“A Little Shy”, They Said

I mentioned on this blog a few days ago that we had added a family member – we adopted a cat. Several folks have asked about her, and I’ve been pretty closed mouthed after the initial joy. This is why.

A local shelter announced through the news that they would be having “free” or rather “sponsored” adoptions for cats over 6 months old. A particular car dealership was actually paying the adoption fees – which are very high in this big city. I mean, REALLY high. You could buy a nicely pedigreed show quality purebred for what they charge for adoptions here.

Now from experience I can tell you I’ve NEVER had a free pet in my life. Oh, I’ve certainly adopted and rescued literally hundreds of animals in my life – but any time I’ve taken an animal that was “free” they ended up costing me a small fortune one way or another.

Hubby and I have been discussing and wanting another pet for about three years. Our beloved cat, Pearl, died while the hubby was on peritoneal dialysis. Since peritoneal dialysis, done at home, is not pet friendly, we chose to not immediately get another pet. A good decision, as it turned out. The next few years we were not in a stable position between his health changes and moving to Nevada, to take on an additional responsibility. But for about the last year we have been wanting a cat, and we feel like we are finally in a good stable position to offer a good home to a pet. So when these “free” adoptions became available, we applied and were quickly accepted.

My first surprise, in fact, is that we were accepted on the same day that we applied. No references were asked for or contacted, and apparently no check of any kind was done on the information I provided the shelter. This should have been my first clue. 

Second clue – This was a “no contact” adoption. This sounded reasonable, since we are still in Phase One of coming out of lockdown here. Also, the pandemic has really devastated animal rescue organizations, with loss of donations, and volunteer shortages, as well as being closed and having no way to do adoptions in person. But it does mean that we never met our cat until she was actually here in the house.

I provided a great deal of information to the shelter about our home and a list of several of the cats from the website we were interested in. I was told only one of our choices was still available, but she would be a wonderful match for us as she is shy (but really sweet – yeah, right) and doesn’t like other cats or dogs, so she would be happiest in a very quiet, all adult, no other pets home such as we have to offer. I took the “adoption counselor” at her word and we got really happy and excited about our new friend to be.

The next day I was told I would have to get to the shelter by 3 pm or I would lose this cat and have to start over. There was some rushing around as I found a ride other than the ride I first thought could get us there, blah blah blah, but kitty and I finally got home.

This was the third clue – almost inevitably when you are given a time limit and often a veiled threat (“if you don’t come get them RIGHT NOW I’ll have to put them to sleep” or even “I’ll take it out back and shoot it”) – you are about to get saddled with an animal no one wants. You’re being rushed so you don’t have time to make a thorough decision. This is true, by the way, on almost any acquisition – any time you get a high pressure sales pitch, stop, back up, and give the situation a very thorough going over. If the other side freaks out and increases the pressure, back out – you’re probably doing yourself a favor.

I will call this the fourth clue – I noticed it earlier and it did make me think – but I chose to go forward anyway. So this is on no one but me. But. Looking at the one and only rather poor photo of this cat on their website, I noticed that she (like several others) was eartipped. That is, one of her ears was partially cut off. This is frequently done in TNR situations.

For those who do not know, a brief explanation. Trap-Neuter-Release is a way to care for communities of feral cats. We all know someone who feeds all the strays in the neighborhood. A responsible stray cat feeder practices TNR either on their own dime or in cooperation with a rescue group. The cats are trapped, spayed or neutered, usually vaccinated, evaluated for adoptability, and if they are quite wild – released back into their community. Cats that have been “processed” are also “ear tipped” – a bit of one ear is cut off. This is so they can be identified quickly as a cat that has been vaccinated and neutered, in case they are trapped again. They can be re-released without the expense of an exam.

So when I saw that tipped ear I wondered if this cat was from a feral colony. And if so, and if she was judged adoptable and brought into the shelter – then why did they tip her ear? Normally, you would only do that with a cat you were going to re-release. It made me a little suspicious, but after all some feral cats are simply lost or abandoned and they ARE socialized and adoptable.

In the cats description on the website, and in email with the adoption counselor, the cat was described as “a little shy”. Repeatedly. But “she will be a great match for you, and I’m sure she’ll settle down quickly once she is in your home.” I can’t even call this a clue. Most cats are freaked out in a shelter situation, and especially a cat that is of a submissive, introverted type of personality. We do have a very quiet home, with lots of human contact and reassurance and lots of cat experience and a shy cat doesn’t necessarily turn me off at all.

So I arrive to pick the cat up and end up waiting outside for a good bit of time. Meanwhile, other people were in fact going in and out of the building – which also houses a vet – so okay, maybe they were going to the vet. When the cat is brought to me, the lady (who was not wearing a mask or practicing social distancing BTW – some contactless adoption – not. Maybe that should have been a clue, too) tells me that the cat didn’t want to go and was hard to get into the box. I find out later that the cats in this shelter all co-hab in one big room.

Now, I realize that to most people this sounds more humane than little cages. But it isn’t. Not with cats that are frightened, poorly socialized, that don’t like or get along with other cats. There are also other problems inherent in this. For instance, the new cat did not eat for a couple of days. When I asked the shelter if she was a picky eater (and what food they feed) I was told “I don’t know. We just free feed all of the cats and sometimes they get some wet”. One of the very first signs of illness in a cat is refusing to eat. When I had a large number of cats, I did “breakfast”. Once a day I put out one dish for each cat with a dab of wet food. Almost no cats will refuse wet food. I then literally stood there and watched the cats eat. If any of my cats refused to eat at breakfast, I would note that and keep an eye on them. Certain cats who were real hogs would get an immediate vet trip if they didn’t eat. So this free food with no monitoring situation is not good. I’m going to also guess they are mostly volunteer staff with one or two overworked paid staff, so there’s no consistency of care. A shy cat, such as our new cat, could hide (as she does) for days at a time and no one would even realize she was missing, sick, not eating, etc. The same issues apply to the other end of the plumbing – with multiple cats in a room sharing litter boxes, you can’t tell which one of them is passing those worms in their stool, or having diarrhea. So although many cats together in one room looks more cozy and homelike to potential adopters, to an experienced animal care person it looks like, well, chaos and possible cat hell for a cat who is shy, bullied, introverted, sick, frightened, or not socialized. 

There is a reasonable alternative, which is individual cages for each cat and a period “out to play” in a large room with other cats during designated hours each day. I volunteered at a shelter that practiced this and it was ideal. There was no fighting over food, and each cats intake of food, and output of urine and feces was easily monitored. As another benefit, even if one cat became ill, it did not usually infect the whole population as it could be quickly noticed, and quickly isolated. 

At this point in time I suspect what she was telling me was it took four people chasing the cat around a room full of cats for thirty minutes before they finally cornered her and grabbed her.  I won’t count this as a clue, as many cats are frightened and suspicious when you start trying to grab them and put them in a box. It’s pretty reasonable if you figure most of the time when we’re catching them and putting them in a box they’re going to the vet! But this fairly chaotic and hysterical situation can also be avoided with individual cages. As simply as, “someone is coming for this cat today, so don’t put her out with the others”. No fuss, no muss, no panic for anyone or cats.

I get the kitty home. She is introduced to her food and water bowl and litter box. She sits in my lap for a few hours being petted, and in hubby’s lap being petted. But she doesn’t purr and she’s almost motionless. She isn’t comfortable and happy, but frozen solid with fear, although she does give a few head butts and chin wipes. When she finally goes exploring she finds the closest hiding place and disappears. That spot was not someplace she ought to be, so we pulled her out and closed it off (boy did she sulk). She glares at us for a while, then goes and finds another hidey hole. And that’s it. She spends about 24/7  in that hidey hole, unless we literally drag her out for a repeat of the frozen cuddle for a little while, then back to the hidey hole. She did not eat or drink or use the litter box for two days. Well, that’s not all that weird for a new cat in a new place. It’s a bit extreme, maybe.

It’s been nearly a week now, and now I am quite sure based on my experience with many, many cats from every situation from dearly loved to born and survived wild to adulthood that this is a formerly feral cat. An adult feral cat who has no socialization. Her only experience of humans is being trapped, vaccinated, spayed, and thrown in a room with a large number of strange cats, with different, strange humans going in and out probably several times a day. That is, she has gone from being feral to being traumatized.

At best, many adult ferals never become socialized to humans. She is beyond feral at this point. The best I can say is if you reach into her hidey hole and drag her out, she freezes with fear instead of attacking. I think this is due more to her shy, basically gentle personality rather than any socialization.

They sent us this cat, knowing that my husband is disabled and has health issues. To tell you the truth, I am pretty pissed off. Not to jerk your heart strings- but my husband was not supposed to live past his 20s, he is now 54. We wanted a sweet, lovable cat to join our family for love, cuddles, playing, and companionship. We got – a wild animal who barely accepts our presence. My husband may or may not have years for her to maybe accept us. We are sharing a 26 foot RV with her. Right now the cab is set up as her private apartment and luckily that is fairly convenient for us all.  But what if hubby is hospitalized and I have to ask someone else to care for this wild animal? And not to be really mean, but she costs as much to keep as a friendly kitty would. We are not rich.

Thinking strictly of ourselves – this is not a cat that we want to have right now. And it is in the contract that we can return her within 30 days for any reason. It is tempting.

But.

Again, from my experience. She’s going right back into her own little version of hell. Big room. Lots of cats. Lots of strange people in and out. Constant chaos. Depending on this particular shelter’s policies, once she is returned she may be automatically killed as “unadoptable”. This is not to my knowledge a no-kill shelter. Or she may go through several homes, each told she is “a little shy” and because she freezes rather than fights, less experienced cat people may believe that. So can I bring myself to send her back to that?

Not really.

We’ve had a long discussion. Several, in fact. We have a couple of alternative solutions that don’t involve her going back to hell. Since she is not aggressive or destructive (so far), she can go on as she is. Naturally, we will do our best to encourage her to accept us. This hardly makes us feel like we have the pet we desire, however. So we plan to be patient, but also to have an eye out for a nice kitten. I didn’t really want to raise a kitten, but here’s my point on that. I think as a mature female feral, this cat has no doubt raised one or two litters of kittens per year of her six years of life. I think she may accept a young kitten as non-threatening and even adopt the kitten as her own, making s/he a good companion for her. This means that Misty (our new name for our new cat) will have a feline companion she does accept, even if she never accepts us, and we will have a feline companion that accepts us, even if Misty never does. Misty may also be influenced to accept us since the kitten does.

But I am still pissed. We did not want to raise a baby kitten – although Misty will help by providing companionship, and influence in using the litter box properly. We will have extra expense, not just for two cats instead of one, but since the other will be a kitten we will need the full series of shots, licensing, and spay/neuter when the time comes. All of which is, you guessed it, very expensive here. One of the reasons it took us so long to decide we were ready for a new pet was that we don’t have a whole lot of money above and beyond day to day living expenses. I had planned on a single (large) adoption fee covering all the vet and licensing expenses for at least the first year, including the monster fee for spay/neuter. Basically, now all these expenses will be doubled, and I was cautiously hopeful of being able to afford it once.

And if you are wondering, um, no, I won’t be going to any other rescue operation here. One more section of society in the U.S. where I see lying has become the default rather than the exception. I’ll be watching out for a (Goddess help me) “free” kitten. Actually, the Goddess has dropped many kittens on my porch steps (or under them) in my life, so that could happen.

Bottom line; an animal shelter took advantage of the pandemic to offload at least one, and probably several (because she isn’t the only one on the website described as “a little shy”) purely wild, feral, unsocialized cats on an unsuspecting public who were kind enough to open their home during this situation. They’re taking advantage of the sponsor as well. And I am almost positive that if I contacted them again with my issues, I would be guilt tripped into feeling it is our fault somehow that we are mean and can’t be bothered to keep this poor cat and deal with her issues (on top of our own, may I add) although I have to admit, that is just my suspicion. I can’t bring myself to send her back to what I suspect is a hell situation for her. (Instead I let her create a less than perfect situation for us – but maybe it will improve) I also have a sneaking suspicion that they saw we do have experience with many difficult cats, and expected us to have this dilemma when we figured out she was feral. Because surely they didn’t think we would be fooled beyond the first day or two.

At least she is with people who have dealt with ferals before, and many cats with many different personalities and difficult pasts. Mind you, dealing with rescues and ferals when you’re in your twenties, and both working with good incomes is a very different situation than dealing with it as seniors with a considerably smaller fixed income and health issues. Yes, we can deal with her and offer the best possible solution FOR HER at this time. Truly, the best situation for a feral cat is to leave it where it is – in a cat community they are comfortable in, a place they have chosen and are comfortable in and especially if it is a TNR community being responsibly cared for. It isn’t ideal, but neither is this. Perhaps they had to capture and remove the feral cat community for some good reason, or perhaps someone misconstrued her frozen in fear reaction for gentleness or some socialization. I’d like to think we were all really doing our best in any given situation. Really, I would.

So. Here we are. We have a cat. But really, we don’t. We are harboring a wild animal that may possibly someday accept us. We’d still like to have a PET. Sigh.

I’m blocking comments for this post. Our decisions are based on our situation, and our experiences and are not open to discussion or anyone else’s criticism. I’m not going to argue about this. I’m already pissed. I just wanted to get this off my chest. Maybe something here will contain a nugget of wisdom that will help somebody else, or at least warn them, or make them think. I’m not naming the shelter because I don’t need a lawsuit and really, it isn’t that important at this point.

 

Update: I started out to check if the shelter involved was a no-kill, in case we decide in the next 30 days that we cannot deal with her and send her back. What I discovered is that this shelter has a lengthy record of news stories, problems with fraud, money, and multiple allegations by volunteers of terrible conditions for animals and people – including a couple of severe maulings by “socialized” dogs on volunteers. Clearly, there is no way I’m sending Misty back. And, as i suspected, there are also reviews where the return of an animal is met with quite a nasty reaction and guilt tripping, as well as black listing of the adopter.

Here is my takeaway on that. Don’t make the assumption that an animal shelter, even one associated with a well respected national association, is truly a good and trustworthy organization. Like any acquisition, an animal adoption needs to start with thorough research on any organization you may choose to be involved with. Not just their puff website, but an open search on their name for any reviews, news stories, petitions for change or investigations by the District Attorney (!), and so forth. If I had seen these articles first… well, I might have adopted just to SAVE an animal from what amounts to a horrific hoarding situation. So, we do have that to hang on to. We have saved Misty from a miserable life of fear and neglect. (Never mind that it would have been going on in a “shelter”)

 

 

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