Thursday, October 1, 2009

Kittenhood 101

I'm new to the art and science of socializing a feral kitten, but I believe we hit the jackpot with our Wendy.

On her first day with us, Wendy remembered how to purr. Kittens begin to purr when they are nursing, but Wendy hadn't purred once since she was captured a few weeks ago. Trembling with fear was Wendy's method of communicating. So purring lessons were a top priority for me, because success would mean we'd succeeded in making her feel safe and happy, at least temporarily.

I periodically made purring sounds as I was talking to her last night and this morning; she seemed attentive. Around noon, as I was gently stroking her, she began rumbling. I was so thrilled that I dialed my husband and put the phone in her carrier. Now she purrs whenever we pet her, and rolls on her back, too, another sign that she trusts us. I thought this might take weeks. She's clearly at the head of the class.

When we went in to greet her this morning, she squeaked at us. We squeaked back, of course, and she replied, and we had a brief kitten conversation. (I love vocal cats, even though our male, Snalbert, likes to join my conference calls with clients by yelling at the top of his lungs beside my desk until I bribe him with kibble or yell back at him to shut up.) Wendy occasionally spoke to me during the day, and when she heard Snalbert talking in another room, she meowed a blue streak in response. I take this as another great sign of sociability and intelligence. I think she's meowing in Italian or Portuguese, because it sounds lovely but I have no idea of what she's saying.

What worried me today was that she never wanted to eat, drink, use her litter box, or run around. A couple of friends assured me that lack of appetite is normal as a kitten settles into a new environment, but I was relieved when she finally ate kibble tonight. She may have eaten while we were sleeping last night, but if she did, she eats very neatly and symmetrically.

I never dreamed I'd be happy to clean out a litter box, but I'm looking forward to it.

Although Wendy doesn't race around or do any of the normal kitten antics, she did learn to play with a toy today, another red-letter event. Her foster parent told me that Wendy got excited while watching other kittens play around her, but that didn't know how to join them. I spent several of her waking hours trailing a "moth" (a frayed piece of cloth) on a string around the carrier that she uses as her hideaway. The top opens as well as the side, so I could dangle the toy in front of her. She watched carefully but wouldn't move. Finally, finally — she scooped it up in her little paw and bit it. She batted it a bit as she lay there, and then fell sound asleep from all her exertions. Later, she learned how to whack a toy mouse off the top of her carrier so it would land inside. Big congratulations all around.

We're going to work further on her new purring and playing skills tomorrow, and see, perhaps, how she feels about being picked up and held. Then we'll start basic math, vocabulary, and music appreciation.

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