Monday, February 28, 2011

Return of the Kitties

Hey, I'm fostering kitties again. I'm finally in an apartment that allows cats, so I've started fostering for the Animal Rescue League of Boston. It turns out that "Animal Rescue League" is an extremely common name for animal shelters; the ARLs in Boston and Pittsburgh are completely separate organizations. I was very impressed with what I learned at the orientation. The ARLB is actively researching to find the best methods for correcting behavioral challenges in their dogs. The shelter takes care of most of the sick animals in-house, so most of my litters will only need routine medical treatment like de-worming. I encourage my readers to check them out, especially if they live in the Boston area.

I am currently providing care for a "shy" cat called Churchill. "Shy" cats are cats that have not responded well to human contact at the shelter environment. This could be caused by a number of things, from the cat being semi-feral, to an abused animal, to the cat not coping well with suddenly finding itself being in a strange place surrounded by lots of strange animals, sounds and smells. Often, it only takes a few days inside a quiet, low key environment for the cat to return to its natural self, and so these cats are observed in a foster home so that the shelter staff will know how the cat will behave in the home and can help to place the cat with a compatible family.

I've had Churchill for two and a half weeks, and progress has been very slow. The good news is that he eats, drinks, and uses his litter box regularly.

That is the extent of the good news. Churchill hides in the coat closet all day, only coming out when we're both gone or gone to bed. In order to try to build an association in his mind between humans and food (happiness!), I've stopped putting food out for him, instead opting to serve him in his closet. He greets me with a hiss, but usually sniffs my fingers, and he's never lashed out. He prefers me to set the food and slowly back away with my hands in plain view, but he will sometimes eat in my presence. I would be more worried about his sedentary lifestyle if he weren't so thin when we got him. I wiped him down a bit with pet wipes, and I didn't like how easy it was to feel his vertebrae poking up under his fur.

Because he's never so much as swatted a paw at us, I speculate that Churchill was not feral. The semi-feral barn cats I've seen have been far more aggressive when faced with human contact and confined spaces. I'm wondering if he was abused, or if his extreme shyness is simply from being under-socialized. Perhaps he had a little human contact early on in his life, but has been alone on the streets (he was surrendered as a stray) ever since. Churchill is only a year old, so I have a lot of hope for him learning to tolerate and eventually enjoy human company. It's good that he came in during the winter, before the onset of kitten season. I'm content to take care of him for as long as it takes for him to adjust to domestic life - he's extremely easy to care for - and it's good to know that there aren't a lot of other animals right now waiting for his spot in foster care.