The Cycle of Life: Cats at Redstart Farm

There’s good news, and there’s bad news. But the bad news is good news. Sort of. And the good news, well… it remains to be seen how it will be cataloged when the chapter is completed.

I’ll get the first news out of the way now, because its hard for me to write about. Those of you who know me well know that I love cats. I’ve had at least one cat ever since I’ve been an almost adult, for over 46 years. One of the best cats I’ve ever had is Sushi, the cat I got 11 years ago at the Dane County Humane Society. Sushi is fine, don’t worry, I’m not working up to tell you that she’s died. As a matter of fact, she’s never been happier. She’s just not at Redstart Farm.

Long story short: I’m allergic to cats. A lot. So much so that when I went to the humane society to look for a cat I held prospects up against my face and waited to see if my eyes would redden, my lungs would close and I’d break out into hives. That’s what happened with my first three choices. Sushi was the only cat who didn’t elicit that extreme a response. And so home she came, a young stray who liked to be in the same room as me but hated being touched. We worked on that, and after a few years Sushi became a cuddly lap cat, who hunted the barn religiously but loved nothing more than to be in your lap when inside. She slept in bed with me in winter, on my lap in the evenings and purred and rubbed her way even further into my heart.

As she became increasingly cuddly, my allergies became increasing worse. I will not bore you with what I have done to turn my allergies around. I’ll just say, it’s a lot.  (Nor will I even discuss that fact that my allergist says I’m allergic to dogs. “La La La” I say, with my hands covering my ears. But yes, I’m working on that too, but both dogs and cats appear to be just too much for my system.)

The worst consequence of my cat allergy has been asthma, which got so bad it made walking up my own hill difficult unto itself. After years and years of western and adjunctive, alternative medicine, I asked dear friends to take Sushi for a week so that I could have the house deep cleaned to see if it would help my lungs. It helped. Not 100%, but the difference was notable. But here’s what was far more significant: For the first time in years, I wasn’t feeling guilty because I couldn’t let Sushi in the bedroom anymore. I didn’t have to say, ten times a day, “I’m sorry Sushi” as I picked her up and put her out of my lap. I had known it was hard on both Sushi and me, but as is often the case, I didn’t realize how hard it was until things changed.

After a week, I went to my dear friends with some more cat food and to visit Sushi. I’d had almost daily reports, and she clearly was in heaven. She slept in bed with her new humans at night, made friends with the dogs (she loves dogs, and these ones won’t herd her), and carefully, slowly, was allowed outside into a perfect environment for an indoor/outdoor cat. The house is a good third of a mile from any road, and it’s off the road that’s off the road that’s off the road from my house, if that makes any sense. (If it doesn’t, just read “safe from cars.”) There’s woods and fields and comfy laps to cuddle in. They adore her, and she adores them. When I went to visit after a week I knew I should ask them to keep her. Eyes brimming with tears, I began to ask, but Gary, cat lover and already Sushi’s best friend, said “You don’t even have to ask.”

It broke my heart, and it was the right thing to do. Sushi has never been happier. (On my first visit she actually avoided me. The message was clear: Do NOT remove me from this perfect place. Thankfully she no longer worries I’ll move her and comes up to say hi.) Her new humans, Beth and Gary, are the best new family for her imaginable. They move heaven and earth for their animals, and wrap their lives around their pets. Sushi is a very, very lucky cat, and I will always be grateful to Beth and Gary for giving her a new  home. Predictably, for days I felt like someone had died. I grieved for Sushi and for my old life, cried a lot, and kept reminding myself how much happier Sushi is now that she can cuddle again. (I thought Willie would be happier too, but he actually became more hyper after Sushi left. Very interesting response, I have to say. He’s settled down now, thanks in part to his acupuncturist.)

The Cycle of Life: Two days after Sushi left I saw a tiny, dark cat run into the barn. I thought it might be the stray male that neighbors have told me about. I’d never seen it before, not surprisingly. Sushi had no interest in opening up the farm as a feline bed and breakfast, and would have aggressively kept other cats out.  A month after I saw the little cat I was feeding the sheep on the back side of the barn and saw a fuzzy little tail disappear down a hole. I’ve seen far too many tails lately in the barn: after Sushi left the rodent population seemed to explode. But this tail had hair on it, light orange hair at that.  Sure enough, a few hours later a tiny, little kitten face appeared under the barn’s old cement foundation. That night I only saw the one, and had no idea whether it had been dropped off (a common occurrence in the country), moved by mom from another location or what.

The next morning there were two. Then three. And four. And finally, about a week later, I can attest that there appear to be five kittens in total, probably just about 4 weeks old.  I’ve never seen all 5 at the same time, but there appears to be 3 oranges, one orange and white, and one calico (Mom is a tortie). I’ve seen mom a few times now; once she almost ran into me as I walked around the corner, her mouth stuffed with a large rodent as she exited the barn.

Here are 2 not very good photos of the kittens. I’d have taken more, but the noise of the shutter bothers them, and I’m working hard to habituate them to my presence. (Look carefully and you’ll see a second orange kitten behind the first in the photo on the right.)









Right now I have a large dog crate set out now beside where you see the kittens, door affixed open, for them to get used to. Soon I’ll start putting food inside. My goal is to use the crate to trap the kittens before they are too old to socialize. Kitten socialization is earlier than dogs, it’s estimated to be about 3 to 7 weeks of age. Alley Cat Allies, an excellent resource for anyone with feral cats or kittens in their yard, recommends keeping kittens with their mother if you possibly can until 6 weeks of age. On the other hand, my Facebook page is full advice to trap them right away, lest they become impossible to socialize to people.  It’s all a trade off, one can argue either side, from “Catch them yesterday” to “Wait until they are older.” I’m going one day at a time, balancing that oh-so-important time with their mother and getting them around people before they are too hard to tame.

Daily now I am spending time beside them as they play and explore a few feet from the barn and their hidey hole. Last night I began tossing them chicken — clearly their first introduction to solid food based on their attempts to gum the pieces — and it is already helping them habituate to my approach. This morning I was able to stand within 2 or 3 feet of two of them (the orange ones are the boldest by far) while they watched me attempt to toss chicken pieces close to them. (A video of my lack of aim would go viral. I got 1 out of 5 pieces of chicken anywhere near them. Sigh.)

Soon I’ll start putting food inside the dog crate, in hopes that I can catch them inside eventually. Yes, there are live traps, and lots of folks have used small ones on kittens, but I’d much rather use this method (sit outside dog crate with a string on the door and pull it shut once the kittens are inside) than take the risk of a live trap. The door to a live trap slams shut when an animal stands on a plate in the back of the trap, and the danger with a litter is having one kitten killed by the door as the other kitten sets off the trap. I may end up taking the risk, but only if I have no other choice.  Right now I’m going day by day, slowly teaching the kittens that I’m nothing to fear when I appear behind the barn.

It’s doubtful though that they will become tame enough for me to pick up, so I’ll probably have to use some form of safe trap to catch them. Once the kittens are caught I will set out a live trap for mom. If I’m successful (I am already feeding her in the area where I’ll try to trap her, and will set out the trap there tonight for her to get used to), I’ll have her spayed. My wildlife ecologist friends will be displeased to hear that I’ll bring her back to the farm and let her out in the barn. She is excessively shy and wary, and I think she would spend the rest of her life hiding in a basement if someone tried to make her a house pet. And who knows; perhaps she’ll eventually decide that people aren’t monsters after all. I’ll keep you posted on all this; I’ll write a more instructive blog post next week about what to do about lost or feral cats and kittens. But for now, time to go…. gotta go spend some time with the kittens again.

MEANWHILE, ON THE REST OF THE FARM: The primary news is that it is hateful weather. 97 predicted today, humid and still and just plain awful. We haven’t had rain in forever; my pasture is a disaster and I’m feeding hay twice a day now. It’s too hot to work Willie, for the sake of all 3 species. The poor sheep are miserable, I feel so sorry for them. Jim set up a fan in the barn which helps them immensely, and they spend much of the day in a stupor in front of it now. Even sitting outside with the kittens is tough for a border collie like me; it’s not too bad in the evening when it’s shaded, but early in the morning it’s in full sun and I just can’t spend too long there or I wilt. I sit out at night in a chair so I can spend longer beside the kittens, but in the sun I toss them food for approaching, or I turn around and withdraw if they even lean forward toward me.  Both should be good reinforcers, so I have hopes I can make a lot of progress in spite of the heat…. Cross your paws for them, they are damnably cute and of course I’ve become attached to them already.

So, here we are: I had to say goodbye to one cat, and now I have 6. Life is one amazing adventure, isn’t it? And what about you… ever tamed or trapped feral kittens?


  1. Kat says

    For as long as I can remember my parents have had a semi-feral cat colony in their barn. Owls and other raptors, coyotes and cars all serve to keep the population in check. As kids when our pet cat (each of us had our own) would disappear we’d grieve for a time and then find a kitten to make our own. I remember spending hours in the barn sitting still with food around me and when a bold kitten came close enough capturing it, holding, and petting it before it squirmed free. In my memory it never took more than a couple of times before the kitten was acclimated to being held and petted and could be introduced to life as an indoor/outdoor cat. I call the colony semi-feral because we always fed them and we seldom had cats that were so shy they wouldn’t come out to see you when you walked into the barn. Most would rub around your ankles and let you stroke them as long as all four of their paws remained on the floor. Picking them up was a bridge too far. I rather miss observing the colony which was always fascinating. Cats can be such characters. One of the more interesting ones discovered the comforts of the chicken nests and would sleep there for hours. The chickens got so used to him that they’d hop onto the nest with him in it and he seemed to enjoy the extra warmth. I don’t know if they ever actually laid an egg on him but it was not unusual to find him in the nest with a couple eggs. Charlie was definitely one of the more original characters. Or there was Duke who was fond of catching snowballs. We discovered this one winter when we were having a snowball fight and he appeared out of no where to try catching the snowballs. Of course, being kids, the first thing we did was make a bunch of cat sized snowballs and toss them at him. It was so funny to watch him leap into the air and try to grab the snowball out of the air usually these lightly packed snowballs shattered all over his face. Anyway, enough of my trip down memory lane. Enjoy your new cats and good luck with your trapping plans. It sounds to me like you’re on the right track.

  2. Beth with the Corgis says

    My last cat Alice was probably not feral but most likely a dumped kitten that had not been handled. I say this because despite being out and apparently foodless for days, she would run and hide when she saw people, but tried to follow my parents’ indoor-outdoor neutered male, mewing the whole time. The male would swat her down, and the fear that he’d kill her was what prompted me to try to catch her. I don’t think she was feral because I never saw any others. I think someone’s cat had a litter in a garage or under a porch, they brought mom in, never handled the kittens, and found homes for some and dumped the rest. Or it could be some well-meaning person caught the whole litter plus mom, but this one got away.

    I believe she was 6 weeks old, not sure. I know I could hold her fairly easily in one hand and when I did eventually catch her she needed to stand up on her hind legs and hoist herself into a regular open litter pan. To hop on my bed she would jump halfway up, grab on with all 4 sets of claws, and come up spiderman style.

    Anyway, it took about a week to catch her. I set out food under the hedge where she hid and after a few days started moving it out further and further. The fact that she had no other food source made her quickly start to ignore everything while she ate (very hungry). I was able to sneak around behind and grab her one day. She fought like crazy til she panicked and held still.

    I brought her in and she hid under the bed. For a few days she would only come out at night. I was able to bribe her out with a dead leaf on a string. Finally one day I grabbed her and petted her. She struggled and then started to purr; she looked surprised.

    From then until the day she died at nearly 17, she was exclusively my cat. She thought people were alarming and the sun rose and set over me. She followed me around, slept curled tight next to me, and meowed loudly when I’d return from work. She eventually learned to tolerate my husband, but never really warmed to him. She was possibly the best pet I’ve ever had. Sweet, never scratched or bit. If she did start to claw something I would just make a noise and she’d never do it again. She’d walk on dressers without disturbing a single thing. Careful, thoughtful, and affectionate to me, she either hid from or attacked anyone else.

    I lost her to cancer just over two years ago. One day she was fine, the next she had a mass on her hip, and within 5 weeks she was gone. I thought my heart would break and cried every day for over a week, and at bedtime for at least a month. I still miss her terribly.

  3. says

    I have fostered a few litters of feral kittens for the shelter. Once they start to come a little closer, we have found whipped cream (from a can) to be a wonderful reinforcer. The kittens just adored it. I also know that baby food is like the hot dogs of the kitty world. Your hardest challenge will probably be counteracting or convincing mommy because she will be teaching her kittens that people are bad news. Good luck!

  4. Janice says

    I have tamed several feral cats as adults. One of them now sleeps on my bed.

    When the latest group of cats came to my farm (yes, mine are kept outdoors to keep the rodent population down as well)(yes I know that this isn’t PC but we have hantevirus in our deer mouse population and I really don’t’ want to live with them) they came in from a Trap Spay and Neuter program. They had some cats that were coming from a farm north of here that needed de-populating and a renter of mine volunteered for the program and came home with a crate of them.

    The next day they had vanished and a few weeks later I saw one of them close to my barn. Over the next couple weeks I would see them on a run, out the back door of the barn when I entered from the front, but I couldn’t even tell how many of them I had because they were all some version of tortoiseshell–both long and short haired. Eventually I figured out that there were 5 of them. We lost one several years ago and the rest are doing well. They all accept petting and one has moved into the house and is an overly enthusiastic bed cat several nights a week.

    What changed to make them become tame? Goat’s milk. When I milk a goat, you like to not include the first several squirts of milk into the milk pail because this milk that is down at the end of the teat may have a slightly higher bacterial count (and you want the milk to last so you don’t want that in the milk pail). So I put it in a bowl and set it out in the main part of the barn for the cats. Then at the end of the milking when I am massaging the udder to get the last milk out of it, I like to set the milk pail aside so that dirt from the belly doesn’t fall into the pail when I am massaging the udder. So this milk, which is supposed to have the highest cream content, also goes in a bowl for immediate feline consumption.

    So I think it was the goat’s milk that did it–I was predictably coming into the barn twice a day and leaving the nectar of the feline gods, creamy milk, for them to drink. What I eventually discovered when I could get a little closer to them was that, while they were scared of people and especially hands, they loved being petted. So if I could sidle up to them while they were inhaling the milk, and start to stroke them, they would purr, until they saw that there was a scary hand involved. Then they had to decide whether to stay close to the milk and the scary human or run away. Bilbo is the most spooky and hard to start to pet her, but once she gets past the hands approaching her, is very accepting of touching. She also loves the goats and follows them around and strops them. She is the most shy of the bunch. Merry is the most outgoing and is seen in the barnyard the most. She rules the roost. She likes to sleep in a box on our porch and get pets as we go in and out. Frodo is funny, she loves attention but only if you are sitting down. If you stand up, she scoots out of range. But if you sit down she jumps on your lap and is so demanding of attention that she can be a nuisance if you are trying to get any work done. Then there is Pippin who comes in and is a bed hog. And honestly they all started out as adults who were so wild I couldn’t even tell them apart for a month because I only saw them at a run.

    Probably the oddest though is Monster who did come to us as a kitten but got out of the house and we thought he was lost until we found him several weeks later, very skinny, living in the walls of our barn. We trapped him and brought him inside again but he was always trying to get outside and once outside, wanted to stay there. It seemed that he just got more and more uninterested in being a house cat. He went totally wild and sometimes we don’t even’ see him for several days. But the odd thing is that every month or so, he apparently decides to be a house cat. He stays up in my room (doesn’t like the dogs so he stays out of their way) and sleeps on the end of my bed and luxuriates in being petted. I bring him food and water so he doesn’t have to deal with the dogs. But after about three days, he slips out of the house and doesn’t come back in again for another month.

    So I am not sure that cats have to be socialized as kittens to not be feral. At least my bunch seem to have tamed up well and Pippin is now so casual in the house that she saunters past the dogs, waving her tail in their faces when they are really trying to get her to run so they can chase her. She also likes her outside time too, though. She can be in the house having spent the night on someone’s bed, eats a bit of cat food and then a half hour later, I’ll see her down in the pasture hunting mice. I guess you would call her a Renaissance cat.

  5. Nicola says

    First Hope, now Sushi – you’ve had a rough time, but take comfort that you’ve found the best possible alternative homes for them. Are you considering another cat, maybe a rex? Or will you be forever catless now?

  6. Allison says

    When we lived in Texas, I caught and released many cats and kittens – I used crates for the kittens and live traps for the adults. It took me 3 litters before I caught one momma cat. The first litter I caught one morning when they were all still sleeping in the crate!

    I’m sure I caught a few neighbor’s cats who weren’t neutered, but if you ended up in my trap and were still intact . . .”Gee, I don’t know why Tommy’s rear is shaved. Must have been aliens!”

    I still have two from the last litter (found a home for one). The two that I have, I caught a couple of weeks apart – the difference in socialization is dramatic. The last one I caught is still half feral – could also be personality but I’m guessing that I missed the socialization window on Beau.

    We still call them the “kittens” even though they are 8 yrs old.

    I miss my sterile, feral herd of Texas cats. (Haven’t started a Maryland herd – my husband has asked me not too put out food – so I help out at the local shelter).

  7. shorty j says

    oh my goodness, look at those kitten faces!!

    My parents have had a tiny herd of “barn cats” in their garage for years. We always end up live trapping them, getting them spayed/neutered, and letting them go wherever they want. My parents were never “cat people” but they do love the barn cats and have names for all of them. They’re never completely tame, but they’re surprisingly friendly considering their primary interaction with my folks has been being trapped and taken to the vet, haha.

    They each have grown up into very different personalities, though. They’ll all come out to greet you when you pull into the driveway, but one will immediately sprint away, another will just sit and watch, another will come right up and headbutt you in the leg, and the last one just wants you to open the garage door so he can play in the empty boxes.

  8. shorty j says

    Oh, I should add that none of them will actually come in the house, though. They’ll come into the garage, especially when it’s cold or to climb on stuff, but they’re pretty uninterested in actually going into the house itself.

  9. em says

    So sorry (for you, not her) to hear about Sushi. My mother is terribly allergic to cats, so I know the horrors of a a bad reaction only too well. I do have an encouraging anecdote about the taming of ferals, though!

    My Fiona was a feral kitten, one of a litter of four born under my porch when I was in grad school. She spent the first four months (I’d estimate) of her life without ever being handled by humans, but she is the sweetest, gentlest, cuddliest cat I’ve ever known. She had one very similar looking littermate who was much the same before being struck by a car (Fiona’s a brown tortoiseshell with tabby points, a torbie. Her sister was a brown marbled tabby and could have won beauty contests), and two other siblings who were very shy. Genetics plays a bigger role in sociability than one might think, I would wager.

    When we first spotted them, the kittens were between six-eight weeks old. We put out food for kittens and Mama cat, with the intention of keeping them close until the feral cat society could neuter and release. All of the cats would come running when they heard us come out onto the porch, but Mama Cat and the two shy kittens very carefully kept their distance. Fiona was interested in interaction almost immediately, while her short-lived sister appeared to be afraid of NOTHING, so they would approach us if we sat outside. After a couple of weeks, Fiona would circle behind us to duck under our elbows (she would get a little spooked if we reached toward her, but she clearly liked to be petted) and climb into our laps. Still, the last thing my roommate and I wanted was to take responsibility for five cats, so the plan was the same, we were waiting on the terribly overworked feral cat folks to work us into their schedule.

    Until, that is, Fiona turned up one morning with a big ugly scratch over her eye. It wasn’t deep , but we weren’t sure whether her eye itself had been damaged, and she looked miserable. We had to make a decision about what to do. The rest of the day unfolded as one unlikely response after another. I had to get hold of Fiona (then known as Splotchy Kitten), get her into a carrier, bring her to the vet, get her tested, vaccinated, and treated, all without anybody losing an eye.

    It didn’t look promising. I thought, “I’ll hold the screen door open, but she’ll never come in”…she did. Then, “I’ll try to pick her up and put her in the carrier (I already owned a cat, who was pretty ticked off at being locked in the bedroom during this whole affair), but it will never work…” It did. She came to me when I sat on the floor, and meekly submitted to being picked up and popped into the carrier. Feeling incredulous, I drove her to the vet, all the time thinking, “She’ll never be still long enough for an exam, much less a blood draw…” Even the vet, knowing the story, thought the same. Fiona was absolutely frozen in terror as he did a physical exam, and he was really doubtful, “I’ll vaccinate her and try to get a blood draw, but she’s going to hit the roof..” Nope. perfectly still. The rest went the same way. We went home with ear drops (for mites) and antibiotic cream, fully expecting that we would never be able to adequately medicate a four to five month old feral with so little exposure to humans. Wrong again.

    I did have to put leaves and dirt in her litter box at first, but all her tests were negative, she never did more than squirm (ineffectually) away from her ear drops, her scratch healed completely, and she rapidly became one of the most affectionate cats I’ve ever known.

    Shortly thereafter, one of her littermates (the bold one) was struck by a car, Mama Cat moved on to raise a second litter somewhere else (she dropped by once in a while with her two new kits but generally left the territory to Fiona’s remaining littermates), the little male kitten eventually drifted off to adventures unknown (he dropped by once in a while, too). Fiona’s remaining female littermate stuck around. After almost a year of being fed, she would barely allow herself to be touched, but before I could implement my plan to bring her in to be spayed and vaccinated, she disappeared. She reappeared two weeks later, on the brink of death. She must have gotten trapped somewhere. I tried to pick her up, but she used her last reserves of energy to scuttle away from me and I really thought she’d have a heart attack if stressed any further. I brought her water and food, made sure she was able to get to the shelter of the front porch, and let her be. She did recover, and lived another several months before dying suddenly, apparently in a fall from the roof.

    So that’s my feral cat story, part tragic, part joyful. Fiona is still going strong at 13 years old, prowling through our shrubbery and camping out in our laps, the very sweetest cat I’ve ever had. In the face of conflicting advice, I’d let the kittens stay with Mom and get habituated to your presence (and the concept of being fed by humans) for a couple more weeks, but I am not an animal behaviorist, nor do I play one on TV
    :-) .

  10. LisaH says

    When I was 12 (6/1977) I brought 2 young cats home on the last day of school that a friend’s Mom brought into town from their farm. We put them in our barn (huge machine sheds) and they were our mousers. Eventually other cats appeared and my Dad, who is an old school German farmer, didn’t believe in neutering, vet care, etc for cats but he knew about socializing to prevent feral cats. One of our daily tasks back then would be to play w/the barn kittens. And my older sister snuck a few to the vet for neutering so it wasn’t out of control. In later years, when we kids had grown & left, the cat population did become feral. All the cats were a dull black color w/flat eyes & creeped on their bellies, & spooked so fast. We never touched them; they were actually scary. The early socialized cats would create beds in the straw in the dog’s house, & he let them, but some of the later feral ones would give birth closer to the rafters, under the metal roof & the kittens would die very quickly from heat, yet if we found them to move them, the mother rejected them. Eventually, unfortunetely, my Dad had to have the pop. destroyed as it was too out of hand. And thankfully he has lightened up re: the role of animals & now allows my 2 BCs inside his house – he would not have been so accepting years ago to have a dog indoors, & certainly not cats!

  11. btmom says

    A woman on our block where I grew up was murdered in her house. She had a cat that must have been left outside to fend for herself, unspayed. She survived on her own for a couple of years, only to end up living in our woodpile with one tiny kitten. My father gradually lured her and the kitten into our garage with food, slowly. My sister was able to catch the kitten and bring him indoors. He was extremely shy and easily spooked. The mother cat eventually came indoors to be with her kitten and for a couple of months would barely let us touch her. Then, as if a switch was flipped, she remembered her life as a house cat and became very affectionate.

    The kitten never became a lap cat, but did grow to like human companionship. Also, he went from being skin and bones to being grossly obese (I was away at college, I had no control over his diet!). He once got caught between the pickets of our backyard fence, and his mother stood watch over him until we found him and freed him. I once came to visit my parents after I was married to find both cats expanded to the size of footstools and a big bag of “growth formula” cat kibble in the pantry. Amazingly, they still made it to a respectable old age.

  12. Holly says

    When I was in college (ie, long ago), an elderly neighbor was feeding a feral kitten behind our apartment building. She survived a very hard winter in central Illinois, and the following the spring, the feral kitten was ready to have more kittens. I couldn’t imagine that many of them could survive in the campustown environment, so when we discovered the now momma-cat’s hiding place for her litter, I started doing what you are doing – I placed a lawn chair near their portal and started spending time out there with a book. (MommaCat was very smart, and had a spot for them where they could see everything that was going on, and we could see them but couldn’t reach them. They were almost 7 weeks old before we found them.) After a few sessions of sitting out there, the kittens became comfortable passing thru the portal with me quite nearby. I didn’t offer food, and always pretended to ignore them. When the opportunity seemed right, I reached out and grabbed two of them as they passed by.
    I took one immediately to the vet student who lived in the building, and put the other, a beautiful blue-grey boy with white paws and white bib, on the enclosed front porch of my apartment. He was
    terrified, and spent the first 24 hours wedged between the wall and a stack of newspapers – he didn’t drink water, eat, or go to the litter box in the first 24 hours. If I picked the kitten up and placed him on my lap or anywhere outside his hiding place, he would just slink back to the stack of magazines. So I went back to the vet student for help. He came upstairs with a syringe (without a needle), and we mixed a little bit of honey into some milk and drew it into the sysringe. Put the kitten on my lap and squeezed the sweet milk into the kitten’s mouth, and suddenly he practically embraced me and said “Mom, where have you been?”! From then on, Mischa was bonded to me, and friendly with other people. He had a funny sense of humor, and was very smart. And oh, so handsome!

    At the time, I thought I was very allergic to cats and was trying to find him a forever home. Then I discovered that it’s kitten dander that causes the most severe problems for me, so as he grew a bit, after about 2 weeks I found I could handle it as long as he didn’t sleep in my room. Thank goodness no one answered my ‘free kitten to good home’ ads before that! He was a wonderful boy, who converted more than one of my boyfriends from being cat-avoiders to cat lovers.

  13. Trisha says

    I’m reading all your stories with great interest. And thanks for the understanding em, and others. about Sushi. I know as a biologist that it makes all the sense in the world that as soon as you move out one territory holder another is going to move in… but still, the fact that ever since Sushi left I have been pondering “Should I get a barn cat or not? and that a queen moved in and deposited 5 of them in the barn is somewhat ironic. Friends have asked if I’m going to keep one. After sitting watching them twice a day now for a week, I think that answer is predictable. And good news: Two of them were playing in the dog crate this morning. It’s been in its new place less than 24 hours, so that’s a good sign for sure.

  14. Nat Harrison says

    I totally feel your pain, I’m a severe asthmatic with terrible allergies to animals. I’ve been getting four shots once a week for the past 2 years with another 3 to go and my house is loaded with air purifiers, allergy protectors and I do A LOT of washing! Like you I’m ignoring the allergist who told me I could never have a dog and now have a mini labradoodle who has grand aspirations to be a border collie! For those who told me that I might as well not have a dog unless I can have a “proper one” (whatever that means) I now delight in telling people she is a superstar at Rally O, nose work and we are just starting serious agility having passed agility for fun with flying colors.

    Sometimes you just have to do what your heart tells you and be damned with the side effects (although if you’d like a recommendation for a new asthma preventer that my allergy doc put me on which has done wonders please feel free to drop me a line. I realize that sounds like me trying to hook you with a new cure all but it worked in my case so if can help others, I’m happy to pass along.

    Good luck with the kittens Trisha – I love reading your blog and your books. They are truly fantastic!

  15. Trisha says

    Thanks Nat, I truly appreciate your empathy. And oh yes, washwashwashwashwash, she types, as the air purifier blasts behind her! It does seem endless sometimes, but I wonder even discuss living without dogs, and my allergiest knows not even to bring it up. Ever. Thankfully my allergies to dogs are nothing like my allergy to Sushi, but, yeah, they still are having an effect on me, and yeah, I expect I have the same relationship with my allergist that you do. (Well, maybe you’re better than I am? “No, I don’t let my dogs on the bed,” I say. Except, uh, in the morning when Tootsie and I cuddle and it doesn’t count if Willie and I snuggle, his head on my neck, every night on the rug while I watch TV, right? I’m joking, I’m not that dishonest to a man who is trying to help me… he’s pretty clear that I take some of his advice and not all of it!) And YEAH for all your work with your labradoodle! (“A proper” dog? Sigh!)

  16. Marianna says

    In the last two years, I caught 15 kittens and found homes for all. Four I kept. I would feed them and play with them until they were about 8-9 weeks. I would place food in a crate and then one day just close the door. Works. It took two years, but I eventually caught Mama and Daddy and had them fixed and back outside. Mama now lets me pet her when I put food down. Daddy was obviously someones pet. He doesn’t appreciate my dogs, so he stays out. He and Mama are a pair that are rarely seen apart.

    At 9 weeks taking them in my bedroom, it was fairly easy to tame them. Not sure how you will do this, but hopefully someone can help. Good luck. It always brought me such joy to sit outside with the kittens playing around me.

  17. Den says

    Last September I had a semi feral litter of kittens dropped in our lap. I was able to catch them by hand by using sticks and leaves as toys to distract them. I managed to find homes for 4 of the 6. In March I had a female cat show up as round as a basket ball. I caught her in a live trap, sent her to the humane society where she gave birth to 6. I believe this was also the mother to the 6 semi feral kittens.
    The cat I currently have showed up at my door skin and bones in the middle of our New England winter. I had no intentions of getting a cat but I gave her a shot. She’s a good cat, behaves a bit like a dog. She’s an incredible hunter, but doesn’t equate the carcasses with food. Vet estimates put her at 3-5 years but she plays like a kitten. And her selling point for staying here was she came already spayed.

  18. Beth says

    Hi all,
    I hate to get off topic (kitty), just wanted to empathize. I asked a local gal about some kennel club function she was involved in, and she asked “do you have a dog?” She knew perfectly well that I had, at the time, 7 co-inhabitants of the canine variety. What became clear was that she was asking if I had a ‘real dog’, papered and authenicated. I did, but it sure turned me off. My ‘papered’ dogs are NOT superior in anyway to my SPCA specials.
    I also have 6 cats. Only three of whom sit on my lap. They all like there pets, but the other three are happy to leave it there. I never thought of them as feral in any way. They sleep on the bed, couch, outside, where ever (the chickens do terrorize the poor cats though).
    There, I contributed something to the thread of the conversation. Thank goodness! But, ya. Real dogs indeed!
    Oh, also, apparently I am also allergic to everything I have – but so far so good. Good luck Trish.

  19. says

    My husband and I trapped and tamed a litter of wild born 6 week old kittens (although the mother was tame) several years ago. We brought them home and put them in our bathroom along with a pair of heavy leather gloves. Each time we’d need to visit the bathroom we’d put on the gloves and grab a kitten to get them used to being handled. I don’t remember how long it took but not more than a couple of weeks and they lived in our house with us and our dogs until we placed a couple of them, kept two and put one in the local shelter to be adopted out (they agreed to let us re-adopt her if they couldn’t place her). Two years later I happened to be hired to petsit for this cat and she was very shy with me but not with her owners. The others that we placed and kept were quite tame and were all inside cats.

  20. Don Hudson says

    Hi Patricia,
    My cat story starts out horribly and ends beautifully. I volunteer at an animal shelter near my hone. It’s a farm animal rescue and healing therapy center for special needs children. In the beginning, we did not have a home for our animals. We had to semi-foster them where ever we could. We rented a stall at a farm and kept our 2 pigmay goats and 2 sheep there. Twice a day I would go to that farm and feed, water, clean the stall, and play with the animals. The goats were incredubly curious and wonderfully friendly.
    On the property there were 3 houses and a house trailor. One day, suddenly, it became clear one house was completely empty. A notice of sheriff’s sale taped to the front door. Inside was a beautiful dark brown and black cat with a white mouth and chin. The cat had a food bowl and warer dish but they w ere empty.
    I couldn’t watch the cat starve to death so while I watched the goats and sheep play in the yard, I sat on the porch and and feed the cat treats and then real cat food and water of course
    In just 3 or 4 days the cat came running up to me and begged for food. She made a strange sound, like a minature big cat growl. She’d let me pet her and touch her but not pick her up.
    Finally, one day, I just grabbed her under the belly and carried her to the car. No fighting, not fussing.
    Because of her coloring and marking we called her Tiger Lilly and now it’s Lilly for short.
    When Lilly got to my home she tolerated me but that was all. She basically lived in a cat bed in our bathroom. She was very well litter box trained. I visited her several times a day, petted her and talked to her.
    We have a Yorkie that has to be in bed with us or he’ll cry and bark. So we got a little set of dog steps that he could climb and then jump into bed. The dogs don’t sleep with us at night but in their crate.
    One night, when I was reading in bed, suddenly there was Lilly climbing up the dog steps and then sitting on top of my feet. over the next few weeks she got bolder and bolder, walking around the bed and getting into trouble with my wife’s knitting yarn. A ball of yarn seems to be an irrestible toy for cats.
    Lilly still wou’t sleep in bed with us but she does curl up on the dog pillow on the floor and sleeps there all night.
    Because Lilly is an old cat it’s taken a long time for her personality to come out.. But she’s showing herself to be sweet, loving, and wonderfully stubborn. I shall never regret bringing her home.

  21. Eileen says

    I had to laugh, then wince, when you talked about the dog crate and string idea. About 20 years ago, before TNR was popular and certainly before I knew about using live traps, I had to catch a feral cat who was in my apartment (long story there). After a week of feeding the cat in the crate (she actually liked it in there) I set up the contraption to pull the door closed. I was on the other side of the room when I pulled it shut, and tried to keep tension on the twine, but adult cats are strong and, as I ran toward the crate, I was stupified to see she was pushing the door open and was half way out. My first reaction was to push her back in. That didn’t go well.

    In the end, the cat was safely contained, but my arms looked like hamburger meat. I have since trappped hundred of feral cats using live traps and I understand your concern with using one with the kittens. If I were ever to be in a position to need to use the crate and string method again I would be sure to tie the string in two points (top and bottom) on the door.

    Best of luck and enjoy watching those little guys!

  22. Trisha says

    I laughed out loud Eileen, great story. And I WILL take your advice about two connection points on the door to the crate, thanks! Good news today: This morning I surprised Mom & all kittens in inside the upper barn. Mom darted away, kittens darted behind some tools, but one little orange one stayed where we could see each other. I am guessing that’s the one that has eaten the most chicken, and the one tonight who let me move my hand w/in a foot of him/her to put foot inside the crate. All others darted into their hold, but this one stayed still. I’m going to put food in the crate every night at 6 pm, hoping we can get on a schedule and they’ll start to anticipate, go in and I can catch them. Tomorrow I have 400 bales of hay delivered; I’m a tad nervous mom with take off but I doubt it. It should only be a disruption of a few hours, and I suspect mom is very happy to have the food I put out for her every night.

  23. says

    I feel your pain about Sushi! As an allergy sufferer, animal lover, dog trainer, and mom to three cats and two dogs, I’m deadly terrified that one day my allergy meds will stop working. I hope it never happens but I really feel for you. Good luck with the kittens! I’ve never worked with feral cats, but it sounds like a really neat process.

  24. Wendy W says

    I know it must have been hard to re-home Sushi, but at the end of the day, breathing does come in handy! I’m glad Sushi is happy with her new people, and that a new chapter is opening with the barn kitties. And it’s good to see some silliness slipping back into your posts – sounds like your vacation was well received and deserved.

  25. Laura says

    Hi Tricia,
    I’m so sorry you had to rehome your sweet kitty, but it’s so great to see them happy in a new place. I knew it was the most fair to retire Torpedo, my last guide, and to let him live in Sunny, no storms California where he wouldn’t be so anxious and even though I miss him, it heals my heart to know he is happier there. As for the kittens and Mama-cat, my friend and her family found a 4-week old litter of kittens under their play set in their backyard this Spring. They took them in, Mama-cat as well and discovered they’d been abandoned by neighbors who couldn’t, or didn’t want to take care of them. All of the kittens were extrememly friendly and ended up being very well socialized. Mama-cat was a sweetiepie, always wanting to be petted, always purring around her babies and very calm and relaxed about people handling her and her kittens. My friends have kept two of the kittens. a white female with black spots named Moo-cow and a black and white tucksito male named Voltron, but since he was my favorite, I still call him Big-fuzz, cause he was the largest and fuzziest of the litter. The other two, including Mama-cat are up for adoption at One of them has already been adopted, but I just hope Mama-cat finds a good forever home because I know the other kitten will be picked up soon. Everybodies been spayed and up-to-date with all their shots. It was a good outcome.

  26. rheather says

    My oldest cat-17 this year- was a feral kitten from a colony. His mom brought him and his 3 brothers up closer to the food at 4 weeks and we grabbed them then. It was young but otherwise they’d have been lots older before they could have been caught. He and his brothers were always shy to strangers but not to me. So I suspect shyness is more the luck of the draw.

    And I’ve used the string-on-a-crate for cats and a possum. (It crept into the house from a hole under the bathtub and would come out at night to eat cat food. There’s nothing as exciting as dogs barking at a possum in the house in the middle of the night.) For the possum I made a trail of cat food and just had to wait for it to crunch up one piece, then another, for five pieces. When I shut the crate door it’s tail wasn’t all the way in so I had to tuck it in too. Luckily, possums aren’t swift in any way so it wasn’t a problem. Then just back outside and blocking the way in.

    Good luck with the kittens and I’m glad Sushi is happy. But it does hurt anyway.

  27. Leda says

    After a lifetime of allergies and asthma, I have found a doctor near me who practices the NAET method of allergy elimination. The doctor who started this method of treatment is Dr. Devi S. Nambudripad. It combines acupuncture with chiropractic methods and sounds like voodoo but it honestly works! Good luck with your venture. If anyone can do this, you can!

  28. Laura Horseman says

    I am so sorry for you about Sushi! I am glad that she is so happy. I also am allergic to cats (have 4) and dogs (have 2). Thankfully, it is tolerable. I was recently talking to a woman with 4 kids. Her kids love dogs but 1 of them is allergic so they can’t have one. I would have hated that sibling as a child. Aren’t you glad it is you and not Jim or someone else in your house?

    Good luck with the babies and mama. You will figure out what is best for everyone – like you always do!

  29. D says

    I always felt bad for people with allergies to animals. I also knew that allergies could develop over time. I grew up with cats; there was always at least one in the house. So, after my last cat passed, I waited a couple of months then started visiting local shelters. I went first to a private cat-only rescue. It was clean and the cats were happy, but when I left, I was really stuffed up…almost couldn’t breath. Next I went to a newer facility. Same thing. I realized then that I have developed an allergy to cats. It truly makes me sad, because I love cats. Like you, Trisha, I have a small farm in a rural area, and I like to have indoor/outdoor cats here. Unlike you, I don’t have great barns (run-in sheds for the horses and sheep), so I wanted cats that could come in my house and use cat doors to go out and do rodent maintenance as they pleased…but I didn’t want to adopt truly feral cats, as the run-in sheds aren’t as inviting for them. I finally adopted two wonderful adult cats, both from rescues that were ok with my indoor/outdoor situation. My biggest compromise? I now shut the door at night and don’t let the cats into my bedroom. It makes me sad, because my last cat used to curl beneath my covers and purr me a lullaby each night as I went to sleep. I miss sleeping with cats. But at least I’ve found I can HAVE cats here! So – I empathize with your current quandary! Something will work out for you…best wishes…

  30. Trisha says

    Thanks D! We’re super excited about the new website too! We’ll officially announce it next week, did a ‘soft’ launch today, pretty exciting at the office after working on it for almost a year. And I’m so glad you can have your cats in the house, that’s great. I’m doing super well…. the kittens in the barn have been heaven sent. I sit and watch them every evening (lured all in the dog crate at one time for kitten food, very happy about that!). So the universe is taking care of me; I miss Sushi, but now I have 5 kittens and 1 cat to think about, but no one in the house to make my allergies more than I can tolerate.

  31. Jeanne says

    My sweet cat Lizzie was a problem with my new, wonderful husband: he was undoubtedly, unequivocally allergic to her. With more tears than I had shed in a long, long time, and a very broken heart I gave her care and TLC to a friend. I never gave away her love, and when she passed some years later she had been loved and cared for in her last years by the best person possible.

    I understand. Sometimes the best for your mutual lives hurts more than you can possibly imagine.

    Lucky Sushi. Two homes who loved her more that any little kitty could every hope for.

    thinking of you, jeanne

  32. Wendy W says

    I know this is off topic, but I wonder if you would consider doing a post on heat-related issues? I live with a very hairy black dog (not the best wardrobe choice for Houston) and she’s feeling the heat more than usual this summer. I would like to know if anyone has had good results with any of the canine cooling vests. Thanks!

  33. Barb says

    I am continually amazed at how much you do for your animals. I salute you!

    I too am allergic to dogs and have had up to 4 (high shedding) dogs at a time in the house. What really helped me was the medicine Accolate, which stops the chemical reaction of the allergy before it starts. Most medication treat the symptoms, but Accolate actually treats the reaction. I have had to quit taking Accolate because of pregnancy and breastfeeding, but I can hardly wait to get back on it. I never have a runny or stuffed nose, itchy eyes, or scratchy skin when I’m on it. I still break out in hives now and again, but I am hyper diligent about washing my hands, not re-wearing clothes and keeping furniture clean (either with covers or with the type of material it is made of, ie leather.)

  34. Trisha says

    Barb: Thank you for your kudos, much appreciated. And for your comment about Accolate, sounds worth checking out. For now, cross your paws for me. I’m all about capturing the kittens now, they are definitely ready, probably about 5 weeks, eating solid food I leave for them. I almost had 2 in the dog crate this morning, but people came by on the road on the other side of the barn and spooked them. Drat! I’ll try again tonight when they come out again.

    Wendy: I wish I could tell you I’ve had experience with cooling vests but I haven’t tried them or heard much about them. I can tell you one thing that MAY be helpful: I’ve tried the cooling scarfs you put around your neck, and they are incredibly helpful. The cool on the back of your neck really helped me keep my internal temperature down. BUT, I also found that I developed a neck ache after using it for very long so I stopped using them. This may not be applicable to other people, much less dogs, primarily because I have a messed up neck from a car accident long ago (hit from behind at 40 mph when at a full stop and no neck guard, this was before they were mandated in trucks). No worries about it now, I manage it just fine, but it is a little quirky, so maybe the cold was too much for it. If I used them again I’d use them for brief periods of time, not for over an hour like I used to… Anyone else ever tried them?

  35. Alexandra says

    I was really touched by your story about Sushi. I am currently struggling with what to do about my cat. I’ve had her for 13 years, and she’s in good health. However… when I got her, I was a single woman living by myself in an apartment. Over the past 13 years I’ve accumulated a husband and three dogs. Kitty is clearly miserable with this living arrangement, and the third dog seems to have put her over the edge. I think it would be better for her if I could find her a new home, but I am just at a loss for how to ensure that she goes somewhere safe and loving.

  36. says

    Sushi can have daily visits so it seems like a good plan and you can breathe better. I am with Dane Co Friends of Ferals. We are working with Trisha on TNR for mama and kittens. They are small enough that we are hopeful they can be tamed. Anyone in the Madison area who has barn cats, we can also help you with trapping and low cost spay/neuter. Please email or check our website Another low cost fix place is Dane Co Humane Society and Spay me clinic Anyone wanting barn mousers – we got them fixed and vaxed and ready to mouse for you for only $10! Please email Diane at

    Want your cat to have the best of both the indoors and outdoors. We have a cat who was not happy indoors but we wanted him safe in our back yard. So we devised a cat fence to go over our existing fence. With various modifications, it keeps Vinny in. You can visit my do it yourself cat fence website – Materials can be obtained for about $150-200 at your local hardware store.

    Note to Alexandra – try a pheromone collar on your cat or a feliway plug in or maybe even kitty Prozac to calm her down. As much as I hate to say it, maybe the third dog has to go. The cat was there first, so it would be more fair to rehome the last dog vs. the first cat.

  37. Alexandra says

    Thanks for the advice about pheromones, I will look into it. That said, none of the dogs are going.

  38. Trisha says

    To BB: Your comment is why many of my colleagues never share any of their own stories with the public. I will just say this: Do you define “exchanging pets fairly frequently” as making rare, carefully considered and sometimes heart-breaking decisions to place individual animals (ie, my cat Sushi of eleven years last month, Hope the Border collie puppy who did not get along with Willie two years ago) in homes in which they will be significantly happier? Then yes, being an “animal expert” means understanding that it’s not about you, it’s about the animal, and one’s responsibility to do all you can to ensure they are in the best environment possible. Regrettably, many non-experts don’t understand that, and force their pets to live miserable lives in environments in which they will never be happy. All of us ‘experts’ have seen it happen multiple times, and it’s a very sad thing to see.

  39. BB says

    By your own standards then you kept Sushi in a situation in which she was miserable for eleven years, making you surely no better than the owners of which you speak. I’m not saying there are not times when an animal is better off in a new home, but an eleven year old cat?

  40. Trisha says

    Ah BB, this seems to be an issue of great difficulty for you. I’m not sure than any answer I provide will soothe you, but no, Sushi wasn’t miserable for 11 years. It was only recently that my allergies got so bad that we couldn’t cuddle. For a period of time I worked very hard trying to find a medical solution, and when I couldn’t I began looking for the perfect home for her.

    So no, dear heart, although I’ve done many things in my life for which I’d love to go back and revise, how I’ve handled Sushi’s life is not one of them.

  41. Jenny Haskins says

    Here in Australia at any rate, there is a difference between ‘stray’ cats — those that look like ordinary domestic cats, both in size and colouring, and “Feral Cats” large things about the size of a fox terrier.

    The ones we had hanging around our place when we lived in Northern Westerna Australia were Tabbies. But I gather the Eastern varieties are balck — different selection pressures probably.

    Vicious things that would kill and ordinary moggy with no compunction.

    I HAVE heard tell of people who have trapped them as babies and managed to ‘tame’ them — but they are definitely reversions to the wild cat from which the domestic cat was developed. I suspect they probably belong in a zoo — definitey not as a household pet. Think wild foxes as opposed to Belyaev’s foxes :-)

  42. Denyel says

    We have a mommma cat in our back yard that had kittens about 6 weeks ago. Well they all went to there FOREVER homes yesterday. They were all eating hard food and they were all litter trained so we figured they were ready to go and already had homes lined up for all 3. Momma cats now outside walking around meowing looking for her babies. It just breaks my heart hearing her crying out for her kittens. We have a really bad storm coming, the “frankenstorm” as they are calling it, and since they lived outside I wanted them to be inside for there safety because of the storm. Did we take them away from her too soon this time? Can we do anything special that might help her? She doenst really let anyone touch her and hasnt since shes been around. I took her some treats out this morning like I do every morning and she seems to have no interest in them. Shes making me feel really bad for what I did. : ( Will she get better in a few days? Help!! Its breaking my heart to see her like this!!

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