Tuesday, January 25, 2011

The Life of Cat Foster Parents: Art/Dodge

Last December, just before Christmas, Andrew and I became "foster" people to a little gray kitty named Art. He'd been through a house fire, and firefighters cleaning up afterward found him--the sole survivor out of more than 20 cats in this one home. He'd been raised in a hoarding environment. Because of the trauma, he was understandably skittish. But another Humane Society volunteer decided to save him from death in an animal control shelter. Unfortunately, his new foster home went through some upheavals, and the family couldn't keep fosters anymore. He was shuttled to a temporary foster home, then when we signed up for fostering, noting we were open to helping any and all types of cats, he was the first cat we got.

We welcomed Art with all our love and patience. Except for his name. We know a guy named Art; it just didn't seem right to call this shy little kitten with great big green eyes "Art." The name Artful Dodger came to me, straight from Oliver Twist. This little guy dodged a house fire, and come to find out, he likes to filch pens or paperclips if you set them on the floor next to you. We call him "Dodge" for short.

Andrew and I hung out in the guest bedroom with Dodge almost every night for four weeks. We wanted him to get used to our house, and get used to us, before we introduced him to our three other cats. At first he threatened to swat when we held our hands for him to sniff, but he progressed to sniffing our hands and backing away slowly. If I touched him when his head was turned, he'd dart away. He does not like human touch. This has never changed the whole time we've had him. We never let him out of the guest bedroom, afraid we'd never be able to corral him to move him or take him to PetSmart for adoptions. And people typically don't adopt cats they can't even pet, let alone cats who run away from them.

Twice he bit me hard enough to draw bright pearls of blood. The first time was when I picked him up from the temporary foster home. I naively decided to let him out of the cage on our car ride home. Our cat Molly loves car rides. But Dodge crawled under my seat and huddled on the floorboard in the back of my two-door Ford Escort. When I reached around to get him out and back in his cage, he felt threatened--he was cornered--and bit my hand just below my right thumb. I adjusted my tactic and eventually got him by the scruff of the neck and placed him into the carrier.

The second time was last week. I thought I'd try picking him up by the scruff of the neck again. Cats go limp when they're carried this way. It's an instinct they have from the time they're kittens and their mom transports them to new nesting places. I chased him in circles around his little guest room. I probably should have given up earlier, but I'm stubborn. Finally, I cornered him on top of the dresser and grabbed the scruff of his neck. It didn't work. He flailed around and bit my left hand, just below the thumb. I also got some nasty scratches from that attempt.

"You haz string on that camra"
I don't blame Dodge. Cats need to be imprinted with positive human touch from the time they're born until they're a couple months old. If they don't receive this imprint, they won't learn to be affectionate, trusting cats. Dodge was traumatized, shy, and basically feral from growing up in the hoarding situation and then surviving a fire. When I emailed one of the volunteer coordinators at the Humane Society, she found a sanctuary in Florida (http://caboodleranch.com/Index.html) that will take Dodge and let him live out his days with other cats and plenty of food, water, beds, and string to play with. We told him yesterday evening that he will get to retire early to Florida. He seems happy.

I'll miss his antics. I'll never forget the first time I dangled a shoestring in front of him and he came out of his hiding place to play with me. If he followed the string up and saw my hand, his eyes got big and he shrunk back a little. But as soon as I twitched the string again, he forgot about the hand and kept on playing. Tonight, we hand him off again, and he'll be on his way to FLA. I hope he can finally thrive there.

At the same time, we'll be getting a brand new foster kitty. More about that later...

Meanwhile, enjoy this cute video of Dodge flirting with us.

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