Thursday, March 18, 2010

Little Breakthroughs

I have not given up hope that our feral calico Wendy (she's still officially Wendelina Pantherina; unofficially called The Sausage) will be a lap cat someday. Some cat lovers believe that lap cats are born, not made. I believe it's true that, while some cats are naturals — Possum turned lap-sitting into an art, despite being feral — others can develop their abilities.

Wendy is not the sort of feral kitten who runs and hides all the time. Just lots of the time. She hates to be caught off guard, so we never sneak up on her. We don't chase, grab, yell, or otherwise upset her. We approach slowly, talking softly. Sometimes she allows us to pet her and pick her up. And then she'll purr with a loud rumble. Other times, she'll stare at us like we're axe murderers and run. If we pursue her, she'll soon surrender by crouching into a ball and falling over. We pick up the furry ball and the rumbling eventually starts. But she just doesn't get it that we're never out to hurt her.

Wendy encounters us in her foster home last September. 
She still has that look of terror at times. For no reason.

It's true that we're not always purr-worthy. We used to catch her twice a day to give nasty medicines for parasites and tummy troubles, and then there were all the ringworm treatments. Now, she and Possum have feline acne, which is different from human acne but equally unappealing. Cats get black, crusty stuff on their chins, which has to be scrubbed off. I use an old soft toothbrush and warm water. Then they get their Stridex medicated pads; I tell them they'll never get prom dates if they don't put up with it.

Anyway, little Wendy is blossoming. I was writing here on Tuesday and heard purring at my feet. I figured it was Snalbert. He likes to stand by my chair with his paws on my leg when he's hungry. When this didn't happen, I looked down and discovered Wendy attacking my shoelaces, purring her head off. She attacked my gym shoes, bit my ankles and had a great time.

Wendy enjoys a petting session.

This is significant because Wendy never purrs unprovoked when she's near us. She purrs when she likes her food, when we pet her, and when she's playing with a favorite toy. I guess that was me on Tuesday.

Our other cats purr if we talk to them. When I ask Snalbert, "Are you a nice pussycat?" he will always purr, unless he's as ill as he was last fall. When he began to purr again, we knew he would recover.

This afternoon, I curled up on our bed to consult a cookbook. Three cats were lying there, including Wendy. I spoke to her but kept my distance. And she began to purr. Then she rolled over on her back, showing me her fluffy white belly. This means she's happy to have me around and wouldn't mind being petted. So I did. She purred happily for awhile, but then Snalbert decided to bite her (this is an ongoing issue with him). I complained; she escaped.

Tonight, Wendy was back on the bed, so I visited. First I greeted Snalbert and got him purring. Then I spoke to her, quietly, flatteringly — and she purred. You may not think so, but this is Big. I've never been sure that she enjoyed being spoken to. But she is learning to like and trust us.

The feral shelter that caught Wendy came from recently trapped her mother, who was born in the wild. She was spayed; now they are slowly taming her. She's been living indoors, in a crate, for many weeks. She's growing used to humans, learning to enjoy being petted and having steady meals, and starting to purr. She is also learning to play. If she can become a friendly indoor cat after spending years wild on the street — and she's making good progress — so can Wendy, who has far less feral history.

At the moment, Wendy is alongside my chair, chewing on the strings of my PJs.

Since she is a calico, I think there's a good chance that she'll develop the possessive qualities of tricolored females, and realize we are both her slaves and her soft, warm perches. If she only knew how willing we are.

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