Today was a milestone in the lives of three timid little tabby cats who made the reluctant transition from the Colville Valley Animal Sanctuary, where they and their four siblings have been sheltered for the last four weeks, to their new barn home. These three little cats are part of the Sanctuary’s Barn Cat Program–a program designed to find permanent country homes for feral and semi-feral cats that have had difficulty coming around and that need, shall we say, a little space.
I had been thinking about adopting a few barn cats for quite some time. Initially I had misgivings about taking on the responsibility of additional animals, but after talking at length with the Sanctuary’s staff, it all seemed quite do-able and very much a “win-win” situation: I would provide a safe and comfortable place for them to live together with plenty of food and water, and they would work their little fannies off keeping my barn and property rodent-free.
I had visited the shelter previously to look at the barn cats available for adoption, and it was a bit overwhelming. There were so many of them, all needing good country homes. There were wild, saucer-eyed kitties that had never had anything in the way of human contact (and that given the choice would just as soon keep it that way). There were hissers and swatters that you just knew would make fearless hunters. There were very timid, shy kitties huddled tightly together in a corner trying hard to disappear. There were kitties that were cautious but calm and even curious, and that given sufficient time and patience would become friendly and trusting. I ended up choosing three kitties on the more “social” end of the spectrum. My dog, who likes cats and who could use a little company, seconded that choice.
I had prepared for the kitties’ arrival by making them a clean, cozy place in the barn. This place will be all they know for the next four to six weeks, so I wanted to make it as comfortable and welcoming as possible. You see, it takes some doing to convince a cat–particularly one that’s used to being on his own–that this really is home. So in order to ensure a safe and successful transition, these cats will be kept confined to the inside of the barn for at least four weeks. At the end of that time, they will have become bonded to their new environment and can be allowed outdoors to hunt and play and do all the other things barn cats do.
These particular cats are lucky because my barn is fully enclosed. So instead of being cooped up in a portable walk-in pen that the Sanctuary ordinarily sets up in new barn homes, these kitties will get free run of the place. I thought the hay loft (which is actually more like a second story) would make an especially nice place for them, so my carpenter friend built a carpeted ramp leading from the main floor up to the loft through a cut-out in the ceiling. Up there in the loft, there’s a huge 4×8 opening in the wall which is covered with chicken wire and which provides a sweeping, panoramic view of the pasture and garden below. Since cats like high places, I covered a piece of plywood with carpet and laid it across a couple of sawhorses to make an elevated window seat. A couple of laundry baskets filled with towels and three wooden apple boxes turned on their sides made nifty little sleeping nooks.
With much awaited anticipation, I picked up my kitties from the Sanctuary this afternoon. Normally, one of the Sanctuary’s super-dedicated cat team leaders would have brought them out and assisted with the set-up, but because Pam had already been out to see the barn, and because there was no need for enclosures, I felt comfortable getting the kitties situated on my own.
Lorraine warned me that the kitties would probably cower in their open carriers for a while until they got used to their new surroundings. Even though I was prepared for that to happen, I was a little disappointed that they didn’t immediately go scampering up the ramp to the place I had prepared for them. I decided to leave them alone on the ground floor of the barn, and in the meantime went up to the hay loft and began filling their bowls with food and water. A few minutes later, I heard a sound. When I turned around, a curious little head popped up through the cut-out in the floor! The head immediately disappeared, then popped back up again a few seconds later. Progress!
I left the cats alone in the barn, then went back a while later to check on them. All three kitties had ventured out of their carriers and were hiding behind a sheet of plywood that was leaning against a wall. They are all quite visibly frightened, but there is one in particular that seems to want to come out–but that is still struggling with the idea. She makes good eye contact, and seems to enjoy being talked to softly–at one point closing her eyes sleepily as though she was being soothed by my voice.
It’s dusk now, and nobody has moved from behind the plywood. I’ve put some food and water on the ground floor of the barn, as well as a couple of laundry baskets filled with towels and fleece blankets. With any luck, they’ll sleep well tonight.
To be continued…