Monday, December 5, 2011

From Shadow into Light

December already!

And the spirit of giving is well underway. Want proof? Nineteen more animals were given a second chance at happiness last week here at the shelter! That's about 1/5 of our entire population, and nearly 1/2 of the animals available for adoption! We'll take it.

Let's start with dogs: Smoochy, the Pom who was on WCAX last week, went home with a volunteer family. Seven-year-old Lab Jill is stray no longer, and another of the fuzzy pitties, Paige, has begun the adoption process with a Vet Tech who helped with her spay surgery. Finally, remember Payton--the Border Collie mix who found her confidence through tiny Beagle Copper (see last week's post)? She was adopted just a few days after Copper left by a sweet family who is head-over-heels for her.

Moving on to kittens, we moved lots of kittens! In fact, nine tiny mewers found new homes last week: Saffron & Sesame together; Chai, Oolong, Ceylon, Jasmine, Earl, Scooter, and Sneakers. Good thing, too: these were just the first nine of fifty kittens scheduled to return from foster care in the next week. We could use some help spreading the word about our kitten frenzy!

Finally, five cats are lounging in new living rooms as I type: Abby, Watson, Barnum, Lulu, and Buddha.

The sixth cat is not indoors. Shadow spent three and half weeks at the shelter, and was returned to his caretaker last week--to go live back outdoors. Shadow is a feral cat.

You may have seen our Facebook posts about the three feral kittens we've been socializing in staff offices. Tom (CEO) has one; Allison (shelter manager) has one; and I have one. They're all solid black, just like their father, Shadow.

Shadow's family lives on the streets of the Old North End. It consists of four kittens and the mom and dad--all completely black. Their coloring means that on the feral scale, they're about as far from domesticated as it gets. As cats in the wild reproduce, subsequent litters are born increasingly darker in color with each generation, as the population returns to its most camoflaged state.

We have a Trap-Neuter-Return program here at the shelter, led by our Humane Investigator, JoAnn Nichols. For feral cat colonies who have a caretaker (someone who feeds them regularly), JoAnn will trap as many cats as possible, have them spayed or neutered, and return them to their territory. This keeps population numbers down, and sustains the health of the colony. But JoAnn wasn't responsible for trapping Shadow and the kittens.

 In fact, there's a little old lady in the Old North End who frequently traps stray and feral cats and brings them to us. Somehow, she managed to coax Shadow and three of the four kittens into carriers--without even using traps! We'd have guessed that Shadow would be so feral, he'd have to simply be neutered and returned. But we found out that he and his family did belong to a caretaker--a younger woman who lives down the street from the little old lady--and this woman had developed a positive relationship with Shadow. So we decided to test his sociability by housing him in our Feline Supervisor's office.

As aforementioned, the three kittens were each assigned other staff offices. And staff was asked to spend as much time as possible with the kittens: petting them, holding them, talking to them. At five months old, these kittens were already well on the cusp of being too old to tame. But we wanted to try. And if we couldn't succeed, they could simply go back to their caretaker's property.

The kitten in my office, Grover, proved the hardest to convince. He spent the first few days huddled in his litterbox (or elsewhere in the office), not daring to move.

I didn't want to push him, but as Jen (Med Supervisor) and Kayla (Feline Supervisor) half-jokingly pointed out, we have to "fast track" feral kittens at the shelter. They each made a point of visiting my office at least once a day, removing the quaking Grover from his litter box, and hugging him to their chests. He never struggled to get away, even the first few times. And after just a couple of days, he began to emit a stingy purr.

Halfway through that first week, I was able to hand-feed Grover his breakfast, which was a huge step forward, as he was terrified of hands.

And by the end of the week, he was so relaxed in Jen's arms that he'd do a complete backbend over her forearm just so she could scratch his chin!

By the second week, all three kittens were happily cavorting in their respective offices even while people (and dogs!) were around.

Tom's kitten was totally in love with people already. Allison's kitten was mostly convinced. And Grover--though scared and hissy when anyone reached for him--turned miraculously affectionate when clasped to a chest. The decision was made that these three were adoptable. They were spayed and neutered and made available.

And so, Grover, Magic, and Raisin are waiting for new homes. Grover increasingly reveals his inner lovebug. Now, he delights in licking one's face and chewing on one's hair when held. He's ready to take on the big wide world of people outside of my little office.

Shadow, however, did not make the cut. In her assessment, Kayla wrote that Shadow loves to be pet, and gives vigorous cheek rubs. But he quickly becomes overstimulated and then confused … at which point, his behavior deteriorates into hissing, biting, and swatting. So Shadow went back to live out his days as a street cat--but a well tended-to street cat. When the caretaker came to pick Shadow up, she stopped by the administrative area to witness the progress the kittens had made. As you might imagine, she was delighted by the transformation.  

JoAnn (Humane Investigator) returned to the property today to set traps for Mama and the fourth kitten. She couldn't catch Mama, but the fourth kitten is now in our care, awaiting his turn at socializing. He's already been neutered and had his ear tipped, just in case we can't tame him. In TNRs, feral cats who are altered have the tips of their ears cut off, so they won't have to return to the vet in the case of future TNRs. JoAnn will try again to trap Mama. It's imperative Mama be spayed, because in just seven years, one female cat and her offspring can produce nearly 400,000 kittens. Yes, you read that right.

Shadow is no doubt happier today in his old stomping grounds. That's the difference between strays and ferals: stray cats are domesticated but homeless; ferals are wild, and their home is the outdoors. Grover, Magic, and Raisin have left the feral life behind. But we count their father as a success story, too. One less intact cat on the street is hundreds of thousands of fewer kittens being born into the feral life. Add to that up-to-date vaccinations and a committed caretaker, and we can rest easy about Shadow's future.

That's the good news this week. Take care, and please do stop by our Holiday Store at 198 College Street if you haven't visited yet!


Megan Stearns
Director, Development & Outreach

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