pigs and are getting bigger every day. They are both fine with my petting them while they eat food out of a bowl in my lap but still don’t like to be touched otherwise. They now jump up on the couch and sit next to me every time I sit down. They must be getting a new set of teeth because I keep finding little teeth around the apartment. The high winds last night scared them a little because the windows and skylights in my apartment were rattling. I could tell because they stuck together and winced every time the wind blew. They are coming along nicely. The still sleep most of the day. They have a play period when I get home at night and always run around between 6:30 & 7:30 AM.

Day 35

The kittens are coming along. Rosie is still more outgoing and follows me around and sits next to me. One of them got up on the bed with me the other night after I went to bed, but I don’t know which one because it was too dark to see. Normally, they never even come into the bedroom when I am in there. They still have a morning play session with each other between 6:30 and 7:30 AM every morning. They play with me when I come home. They sit on the couch with me every time I sit down. Rosie let me pet her without food the other day but there was food in the vicinity. As long as they are in the act of eating, both will let me touch them anywhere on their bodies.

Day 38

The kittens like the baby food OK, but when I bring out cheese, they climb all over me to get to it. They both allow me to pet them before and after I feed them cheese. They have gotten into the habit of following me around the house and always escort me into the kitchen. They are very much at home and my presence no longer sends them skittering behind and under furniture. The next step is being able to pick them up and hold them. At the rate we’re going, I should be able to do that some time in the New Year. They are such a joy.

Day 41

Rosie has started to rub against my legs when I’m in the kitchen – the first physical contact either of the kittens has ever initiated. I’ve given up on the baby food (which they liked) for cheese (which they love). They will tolerate almost anything for cheese. They play a lot, chasing each other. My wish to no longer be the giant ogre in their world and become a piece of furniture in their minds has come true. They run past and around me as they play as if I were the coffee table. They show no fear of me unless, of course, they think I am going to touch them, which I never do unless they come to me first. They steal my socks to wrestle with, and knock their toys under the couch where they can’t reach them and then expect me to retrieve them. They are training me well. Rosie (maybe because she’s female) is out and about a lot as the huntress, playing with toys and looking to be fed; Mo (maybe because he’s male) sits in an isolated place and does nothing. However, whatever one is doing, be it eating, playing with a toy, or using the litter box, the other will quickly join in. They have become less nocturnal and sleep through the night with a play period before bedtime and first thing in the morning. They obviously also play while I’m out during the day (judging by the mess when I get home), but also sleep a lot during the day as well. All is going fabulously.

Day 45

Rosie continues to rub against my legs when I go into the kitchen. She is always the first to approach me when I feed them. Mo always hangs back and waits to see what I do to Rosie before he decides to come out. He is such a scaredy-cat. Both Rosie & Mo continue to have no problem with my touching them as long as there is food in the vicinity. They especially like to be scratched behind the ears and I can hear purring. When I arrive home, Rosie is always sitting in the same place on the couch, and Mo is always curled up in the same place behind the furniture. They never meow, cry, or make any sounds. I’ve never had such un-vocal cats. I know Rosie is capable of crying because she did it for the two nights before Mo got here. I don’t know if it is because they are afraid the sounds will bring attention to them, or they have no reason to make any noise. Rosie almost let out a little cry the other day as she was rubbing against my legs as I prepared food for them, but it was so stifled you could barely hear it.

Day 53

Rosie and Mo continue to be their silly selves. Any time I offer food, Rosie is first in line. She gobbles away while her brother watches. I don’t know if he is a gentleman or just not hungry. Still, he lets me pet him while she is eating, so mission accomplished. They both like to be scratched behind the ears and on the back of the neck. Rosie is the far more active of the two. She likes to run around and play a lot, and also seems to eat a lot more than her brother, even though she is smaller. She’s the huntress and he’s the couch potato.

Rosie continues to be very gregarious. She rubs against my legs more and more and occasionally becomes a tripping hazard. She has started to express an interest in the front door (as in going out into the hallway). Before, when I opened the door, they would both make themselves scarce.

My 8-year-old niece and 5-year-old nephew are spending the night with me tonight. This will be the first people other than me to enter the apartment since I got the kittens. It will be interesting to see how they react (the kittens, I mean, not the children). I’ll let you know how it goes.

Day 55

Well, no surprise but when my niece and nephew were here, Rosie & Mo didn’t make an appearance. After the kids went to bed, Rosie and Mo came out long enough to give me a disdainful expression and then went back into hiding. I slept on the couch and figured they’d come out in the night, but they never did. I took the kids to the Park in the morning and as far as I could tell, the cats didn’t even venture out while we were gone. I took the kids to my parents for Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. When I returned tonight, both cats were very happy to see me, especially since I didn’t have the dreaded children. I received a very warm reception. When I sat on the couch, they were all over me, wanting to be scratched and petted. They have followed me around the apartment and Rosie, as always, has been rubbing against my legs. I guess absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Third Month
Day 60

My sister and father dropped by my apartment the other night and the cats were extremely circumspect. I opened a jar of baby food which enticed Rosie to come out of hiding but not for long. Any movement my family members made sent the cats packing with a look of fear and horror on their faces. They have the same reaction to any noise in the hallway outside my apartment.

Right now they are both curled up together on the couch, sound asleep. They see me as benevolent but strangers are still the enemy. I sat down on the couch this morning and they both came over expecting to get food (baby food, cheese, cat treat) but I just pet them and they were fine with it. They like being scratched around the head and behind the ears and on the cheek. Rosie purrs, but Mo sounds like he’s wheezing because his purr is more like heavy breathing. I rewarded them with treats after the fact. I am still not able to lean over and touch them from a standing position, even when Rosie is rubbing against my legs, without having them take off. I am still very far from being able to pick them up, although they don’t mind being touched under the belly or my making a lifting-type motion, as long as I have food.

I’m still amazed at how gentle they are with each other and with me. What they do to my belongings is another story. I’d rather they take out their aggressions on my furniture than on me. I just love having them and they seem very appreciative of being indoors with all the food they want instead of their former life outside. They never complain about anything.

Fourth Month (January, 2007)

Rosie and Mo survived New Year’s, barely. There are fireworks in the park near my house and the noise is deafening. Both cats hid in the back of the closet and then were reluctant to come out. They were stacked on top of each other with one’s head underneath or on top of the other one’s behind. It was kind of cute but I felt so bad for them.

A friend came over this morning and used the bathroom while she was here. One of the cats was already in there and she told me she was able to touch it, but I don’t know which one.

When I sit down on the couch, they both come up to me and I pet them with no problem. Mo is OK being touched, but never comes too close. Rosie is all over me. Some days I do feel like a jungle gym. When they’ve had enough petting, they leave or start ducking my hand. They always hope they will get treats, but sometimes the affection is treat enough. They have no issues with my moving around or near them in the apartment. If I look like I might touch them, then they’ll run off, although I never actually touch them unless they come to me first. They seem happy in their new home and I am very happy with them. Since both cats are comfortable being petted while I am sitting on the couch, I’ve decided to up the ante. I am trying to entice them into the bedroom which they won’t come into while I’m in there. I lie on the bed with a jar of baby food on my stomach. They come running and dive right in but flinch when I first touch them. It’s funny the difference a room makes. They behave like they did when we first started the baby food and touching on the couch. In time, they will get used to it and I will probably regret the uninterrupted sleep I have at night. I have also started to lean over and touch Rosie when she is weaving between and rubbing against my legs. Some-times she moves away and sometimes she is OK with it. Again, in time she’ll be fine with it.

Overall, the cats (they are way too big to be called kittens anymore) are incredibly cute and sweet. Last night I took a bath and they just sat next to the tub and stared at me. A little discon-certing perhaps, but their fear of my physical presence is non-existent. Physical contact is a dif-ferent matter, although they really both enjoy being petted and scratched around the head and neck. It will be a while before picking them up will be an option, but some day, maybe.

We are making great strides. Both cats come to me to be petted on a regular basis, whether I have food for them or not. Sometimes I need to use both hands because if I am only petting one of them, the other one gets Mad.