Sid is a flame point Siamese who was abandoned as a kitten. While technically not a feral, he does have some feral tendencies that have made working with him tricky.
His foster mom, Sue Daury of Siamese Rescue, has managed to make a lot of headway with him — he’s lost much of his fear and actually shows her affection now.
But Daury still can’t get him into a carrier. She has a second cat — a truly feral one — whom she “also cannot corral,” she says. “He had his shots when neutered, but I caught him in my feral room with a Havahart trap [and] he needs shots again.” She may have to “resort to the mobile vet” for both boys, “but even that will be trauma.”
The Fear Factor
Cat carriers have come a long way since the days of your standard vet-issued cardboard carrier with airholes. These, as some of you may remember, had cardboard handles and rounded flaps or “ears” that you tucked into their respective slots on top — not exactly designed with a cat’s comfort in mind.
They weren’t all that secure, either, especially if a big, strong cat pushed her head against the top, causing the flaps to come undone. I still have vivid memories of driving with one hand while trying to hold down Alex, my mom’s Maine coon, who was halfway out of the carrier.
Thankfully, those cardboard carriers seem to have disappeared. But for cats like Sid and his feral colleague, any carrier is frightening because it feels like a trap (the odds are good that the cat hasn’t forgotten how you caught him in the first place).
Feral or abused cats aren’t big on trusting. Their interactions with humans have either been negative or nonexistent, and neither makes for a feline who’s carrier-compliant.
“Many cats have only bad associations with that horrible plastic and metal torture device humans call a cat carrier,” writes Jennifer Warner Jacobsen. “Trying to get an unwilling cat into a cat carrier sometimes feels like you need to be a reverse Houdini, or perhaps wear full-body armor.”
Stealth is the name of the game. Have the carrier close at hand but not so obvious that your cat draws her own conclusions and pulls a vanishing act.
And move quickly. I favor the get-’em-while-they’re-sleeping move. That way, you have a few seconds of lead time. Use it. Once your cat wakes up, you’ll have to battle the dust bunnies under the bed to find her.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that feral or poorly socialized cats do not want you to pick them up.
So here are some vital pointers to keep in mind:
- Scruffing is generally not a good idea, unless you’re in “a situation whereby you need to restrain a cat quickly because of adverse circumstances,” cautions cat behaviorist Anita Kelsey. “For an adult cat, the action of a human scruffing is frightening and puts the cat into an un-relaxed and guarded state.”
- Use thick work gloves to avoid bites and scratches.
- A second person can be a godsend when you’re dealing with a frightened cat, as I discovered when the feral I was fostering went ballistic. Another volunteer came over to help me. We used a very large carrier/crate because getting her into that was easier and safer than trying to cram her into a regular cat-sized one.
Here are a few more tips for making a cat carrier a nonthreatening place:
Working It Out
It is possible to get a cat comfortable with her carrier. “Rather than forcing your cat into the carrier when it’s time to leave the house, teach her to enjoy spending time in her crate,” suggests Mikkel Becker. “This will make it easier to get her into the crate and into the car.”
Set up the carrier/crate in her room. Place her food and water bowls outside it. “As she grows more relaxed around the crate,” Becker continues, “move her food bowl inside the crate, pushing it farther back at each meal until she’s eating entirely inside the crate.”
Add a soft blanket, some treats and a favorite toy or two to make things homey. After a while, you should be able to close the door for short periods while she’s in there.
Associations are important for cats. This way, you will have made “that horrible plastic and metal torture device” a place in which she feels safe.