Bootsie Learns to be a Pet

About two years ago, I got involved with a local Trap-Neuter-Release group. Going into the group, I took to heart the advice that most adult feral cats never make the transition to house cat. In other words, I made myself accept that the cats I helped feed would have to live out their lives on the streets and never be rescued.

Just over a year ago, that resolve got shaken. The reality is that while TNR might typically be the best option, some colony cats do turn out to be people-friendly. Such was the case with a cat named Bootsie. Therein lay a dilemma. Bootsie seemed to have potential to be someone’s cat, but first someone would need to step forward and show her how to be a house cat.

Originally, my husband and I had no intention of taking in a second cat. But the more I pushed for the group to find her a foster home, the more I felt my husband and I should be the ones to take her in. And so finally, after a flood threatened her home, we became her foster parents.

In May 2015, my husband I began the adventure of introducing Bootsie to Cinder. A feisty Tortoiseshell, she is our two-year-old cat whom we adopted from a no-kill shelter. During this whole process, Cat. Vs. Cat by Pam Johnson-Bennett became a critical guide.

To start, we set up a sanctuary room. Bootsie got delivered to us in a dog crate. Inside was a cardboard box with a cozy blanket. There were also essentials such as water dish, food dish, and litter box. We added toys. The dangler proved key, allowing us to interact with her at a comfortable distant. After a few days, Bootsie made clear by her growing agitation that she wanted more freedom, and so we opened the door of her crate and gave her the run of the library.

Then began the process of preparing the two cats to meet. A huge part of this step involved exchanging scents. First, I started with socks. By rubbing the socks on their fur, I put Cinder’s scent on one pair and Bootsie’s scent on the other. I then put the Bootsie-scented socks in Cinder’s favorite areas, and vice versa. Cinder reacted mildly, hissing initially but then going off to play, while Bootsie showed no interest at all. Encouraged, I moved on to swapping beds, toys, and even litter.

The cats’ reactions remained mild. I moved onto one last exchange, that of rooms. Cinder was deposited in the library, while Bootsie was invited to explore our living room. After a few hisses, Cinder simply settled into taking naps on our printer, chair, window—all her favorite library spots. Bootsie remained undisturbed by Cinder’s ever-present scent, but she did quickly become overwhelmed by the large unfamiliar space. After a short time, she snuck behind our recliner and hid for the rest of the evening.

Finally, the day of introductions arrived! We put a partition between the library and the hall, to limit their exposure to each other. At first, the library door was only opened about a foot. After about a week, we opened the door further, so that the two cats could sit across from each other. We let them eat and play within sight of one another. After a few days, Bootsie had enough of even this confinement and tried to climb the partition. Time for the next adventure!

BootsieCinder_TowerAnd so the partition was finally removed, allowing Bootsie and Cinder to share the same living space. Some of the time. At night and when we both had to leave the house, we returned Bootsie to the library.

The results were mixed. There weren’t any fights. But Cinder wasn’t not happy about Bootsie’s presence. Often she’d hiss at Bootsie, even lunge towards her. Other times, food proves a strong motivation, causing Cinder to push past Bootsie to coax from me. Then were even moments when the two share a space on our bed or recliner. The two girls even used our one cat tower. A lot of this success is due to Cat Vs. Cat.

It’s also due to two special cats. When we first started to foster her, Bootsie knew nothing of indoor life. She clearly wanted to learn. Cinder begrudgingly accepted the presence of a second cat. I told her daily about how Bootsie’s colony had been in danger of being flooded, and so she needed a home. Maybe Cinder listened to me. Whatever the truth, the two became sisters.


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