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Summer Update on Barn cats Lulu and Bullwinkle

Here is Shelter Me Inc's latest missive from Jeffrey, one of our favorite barn cat owners. He is a a great storyteller and an expert at taming feral cats.

As you know, Sara came out of her acclimation cage earlier this spring along with her sister, Lulu. Lulu was the gentle and calm cat. Sara….not so much. Lulu wandered off after a few weeks and Sara bonded to Bullwinkle, my other barn cat. By the way, we think Lulu is living up the street since we’ve spied a cat looking exactly like her twice now. She may have just liked someone else’s barn and house better than ours!

Anyway, Sara follows Bullwinkle around like there’s a string tied from Bullwinkle’s tail to Sara’s nose. You can just watch her learning from him. Where you see Bullwinkle, Sara is somewhere close by. You may recall that Sara was the typical feral kitten. She wasn’t really aggressive but she was definitely defensive. I could walk into the shop and only get a cold stare from her but anyone else, especially a stranger, would get a hiss along with the ears back, teeth bared look. If I tried to pet her while she was in her cage, she would occasionally let me touch her ear but anything more than that got me a swipe that usually drew blood. Once out of the cage, she was somewhat calmer but very distant. For example, she would hang out in the shop with me watching Bullwinkle sit on my lap or up on my shoulders but if I looked over at her, she’d start to tense up. As time went on, she got used to my routines and I could walk by her without stopping and she wouldn’t be alarmed. She shared a bowls of food and water with Bullwinkle but she wouldn’t take food from my hand.

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed that she was a lot more comfortable when feeding her wet food than she had been before. In other words, I could put wet food on a plate and set it 3 or 4 feet from me and (so long as Bullwinkle didn’t hog it all first) she would eat it in front of me, albeit with some anxiety. I also discovered that her anxiety was lessened if I sat on the floor in front of her. I think because she found it easier to keep an eye on me. I feed the cat’s wet food on disposable plates and as they get to the end of the food, the plates start to wander around as they lick the last bits up. For Bullwinkle, it’s no big deal. I could feed him off the top of my head! But for Sara, she had to choose between licking her dish towards me which made her more anxious, or turn her back or side to me which also made her uncomfortable. So, I decided to wet my fingers with food and hold her plate. It worked like a charm.

Once I got her comfortable with my hand holding her plate, she decided to check and lick (and sometimes nibble) all my fingers when she finished her meal. Within days, this led to her taking treats from my hand. Sunday morning was special though. I was in the shop around 6:00 AM with the TV on and I was standing by the workbench reading a magazine. I heard a cat walk by my legs and then hop onto the chair, then the window seat and finally the table behind me. There’s a cat bed on that table and I assumed it was Bullwinkle that had come in to lie down and hang out. I never checked to make sure. A few minutes later I leaned back and reached behind me to pet “Bullwinkle”. As it turned out, I was petting Sara. I was so surprised when I looked behind me. She had decided to come in and lay down less than two feet from me and accepted my attention with her eyes half closed. I petted her for quite some time before getting on with my day.

The video that I linked here was taken last night. She was wound up because a bat had just flown around the inside of the barn and zoomed within a foot of her while she was up on the third floor beams. I think the transformation over the last two weeks is incredible. She is comfortable like this ONLY in the shop although I noticed over the past few days that any family member can come into the shop now while I’m there and she won’t leave. If she’s on her bed or on the window seat, she doesn’t even get up. The hissing and growling has stopped as well although I can’t say that strangers wouldn’t incite her to behave like that again.