Shelter Me Inc, a nonprofit animal rescue organization, often receives email requests from shelters asking for assistance in finding a barn home for their unadoptable cats. We received one just other day from a shelter staff member. The potential barn cats we hear about usually sound pretty unhappy and this cat fit that bill exactly, which may be why we haven't been able to stop thinking about this animal. He has a fairly well-defined story, which is somewhat unexpected.
This is what we heard -- A neighbor abandoned two cats and a guy in the neighborhood built them an outside shelter, fed them and cared for them and got them on a bunch of waiting lists at shelters. The cats lived outside for six months. Eventually, he got both of them got into a shelter and one cat adjusted really well. The other cat, Raven, did not adjust well. He may have been a semi-feral kitten, No one knows but Raven is not at all crazy about people and the shelter freaks him out.
Shelters are stressful places for animals in the best of situations and no situation is more stressful to semi-feral cats than a shelter. In any case, three months have passed in the shelter and last month Raven became so stressed he started tearing his fur out. Only one person at the shelter has been able to pet Raven - while is eating - otherwise if someone reaches into the cage, he lashes out at them. The staff person who can pet Raven sent us the plea for help.
Although Raven may not sound like he would be a very attractive candidate for any home, let alone a barn. Shelter Me has placed more than 130 barn cats and Raven's behavior bears a striking resemblance to many of the cats we have placed, the vast majority of whom did not seem likely to adjust to any kind of managed living situation but eventually acclimated really well to barn life.
A couple years ago, Shelter Me took seven of the unhappiest looking cats imaginable out of a Boston-area shelter; placed them in barns and five of them looked and sounded a lot like Raven. All seven cats turned into great barn cats, including one particularly memorable feline who bore the daunting nickname, "violent Violet," What is important to realize is they were very unhappy creatures. It can be hard to imagine what the expression of a truly unhappy cat looks like, so we have posted some before-and-after pictures of several of the aforementioned barn cats (along with several others) in the slide show that accompanies this article.
If there is a moral to this story, it is that barn owners' relationships with their cats will rarely start out as typical owner/pet interactions. Barn owners who take in unadoptable cats are doing these animals a great favor because most of them would never adjust to life as housepets. In the end, however, the barns often end up with great pets who will also perform a incredibly valuable service to their owners by keeping mice out of the feed and unwanted rodents off the premises.
UPDATE ON RAVEN
Not long after we posted this article Shelter Me Inc received a query from a barn in Billerica that offered to take in Raven. One week later, we set him up in a double acclimation cage in a large barn with lovely view and a great new family that includes a rather large flock of chicken. Raven caught a break.