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The Tomato Nation advice column addresses your questions on etiquette, grammar, romance, and pet misbehavior. Ask The Readers about books or fashion today!

Home » The Vine

The Vine: February 17, 2010

Submitted by on February 17, 2010 – 10:15 AM55 Comments

Hi Sars,

So my mom was at our city’s animal services department getting licenses for her two cats, when a guy comes up teary-eyed, saying he needs to give up his two cats, as neither he nor his elderly mother can take care of them.

When my mother heard that they’d be euthanized that day if he left them there, she decided to adopt them on the spot, thinking that she might be able to find a home for them, or gradually get her cats accustomed to them and keep them herself. She just couldn’t stand the idea of these two cats dying. They are gorgeous, healthy-seeming cats. One is a two-year-old female. The other is her kitten, a male, who is eight months old. Neither are fixed.

So my mom brings them home and sets them up in her room, with food, water, litter and things to play with. The cats immediately hide. We figured that they would calm down a bit once they got used to the new environment, but it’s been over a week and a half, and it’s only gotten worse.They now basically live in my mother’s armoire, cringing in fear when you approach to talk to them, pet them or try to play with them. As far as we know, they only come out to eat and use the litter box, and never when anyone’s in the room.

Not having ever been exposed to a situation where adult cats are brought into a new home, I’m not sure what’s causing this behaviour, whether it’s normal, and whether there is any chance the situation will improve.

Complicating matters is my mom’s seven-year-old male cat, who despite having two wonky hind legs is extremely dominant and aggressive. Every once in awhile, he’ll sit on the other side of the bedroom door and hiss.

Given the way these cats came into my mom’s life, we don’t know much about their past. Their behaviour certainly seems consistent with abuse or some other traumatic event, but there are no outward signs of injuries or neglect. In fact, they seem to be in the peak of health (although a vet visit, shots and spaying and neutering are definitely going to have to happen soon).

When I’m at my mom’s house, it’s unbelievably sad to know that there are these terrified creatures, leading this isolated, Flowers In The Attic-style existence in the other room. I’d like to help my mom socialize them, but I’m not sure what can be done. Any suggestions from you or your more cat-savvy readers would be most appreciated.

Hello? Kitty?

Dear Kitty,

For the record, the cats should probably have gone to the vet first, before your mom brought them home. Not that the guy wasn’t telling the truth, but if his aging mother can’t care for the cats, it’s not likely she arranged for their shots — and given how poorly habituated to humans they sound, it’s possible that the story is horseshit and he trapped them under a porch and brought them in feral.

You can’t know, is the point, so I wouldn’t wait around for them to drop their guards. Get into battle gear, catch them, and bring them in for full work-ups as soon as possible.

Once you get them to the vet, s/he will have some insight for you; vets see all different kinds of cats from all different situations, and can give you a better read on whether these cats have in fact lived with people before. Some cats will resist any attempts at befriendment or ass-kissing by prolonging the hiding period (see: the Hobe), but even Orange Crank will come out after a day or two if he hears words that rhyme with “treats,” so ten days suggests to me that either they have no idea how to behave around you, or the other cat is freaking them out and needs to be kept even further away, if that’s possible.

Sometimes you just have to leave them be until they decide it’s time to come out, but again, even a week seems like too long for a socialized animal.Keep in mind too that hiding can indicate a go-to-ground response to illness, which is all the more reason to glove up and get them to a vet pronto.

If they are feral, the vet can advise your mom on strategies for acclimating them, but that process can take months (and involve serious biting) — and it may never take. Not all cats want people (see: Hobey) (heh), so I urge you both not to take it personally, and to think about the possibility that, while the cats might live with your mom, they may not be able to function as pets in the traditional, non-adversarial sense.

Hi Sars,

I have an ethical/manners question that I need some advice on.I graduated from law school in May 2007.Recently when doing a thorough apartment cleaning, I found an opened envelope with a “Congratulations!” card from my great-aunt, which included a $50 check.Obviously, I never cashed it.I don’t remember whether I sent her a thank-you note.

Growing up, my brothers and I were sucky thank-you-note writers.I don’t ever remember my parents forcing us to do them, and I’m pretty embarrassed to admit that I rarely remember to follow the right protocol in these situations.However, over the past few years I’ve been trying harder, and I have a faint recollection of writing her a note a long time ago.No idea if it was a thank you or just saying hello, no idea if it actually happened.

So.I don’t know what the best thing to do is — I don’t feel comfortable writing her a note simply saying “can’t remember if I already thanked you — if not, thanks so much, etc.” because I never cashed the check.I don’t think I can still cash the check at this point, and I’m okay with that — as nice as the $50 would be, I fully recognize that I should have acted faster (and been gracious enough to thank her for it) if I wanted the money.I just don’t want to write a note that will come across as me basically asking her to send me a new one.

How do I gracefully thank her for a generous gift that I never took advantage of, without sounding like I’m demanding more?

Thanks (see — I’m learning!),

Raised by Wolves

Dear Wolf,

Why would it come across as asking for a new one?”Dear Auntie: Recently, I ran across the lovely card you sent upon my graduation. I couldn’t remember if I’d mentioned it to you or not, but in case I haven’t already, I wanted to thank you for remembering me.Here’s some news about what I’m up to, blah blah.Gracious closing, Wolf.”

If she sends another check, either send it back, or donate it to charity, but in the great-aunt’s position, I wouldn’t assume that it was a request for a replacement check. Don’t overthink it.

Hi, Sars —

Can you tell me when this awful habit of hyphenating ages began and why on earth it has been allowed to continue?

I don’t mean “the five-year-old twins,” which is perfectly correct.I’m talking about when ABC used the caption “This is Kate when she was ten-years-old” in their enhanced (a.k.a. “Pop-Up Video”) version of last season’s Lost finale, and when a piece on today described the fate of a child prostitute “who was ten-years-old at the time.”

I know I shouldn’t be surprised, but I am.It really grates on me in a new and different way — I guess I’m not inured to it yet like I am to the whole it’s/its deal, or even lose/loose (not that those don’t still bug).

I also know you can’t really do anything about it.I guess I’m just writing to see if I’m the only one who’s noticed (and to blow off a little steam in the process).


Dear Nora,

I hadn’t really noticed that overcorrection, but I suspect that’s exactly what it is.You frequently hear nails-on-a-chalkboard phrasings like “between he and I” or “myself and Bob jammed a pick in Sarah’s ear,” which proceed directly from the years grown-ups spent hammering on the speakers as children to start sentences with the correct subjective pronouns.

Unfortunately, there’s often no follow-up on when the subjective pronoun is not called for, so you get overcorrections like that.The hyphenation issue reads the same way to me: whoever writes the chyrons has heard pedants like myself crabbing about the lack of hyphens enough times that s/he figures, well, I’ll just hyphenate everything and damn the torpedoes.

The hyphenation mistake I hate the most is the partial: “ten year-old.”I’d rather see it bunged up completely one way or the other than half-bunged like that. I don’t know why.

(Confused by hyphens? This vintage Vine might help.)




  • Ashley says:

    “The hyphenation mistake I hate the most is the partial: “ten year-old.” I’d rather see it bunged up completely one way or the other than half-bunged like that. I don’t know why.”

    I know why *I* hate it, which is that that instance actually changes the meaning of the sentence. “I have ten year old dogs” is not the same as “I have ten year-old dogs.” (Never mind that the first would probably be less confusingly phrased as “my dogs are ten years old” anyway.)

  • RJ says:

    @ Hello? Kitty? – Sars is SO RIGHT – you really need to get them to a vet ASAP. Not because I think anything is seriously wrong, but I learned the hard way (after finding a sweet little kitten in my building’s backyard) that that can be how you bring fleas/worms in the house. It wasn’t the end of the world, but it was a pain.

    As Sars said, some cats are not people-centric. Also, your mom’s cat’s behavior is normal – when I adopted Cat #3, there was a lot of hissing and running and slapping, and then when Cat #3 realized that neither of my other two cats were interested in beating the crap out of him, he went out of his way to be friends.

    Your mom has provided food and litter, they likely have plenty of space in her room, and if they’re choosing to live in the armoire, that’s where they feel safe right now. I’d say, give it time. Try to spend some time every day just sitting with them, maybe reading (not to them, necessarily :)), offering treats, talking to them (it’s supposed to be soothing, from what I hear). And the vet may be able to provide some insight. If they’re sick, that could be part of it.

    I hope it goes well with you!!!!

  • LaSalleUGirl says:

    “myself and Bob jammed a pick in Sarah’s ear”

    Is it wrong that I can’t stop laughing about this example?

    @Kitty: I second Sars’ suggestion to get the cats to the vet, just in case they have something contagious that could be passed to your mom’s original cats. My mom used to work for a vet, and we did our share of (re)socializing feral/abused cats, including one formerly abused kitty who mostly settled down, except for some very specific triggers that were probably linked to the abuse. Ten days of cowering doesn’t sound unreasonable for that kind of situation, but get a vet’s advice on whether there’s something more going on and whether there’s anything else you can do to help. Poor kitties!

  • Amy says:

    Sars is wise, as always. Absolutely take the cat to the vet.

    I once took in a cat whose owner was giving the cat up because she was pregnant, and due to give birth. She loved her cat, and it killed her to have to give it up, but her mother-in-law was convinced that the cat would kill the baby. The cat never did get to the point where she would let me touch her, not even after a couple weeks, and eventually I had to ask the previous owner what she thought that I should do about the cat.

    The good news is that the previous owner took back the cat, the cat caught a mouse, which brought favor from mother-in-law, and last I knew, everyone was happy, cat included.

    Other than Sars’s previously stated advice to seeking assistance from a vet, I’ve got nothing, other than a comment that cats resisting a new home may be missing their old one or feeling cramped, and it may take a role reversal (putting the original cats as flowers in the attic) for a day or two to help sort things out, and get the cats out of their Oz (not wizard of) mentality.

    Space matters with some cats, so being shut in a room could be part of the problem. A couple of years ago, I moved from an apartment in one city to a significantly smaller one in another, and one of my cats really had a hard time adjusting. He hid a lot, didn’t play. We have since moved into a house that is about twice the size of our apartment, and everyone is much happier.

  • L says:

    Wolf – just pointing out that if you don ´t say in the thank you note that you never cashed it, she won ´t think to send another one…

  • La BellaDonna says:

    “I don’t know why.”

    Sars, I believe it is because your soul is pure. (Ditto, Nora – and thanks, a NEW punctuation mutilation over which I can now excrutiate.)

    @Hello Kitty: I would suggest that your mother try, among other things, FeliWay/FeliWay diffuser (at; it’s a hormone (unscented) that plugs into an outlet. I’d recommend two: one in the room where the panicky new cats are living, and one in the room next to it where your dominant male is hissing.

    Talk to your vet; if your male is being very territorial, sometimes a short course of (female) hormones will reduce that behaviour, perhaps long enough to break the behaviour. In my experience (which is extensive, although amateur), a week and a half is SOON to expect to be able to pet or play with them. I’d actually recommend sitting in the room ON THE FLOOR every day, maybe reading aloud in a quiet voice (yes, seriously – it’ll get them used to you). These are cats that may well have never been exposed to humans other than Mom and Son – that will also make them scared; they may turn out to be pets, or not. They may turn out to be pets in a couple of years – I adopted one of the few “don’t care about YOU, human” cats I’ve ever had, and I keep looking down and finding him stuck under my arm, curled up on my chest … two years later.

    Let the cats get to know you; the less you pursue them, the likelier they are to approach you. Oh, and I’m dead serious here: leave a dirty (sweaty kind of dirty) T-shirt of yours, and a sweaty T-shirt of your Mom’s, in the New Cat Hideout – possibly with some dirty socks. It will get them used to your scent when you’re not there. Keep us apprised, we’re rooting for you all.

    @Wolfie: You could always write your aunt a note saying you’d come across the card again recently, and it gave you pleasure to remember her thinking of you, and you hope your thinking of her and writing does the same. No harm there.

  • Lauren says:

    Regarding the kitties, if they turn out to be healthy and your mom decides to keep them for a while longer, I’ve learned from reading Bitchypoo ( – that lady knows from cats) for many years that separating scaredy cats from each other often works wonders to socialize them. I guess sometimes they feed off each others’ fear and it becomes an vicious, although sad and adorable, cycle. You might try putting them in separate rooms for a few days, if you have another room available.

  • mcm says:

    Nora – what really gets my goat is people who hyphenate verbs as if they were nouns. You leave a sign-up sheet; people sign up on it. I feel like I constantly see things like, “Tennis lessons start next week! Members can sign-up in the locker room!” Makes me CRAZY.

  • Amy says:

    Re: Kitty?

    I’ve worked for a few different cat shelters, including ones that specialize in working with feral kittens and I think that this situation is probably totally workable provided that you are willing to put in the time. First of all, absolutely get them to a vet. Get them spayed/neutered and more importantly, get them shots and tested for rabies, Feline Leukemia, and FIV. I’d also recommend finding the nearest rescue group that specializes in feral cats for some hands on advice. Even if these guys are not feral at all, that’s how they are acting, and that’s how you need to treat them.

    After making sure the cats are clean, health-wise, generally, the recommended approach to forcibly socializing scared/feral cats is basically just that, forcibe socialization. Put on some clothing that will protect you from angry cats (long sleeves, long pants) and then catch them in an old towel. Wrap them up in the towel as tightly as possible, just letting their head stick out, and then just sit them, still wrapped up, on your lap, petting them gently and talking to them. It might take a few hours a day for a few weeks to get them to come around, but eventually they will figure out that you aren’t hurting them and that it is actually a pleasant experience. The more they relax, the more of them you let out of the towel to pet. The whole thing seems like it may traumatize them more, but it really won’t and since they haven’t come out on their own yet, after such a long time, this is the only way.

    The kitten will come around first but the adult will too eventually, provided that she is really was in a home before. Also, find the nastiest smelling wet food (generally friskies or even real anchovies if you can handle it) that you can find and start feeding them that in addition to whatever dry food you are leaving out. Even the angriest feral kitty can’t resist it and it will be a good way to start luring them out on your own.

    Good luck!

  • Pam says:

    Sars: love the use of “nails-on-a-chalkboard”, “grown-ups”, “follow-up”, “half-bunged” here. Intentional?

  • lizgwiz says:

    I’ve raised cats from kittenhood who still panic and hide when anyone who isn’t ME comes into their presence. I wouldn’t assume that 10 days is enough for a true scaredy-cat to come to terms with a change in situation.

    If they ARE truly feral, then the best way to tame them is to inflict your presence (hee) on them as much as possible. Not in an aggressive way, necessarily, just be in the same space with them, talk a lot (in a calm voice), don’t make sudden movements. It doesn’t always work, but I’ve had good success with several litters of feral kittens that way.

  • AT says:

    @Kitty, Sars is right on and having worked at a shelter, these cats do indeed sound feral. If your vet doesn’t have a lot of ideas on how to deal with them I would try googling a group (locally or nationally) that does feline rescue or at least trap/neuter/release programs– they’ll have more hands-on
    experience with this and may have some ideas for living with your mom or elsewhere. Good luck

  • Sherry says:

    I asked a friend of mine who has a lot of experience working with rescue cats and feral spay/neuter what she thought about Kitty’s question. Here’s her response:

    “There’s a wide range of behavior to be seen in pet cats thrust into a new situation. I would make a point of sitting quietly in the room with a book for a couple hours a day; maybe have some treats at hand in case anyone comes out. Try luring them out with one of the wand toys. If nothing changes in the next 2-3 weeks, I might be more drastic and separate the cats, with one in a bathroom and the other in the bedroom and then work on getting them to trust. Feed them yummy wet food like mackerel or tuna or KFC torn into small bites by hand and pet them as they eat the good stuff. If this doesn’t work, I would think they might be semi-feral, but don’t assume that at first. Even cats that are pretty outgoing can take months to really relax and feel at home in a new setting. All bets are off if they can’t be picked up, though.”

    I’ve seen my friend with my cats, and she’s really good at getting even the shy ones to respond to her. (She’s the one I go to for all my cat care advice, too.) So I’d give her suggestions a shot.

  • EB says:

    Re Nora:

    Given that both of your examples of from television, it might be that the writers were from a braodcast journalism background. That was my major. We were trained to write ages with the hyphenation like that for ease of the person reading it off of a teleprompter or news script, even though it’s not grammatically correct . I could never fathom how it actually helped the reader, which is why I’ve always remembered that rule even though I haven’t been in that field in like 20 years. Yikes, I’m old.

  • Schlinkaboo says:

    For Kitty, I rescued two kittens living under a friend’s deck a year ago. One was clearly the alpha cat and wanted no part of the human with the soft voice and squishy food. The other didn’t mind, hey food is food, and a nice scratch behind the year wasn’t bad either, but always pulled back by the other as if he said “don’t trust the human.” We quarantined them in a small room for two+ months and was able to get the friendlier one to the vet and he passed with flying colors. The alpha cat was more troublesome — took two hours to get him in the carrier to go to the vet and when we got there he took a swipe at the tech. The vet said if the cat bites a human, they have to report it and a second bite attempt means euthanizing. It was clear the cat would never socialize to us, so as heart-wrenching as it was, we choose to euthanize.

    As it turned out the remaining cat, out from the strong arm of Alpha, is the snuggliest snuggle bug you’ll ever met. If we had continued with both, we might have lost both and everyone (humans and cats) would have been miserable. I guess what I’m saying is get them to the Vet and find out what’s going on, that’s what the professionals do, trust the techs.

  • MsC says:

    If Wolf just mentions coming across the *card* while cleaning, how it made her think of the aunt, and how she hopes she remembered to thank her at the time and if not she hopes her aunt will accept her thanks now and forgive the delay, all without ever mentioning -because why do you need to- the check and its status, I can’t see how it would come across as begging.

  • autiger23 says:

    I totally agree with Sars on getting the newbie cats to the vet and on the possibility of them being either unsocialized or partly feral. Having lived on a farm and growing up with farm cats, sometimes *under* socialized cats aren’t quite the same as unsocialized. It could just be they are super freaked about the new place and the new people when they only ever saw two people their whole lives before and lived outside.

    And don’t underestimate the level that a dominant cat will freak the hell out of another cat. The room they are in could very well smell like that cat if he marked in there at all and then they hear him growling on the other side of the door, too.

    I brought my two social, but scaredy cats into a situation with a roomie who had two very nice cats that wanted to play on the other side of my bedroom door. My (much bigger) cats were completely afraid of said cats and one of mine would hide every time the nice male cat put his paw under the door to play. For a *year*. This same cat (mine) would greet people and be petted when she knew them, she was just petrified of other animals.

    My point being a big part of it could be the dominant male freaking them out. Also, when there are two fearful cats, they sometimes feed off each other’s fear. If the momma is scared, she might be ‘telling’ her kitten to be scared, too. I’d separate the dominant male from that part of the house with a baby gate for a week just to see if that’s it. And *well* away so they can’t hear him growling at them either.

  • Lynne says:

    Hello Kitty, I once introduced a very nervous cat into a busy household that contained three adults and another cat. Upon arrival, she dove under my bed and cowered there for some time.

    First, I shut the door so there was only me and the cat in the room. Then I sat on the floor, cross-legged without moving for a very long time. Maybe an hour. This requires a LOT of patience. Eventually, she got curious and came out from under the bed, sniffing around. I let her nudge around me without moving much or reaching out to touch her. When I thought she was comfortable enough, I reached a hand out for her to sniff or rub up against. Eventually, she was comfortable enough to crawl over me so I let her. I had a few sessions like this with her and she eventually became kind of a lap cat. She wasn’t ever wildly social but I didn’t manage to make her feel at home.

  • Jen says:

    Kitty: One of my cats is terrible with change. She’s the youngest and the only girl cat, and she’s always been skittish…but after we moved into our house about 4 years ago she hid in a closet for (I swear) 6 months, only coming out to eat. And then randomly after about a year she became the most weirdly friendly cat of all time. I agree that you need to make sure there’s not a medical issue first, but just remember that all cat personalities are different. And some are more different than others.

  • CJB says:

    The age hyphenation thing is one of my peeves too. IIRC, the original poster for The 40-Year-Old Virgin was missing one — just ONE — of the hyphens, wasn’t it? Ah yes — here: If the person quoted in that Defamer post is correct, it was the studio randomly “compromising” by using one hyphen GGAAARRRHGHHGHGHRRHRHHLRHHRLRG.

    There’s also Two Weeks Notice. *Sideshow Bob-ian shudder*

  • Sarah D. Bunting says:

    @Pam: Heh, but nope! I think I just have a Germanoid writing style that leads me to cram a bunch of modifiers together in one hyphenated phrase.

    Edited because I responded to two different threads in one comment. Der.

  • Brigid says:

    My old lady cat has just in the past week or two started “playing with” (i.e. not running from in terror) our two year old (should that be two year-old lol!) cat that we got over 18 months ago. So, yeah, a week or two is nothing!

  • Erin W says:

    RE: Wolf

    This same thing happened to me when I was a kid; I lost a birthday card that had a check from my aunt and uncle in it. They eventually called my parents because they were worried that the check hadn’t ever appeared on their bank statement. I bring this up just to note that if your aunt, like my relatives, is a compulsive checkbook balancer, she does probably know that you never cashed it, and might be interested in getting that confirmed.

    But I agree that writing a casual note–to say hi, catch up, mention that you found the card, sorry about the check thing–is totally appropriate.

  • phineyj says:

    @Kitty, I’m not sure these two are feral either. One of my two rescue cats spent a lot of time hiding under the bed when we first got her and even when we’d eventually coaxed her out, would retreat there whenever there were fireworks/hoover/dustbin lorry-type happenings. She still does it now and again, but is otherwise fine. One of my dad’s cats hides under the duvet in response to almost everything…apparently even the doorbell ringing can send him there! Some cats are just much more scaredy than others and I imagine the kitten is copying the mother cat.

  • annabel says:

    I just had my tenth anniversary with my two kittens that I got from a local rescue society. They had been rescued from an over-populated, perhaps neglectful situation and had been in foster care about a month. I didn’t have another cat when I brought them home, but they spent a good couple of weeks under the bed (they had been to the vet, shots, spaying, etc. before I got them), only coming out to eat and litter when I wasn’t home. Eventually they started venturing out but it took ages before they would hop up on the couch and sit with me and let me pet them. Now they can be totally loving, but they are also fine with having nothing to do with me and they still don’t like other people; as soon as they hear a knock on the door they scoot into the hall closet and stay there. They are female littermates and totally bonded to each other and I had to face the fact a long time ago that they will always be more important to each other than I will be to either one of them. Still, I wouldn’t have missed the last ten years with them for anything.

  • meltina says:

    Hello Kitty,

    yes to separating the two cats. Together, they have each other to huddle with against the strange creatures (cats and humans) they have to deal with. Alone, they might realize they have to trust someone, which means they’ll at least open up to your mom, if no one else in the household.

    Honestly, they sound like former feral cats. Some ferals can be domesticated, but basically they attach to one person (which might have been the guy’s mother, and he might have taken over their care and found himself in the same situation as your mom is now in), and once that person is gone, they believe they have no other humans they can trust. It can take a long time for them to trust another human but it’s not impossible, albeit it will require a lot of patience. If your mom does not feel up to it, she could talk to feral rescue groups in her area. They can help her spay and neuter the kitties, and find them a feral colony in which they might live more peacefully.

    As for your dominant kitty, I think he might be acting extra dominant because the other pets are unneutered. He can smell the hormones, basically, and neutered or not, he knows that there are these extra smelly animals on his turf. Yes to feliway, and more importantly get them neutered and spayed immediately, it will calm them and your resident cats down a lot faster.

    Also, if the kitten is 8 months old, another reason to neuter/spay all intact animals involved is that in the wild, female cats can and do mate with relatives, and 8 months old is not too young for a male cat to be able to impregnate a female. Unless your mom wants to deal with a litter of kittens (who may or may not be prone to genetic defects, and thus hard to place in loving homes), she should have the two cats altered regardless of whether she does in the long run put in the effort to socialize them to her.

  • meltina says:

    Oops, I forgot to point out that my grey diva kitty was the product of a feral litter but was socialized as a baby and is totally people friendly… and her mother (who we met when we were greeted by our baby at the shelter) was also very friendly and loving. It was hard to believe she and her family were supposedly of feral ancestry. In fact we could not keep the grey diva in isolation when we got her even though we wanted to, and she’s always the one who approaches new people who visit first.

    On the other hand, my orange fluffball loverboy was very likely part of an oops litter that caused momma cat to be relinquished to a rescue group, but he was totally people shy for a long time, and can still be hit or miss with new people. He’ll hide, and then if he hears their voice for an hour or so and determines that the humans like them, he’ll duck out of his hiding spots and timidly come in the room and find a place from with to observe people from a safe distance. He’s more likely to pick one “mommy” figure (boy or girl) in a room and stick with that person. That is a huge improvement from his kittenhood, when he’d just hide under the bed when “strangers” came by, and just be AWOL until they left (and this is 3 years later). It also takes a while for him to get used to ANY changes (and if he’s freaked out by some change he says it with vomit, btw). His mom was the same way, I was told. His littermate was quite the opposite, funnily enough.

    This is to say that you might just be dealing not with feral kitties, but with genetically skittish personalities in those two cats.

  • Grainger says:

    Okay, hyphenating words is bad enough, but hyphenating ENTIRE POSTS is a bit much 8D

  • Helen says:

    Kitty: My favorite trick for be-friending feral/abandoned cats is to run all the dry biscuits through my hands before I put them in the dish. I figure it will get my smell all over the food which I know they are eating, and then they learn to associate my smell with the food. I have no scientifice evidence to prove it works, but it feels like it should.

    Good luck with them, and as Sars says, to the vets pronto.

  • Hope says:

    Has there been some medical breakthrough that I’m not aware of? As far as I know, the only way to test for rabies is after death–by physical examination of brain tissue. Awesome news if there is now a blood test…

  • Hope says:

    Schlinkaboo, where do you live that a second bite *attempt* requires killing the cat? I’d like to know so that I can make sure I don’t ever move there.

    Some jurisdictions require a six-month quarantine of an animal that bites someone if its vaccination status is unknown, but even that is arguably draconian since the CDC is happy with a ten-day quarantine period.

  • e says:

    @Hope: I think she meant “get them shots/tested for rabies/FIV/etc.” Or at least that’s how I took it – a sort of catch-all description of all the things pets get shots and tests for. I didn’t even catch it until you asked, but yeah, rabies is still only by brain tissue.

    Lauren beat me to both the Bitchypoo and “separate them from each other” recommendations. Dang it.

    And, I do medical transcription for a medical group that outsources about half of its work to India. The first time I EVER saw the “the patient is ten-years-old” was from the notes that are typed by India, and they are pretty consistent with it. They’ve used three or four different companies, and each company uses many, many different typists (one company claimed to have more than 200), and I see it in dang near every one of the notes. She is ten-years-old. He is following-up today. She is status-post surgery*. He will use 10 milligrams-a-day. Follow-up in three-weeks.

    I was auditing the work from India for a while, and I was required to email them all the corrections and suggestions, as well as doctor preferences. I’d mention the hyphen issue in every single email, and after sending emails five days a week for a 18 months, they STILL continued to hyphenate anything that would stand still long enough. (In fact, I’d frequently get replies to my daily reports, and in MANY of those replies they’d say “thank-you very much.” Argh.)

    Anyway, I’ve heard other transcriptionists say the same thing, about companies from India abusing hyphens. This is purely a guess on my part, but it occurred to me that it might be something peculiar to that culture – like how Russians sometimes have a problem remembering to use articles (a, the, an) in English, because they don’t have them in Russian (or so I’ve heard).

    I don’t know how they do the captioning for television stuff, but IF they’re using Indian captioners, and IF the hyphen issue is one that’s got a root in Indo-?? language patterns, then it COULD be that Americans are watching television/movies/whatever, seeing the hyphenation pattern on subtitles/captioning, etc, and then picking it up and using it themselves because “that’s how it’s supposed to be, I saw it on TV.” Just a theory, and a far fetched one at best, but for what it’s worth…

    *Some people do use “status-post” but most people I know drop the hyphen.

  • Sabine says:

    @Hello? Kitty? I once adopted a 3-year-old Maine Coon through an ad in the paper. He seemed perfectly friendly – his owners were unabashedly more interested in their new puppy. I took him home, and my apartment turned into a warzone.

    He bit me the first night and then vanished into the apartment. I never knew where he was until I came too close and the growling would start, or he’d reach out his giant paws and pound the hell out of me. I am against de-clawing but I was grateful he didn’t have claws. Dude could hit. This went on for two weeks.

    By the end of the two weeks I was at the end of my rope. I never knew whether it was safe to open a cupboard, pass near any given piece of furniture, etc. So it makes sense that I’d be a little bit afraid when he suddenly appeared and started walking toward me, right?

    I backed away from him until I ran up against the kitchen counter. He leaped at me, landing with a hard thump against my chest, gripped my shoulders with his giant clawless paws, pressed his face to my throat and purred. His desperate loneliness had won out over the abject terror of losing his Only Home.

    Just like that, he became the best cat I’ve ever known. He knew when I was sick, and when I was sad. He slept with me, purred in my ear, protected me from wanna-be suitors, etc etc.

    I haven’t read the other replies. I’m sure others have touched on FeliWay, separating the two, that sort of thing. I just wanted to throw out the idea that maybe 10 days isn’t so insanely long. And anyway I think your mom is awesome for rescuing those cats. I hope things work out.

  • Beth says:

    We’ve had 15 cats and kittens come through our house in the past year, some of whom were more socialized than others, all picked up off the street, so I have a little experience with acclimating cats.

    I agree with everyone who says take them to the vet and get them fixed first (I’m surprised the shelter didn’t insist on doing that themselves before the cats were adopted.) Then give it more time.

    In my experience, cats come around at their own paces. My only permanent cat Cindy is a former feral who came to me from another rescue group because her foster placement wasn’t working. She hid for months. I tried the “oh, grab her and put her in a towel and pet her, she’ll get used to it” trick and all it did was traumatize her. (Seriously, do YOU want someone to grab you like that?)

    The thing that finally did work is that the house got cold, and so I spent a lot of time wrapped up in blankets in bed, and the cat… also got cold. When faced with being cold or snuggling with the other warm thing in the room, she chose very cautious snuggling. (She still assaults vet techs and still can’t be picked up, but she’s very much a pet cat.)

    I’m not advising you to turn the thermostat down, but patience IS key. Feed them treats, hang out in their space, let them come to you.

    Also, I’m really glad I don’t live where Schlinkaboo does… my little Cindy would have been put down for sure. I always warn vets that they’ll need to sedate her while she’s in the carrier to examine her, and they always think they know better than I do, and they always get bitten/scratched/otherwise attacked. When I took her to the animal ER because she was having trouble swallowing, it took three techs to restrain her and she drew blood on all of them. She’s not rabid, she’s not feral, she’s just VERY scared and protects herself with vigor (I have the scars to prove it, too.)

  • autiger23 says:

    @Beth- ‘I always warn vets that they’ll need to sedate her while she’s in the carrier to examine her, and they always think they know better than I do, and they always get bitten/scratched/otherwise attacked. ‘

    Hey, maybe next time you can take a waiver of some kind and say, ‘ok, you can try it without sedating her, but can you sign this waiver first? My lawyer said to get it signed after the last three vets got mauled just in case.’ :D Might lighten the mood, but also make them listen that it’s not just someone not knowing how to handle the cat that is the issue.

    I get bugged when vets or vet techs don’t listen to folks about their own pets. My vet and the techs are totally awesome and listen when you explain things. That’s just worth so much.

  • Jess says:

    @Beth – Totally! My vet used to argue with me too. Now when I show up, she has those giant leather falcon gloves at the ready. Live and learn. I also wholeheartedly agree with your comment that patience is key. While all of the reader suggestions are excellent, sometimes these things just take time, you know?

    “Feral” doesn’t begin to describe what my cat was when I got him; he was a freakin’ disaster. My (now ex) live-in boyfriend and I had been talking about getting a cat, and as it happened, the pair of strays who hung around his family’s neighborhood had just abandoned their litter of kittens. All of the kittens had been adopted by various neighbors, except one. When Ex finally caught that one and brought him home, it became VERY apparent why the neighbors had taken a pass on him. Immediately after being let out of the carrier, he puffed, hissed, spit, scratched both of us, and darted behind the TV.

    He didn’t come out for four days, and he howled THE ENTIRE TIME. The only time he wasn’t howling was when one of us got too close to his hiding spot, in which case he’d take a break to swipe at us and spit a lot. I swear to God, I’d never seen a cat spit before; it’s scary, very snake-like. On day one, Ex said, “Don’t worry about it, we’ll put out food and litter and leave him alone, and eventually he’ll come around.” By day four, Ex had had it and would have driven him to a shelter if he’d been able to to get close enough to pick him up. Then suddenly, out of nowhere, there was blissful silence. I checked on the kitten, and he’d fallen asleep. I reached out to pet him, he woke up … and purred. Sauntered out into the room like nothing had happened, ate some food, went to the litter box and peed for about fifteen minutes, then climbed in my lap and passed out. Since then, he’s been the sweetest, friendliest cat, and I can’t imagine my life without him. It amazes me how close we were to giving up on him.

    I guess my point is, cats are weird. They just are. My psycho kitty took four days to come around, but yours are older and there’s two of them, so I’m not at all surprised that it’s taking longer. I think the Dog Whisperer (I know, I know) said something to the effect of, animals don’t have the energy to stay in states of fear forever. Eventually, no matter what you try, it might be good old-fashioned exhaustion that does it. And yes: vet! As soon as possible! Good luck, I hope everything works out.

  • La BellaDonna says:

    @Helen: EXCELLENT suggestion about the dry food with your scent on it!

    Also? I had to GO HIDE when I read Schlinkaboo’s post. Really, REALLY glad I don’t live there. And I’d like to know where not to move – seriously.

  • robin says:

    @ Hello Kitty? I went through almost all of the above “acclimating the new cat” scenarios above when Duzy Batz came to live with us. He certainly wasn’t feral, he’d been my Dad’s house cat since he was a young kitten. He was just…mean. (If he was a puppet, he’d be Jeff Dunham’s Walter, the cranky old man.) His pet carrier has permanent markered warnings “Cat Bites! Warning! Do Not Touch” all over it, and the techs at my vet’s office have learned to respect the teeth.
    It took a couple of trips to the urgent care center (for me) and a whole lot of time before I could really get near him myself without fear of being bitten. Meanwhile, Rajah has always been the brave little warrior who marches right up to Mr. Batz and takes the hit for the team. Now they munch on each other’s heads quite happily. Years later, now and finally Duzy will allow some light petting from me and some rough play from the other Bad Barn Cats. So: get all the possible medical issues addressed, then settle in for a long haul. The two newcomers may not ever be really cuddly, but at least there’s a good possibility that they’ll come out of their chosen exile and have relatively normal, happy lives. Kudos to your mom for taking them in and giving them a chance!

  • Ang. says:

    I just want to chime in on the spaying/neutering. It’s very important that you take care of this right away. Unaltered animals are very much ruled by their hormones, which means that they won’t make good companion animals until they are altered. This is likely making everything worse. And of course, while they’re at the vet, they can get exams and shots and stuff. Your vet will have some suggestions, too, but those plug-in thingies will probably help. There’s also a “kitty calm down” spray you can get for carriers and beds.

    I adopted a teeny (yet hugely pregnant) stray cat six years ago in April. She was shy and scared and didn’t want to have anything to do with my other cat, but I just could not take another night of being up worried about her outside. I made her an appointment at the vet before I brought her in the house because I wanted to make sure she would be safe for my other cat. Anyway, that was the day she had her kittens, so I brought everyone inside after the vet said it was okay. We gave two of her kittens to a friend when they were 8 weeks, and we kept the other two. I thought about taking Momma Cat to a shelter–she ran and hid from us most of the time–but we kept her because we were afraid she would never be adopted. But at the time, we figured that she would be the kind of cat who never got used to people or indoors, and we thought she would always be trying to get out of the house (when she wasn’t cowering under the bed). We named her Kwdlu (“kwid-loo”), which is an acronym for Kitty Who Doesn’t Love Us. And we never thought she would.

    Now? That kitty is the sweetest little kitty ever. She isn’t at all interested in trying to get outside (all of my cats are indoors-only). As soon as we get in bed at night, she jumps up on the bed and rubs all over us both before curling up on my pillow. My three other cats are adorable and cuddly and I love them, but I have to admit that Kwdlu really is the best one. At the time, I thought I was just keeping a kitty off the streets and out of the shelter, and I was just glad she would be kept healthy and safe. Instead, I got the most adorable, affectionate cat ever. But that didn’t happen overnight. She made a lot of progress in those first months, and having her kittens here helped, I think. When she was finished nursing, we had her spayed, and she calmed down considerably. A few months later, she was used to us and was helping herself to cuddles and love as soon as we’d sit down. But it took time and patience–a lot of both.

    All of that (sorry for the length; I just go on and on when the subject is cats or dogs) is just me saying that I hope you and your mom don’t give up on these cats. They’ve obviously been neglected (a responsible guardian would have gotten them altered, for example), and they are scared and convinced that they don’t need you. They’ll come around, but it will take time and work. Please give them a chance.

  • tulip says:

    @Kitty – 10 days doesn’t seem long to me at all when introducing adult cats into a house with other adult cats. If they are eating and using the litter box and just hiding from a totally new situation in a house that doesn’t smell like theirs and has a hissing cat behind the door I would say that is pretty typical.
    I second by a long shot the protective gear and getting them to the vet asap. Good luck!!

  • Shannon in CA says:

    They put down cats for “attempting” to bite someone? I’ve never heard of that. My boy would have been gone long ago. I’m his personal chew toy and when I’m not around, my mom suffers his wrath. Fortunately, he’s a model patient at the vet.

    @Beth *russian accent* “the big kitty… is angry!”

  • Emma says:

    ~My vet and the techs are totally awesome and listen when you explain things. That’s just worth so much.~

    Hear, hear. Our vet is friendly and patient, yet not afraid to give us the stink-eye if our dogs’ weights ever start creeping up. Every time I see an unhealthily overweight beagle, I’m grateful she’s willing to be the bad guy.

  • Caitilin says:

    @Sabine: Awwwwww. I once found a terrified kitty under the house during a remodel, and had to get her out because our contruction crew was going to seal the hole and trap her in there. I had to wait for her to leave on her own, then blocked the entrance.

    As soon as she discovered that, she walked up and down the middle of the street howling and acting so strange I was afraid she had a litter under there. She didn’t; she turned out to be fixed and had probably been dumped. Poor thing was too traumatized to even take cover when I eliminated her one safe place. No one could approach her either.

    She watched me though, so finally I tried becoming a statue with a piece of lunch meat… she stared and sniffed for a good long time, then dashed in and swiped it away so fast she laid my finger wide open! A band-aid and a couple strips of Carl Buddig later, she confirmed my status as Kitty Mama. Sweet little terrified kitty became Queen of the Bedcovers soon after that.

  • Hope says:

    Sabine, what a wonderful story!

  • Margaret in CO says:

    With cats, bites = love, a lot of the time. All of mine chomp me occasionally when they’re being petted & are purring & blissed out, they can’t seem to help themselves.
    10 days isn’t too long. I adopted Pumpkin from a friend – he was absolutely not abused, and he’d known me for over a year, and loved me. It didn’t matter, he still hid under the bathroom sink for nearly a month after I brought him home. He felt safer in that small dark space. Give them time to adjust, but I’d leave them together, they are all they have right now and I think separating them will make them even less trusting & more stressed out. They’ll get over it eventually. And yes to the neutering/spaying/trip to the vet ASAP. Your mom is just so awesome to do this for two strange kitties. Thanks, Kitty’s Mom! (And the “Flowers in the Attic” reference made me laugh out loud. Good one!)

  • Jean says:

    @Kitty – When we moved into our house, one of our cats lived behind the couch for weeks. She was just starting to come out and socialize once in a while when we got a new dog, then it was back to her hidey-hole where she stayed for six months, only coming out to eat or visit the litter box, and then being as stealthy as she could about it. My husband got her when she was just a few weeks old, so she’s definitely not feral and doesn’t have a history of abuse or major trauma. We’ve lived here for a year and a half now, and she finally got to where she comes out to hang out with the rest us on a regular basis. She even sometimes plays with the dog. But we left it up to her and let her decide to come out of hiding on her own time.

    Which is all to say that ten days of hiding isn’t all that unusual or worrisome.

  • LaSalleUGirl says:

    @Margaret in CO: With cats, bites = love, a lot of the time. All of mine chomp me occasionally when they’re being petted & are purring & blissed out, they can’t seem to help themselves.

    Oh my god, yes! Puck sometimes gets what I call the “bitey look” on his face when he’s all blissed out, which leads to conversations like, “No biting, no, no biting, ow! Quit purring, you lunatic!”

  • Bria says:

    I can add a few tangential pieces of advice re: wrangling aggressive/scared cats. I have a calico, Phoebe, who was born feral and kicked out of her litter when she was about 3 weeks old (possibly because her mother recognized her as being completely evil? possibly). A jogger found her in the gutter, and eventually she came to live with me. She’s a lot better than she used to be, now that she’s almost 9, but is still profoundly violent when we have to put her in a carrier. Screaming, spitting, devil eyes, biting, clawing, strength of a lion, and the eventual release of a totally yucky scent of fear. I’ve learned some things about dealing with her that handily apply to wrangling less evil creatures:

    1) Welding gloves. We keep a pair of welding gloves around to use when we need to put her in a carrier. She can actually bite through them, but they are thick enough that by the time her teeth break through, there’s not enough tooth left (or power) to break the skin. By eliminating the possibility that we’re going to get scratched or bitten, we are much better able to move quickly and decisively. Speaking of which…

    2) You have to get down to business when catching a spooked cat. Dick around, and you’ll be lifting couches and playing let’s-chase-her-around-the-living-room-with-oven-mitts for, like, hours. Make a plan, work with a partner, if available, take a breath and go for it. They can sense when you’re scared or worked up.

    3) If the carrier is a problem but the actual handling isn’t, use a pillowcase first. I used to be able to get Phoebe in a carrier but putting a pillowcase on the floor near her, holding it open, and saying “Phoebe! What’s in there?” She’d run right in, I’d twist it shut, and the rest was history. It’s easier to put a struggling cat in a carrier if it’s in a pillowcase first. Plus, it gives the cat a place to hide in the carrier.

    4) If you get a real cat bite, not a love bite but one that actually leaves punctures in the skin, GET TO A HOSPITAL. That shit will get infected really fast. I learned this one the hard way, after a series of unfortunate events in a motel bathroom where a certain little miss didn’t swallow her tranq and was especially sober and pissed when I tried to put her in the carrier. I went to urgent care about 24 hours later, where I was told I would have needed IV antibiotics and hospital admission had I waited until the following morning to be seen. Take cat bite punctures very seriously and seek immediate medical attention.

    For overall socialization/adjusting to new settings, Feliway is great. I also have had some success with T Touch on her, though that depends on being able to touch the cat for at least a few minutes at a time. I wish Phoebe’s story ended with “and then she became the sweetest cat evar!” but it doesn’t. We love her, she’s got a really funny personality and tries to be sweet in her own way, but she’s got several screws loose. It happens. We’ve given her a comfortable life with as much love as she’s willing to tolerate, and that’s about all we can do. The key to working with her has been time and patience.

  • KPP says:

    Bummer for those who have vets that don’t heed warnings. I mean, I would think they’d get tired of people who don’t warn them about “sweet kitty” who comes out of the carrier chomping. I just had the bunnies in for a claw clip and they were very attentive to my tips on their quirks(wrapping in a towel for bunny burrito, when they get twitchy, cover their heads). Hey, I don’t want the bunnies dropped anymore that I want the vets/vet techs to get the crap kicked out of their arms.

    @Kitty, I agree that hiding time greatly varies. Vet visit is a must especially for a fixing for both (the last thing you need is some inbred kittens!) I hope everything works out for the kitties and your mom!

    @Wolf I was also wondering if Great Aunt was likely a staunch check book balancer. If she is, your check may still be sitting there in the ledger. A general thank you note might let her assume the check wandered off since you clearly didn’t cash it and she can cross the darn thing off (or she can call you up in exasperation and see if you’re going to cash it already). If she’s not, she probably won’t remember the check. Unless she’s a passive aggressive sort of person and assumes you’re check digging (which…you can’t control). But I think to be actually check digging, you’d have to mention it, “I found a check in it that I hadn’t cashed! Gee, how embarrassing! And I didn’t want to cash it unless you had the funds…” Anyway, Sars’ template looks pretty good.

  • KKP says:

    I can second @ Bria’s comment about a real cat bite – my own cat bit me and a trip to urgent care was required plus antibiotics, plus full immersion of my entire forearm (hind leg scratches) nightly in the sink w/ a water/hydrogen peroxide bath. A trip to the dr’s is necessary – and while I can’t speak to euthanizing a repeat offender (which is ridiculous) the urgent care i went to had to report the bite. Even though it was my cat and he was current on everything and an “indoor only” cat, the health department contacted me and wanted the cat under a vet’s care and quarantined for 10 days. If he ever bites me again you can be sure I won’t be letting it be known it was bite number 2!

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