"Jeffrey, there's a cat on the back porch." When Dianne told me this, I was surprised. After all, the porch was part of a century-old farmhouse my family uses as a vacation home in western Pennsylvania. Surrounded by acres of forest, the house is over a mile off the paved road. During our visits there, we've seen a bear amble through the back yard, a fox dash out of the front yard, and, most amazingly, a fisher run across the road. It's a very isolated and wild setting-not a likely place for a domestic cat.
When I looked through the screen, the cat couldn't stand being observed by two people-it leaped off the 8-foot high porch and ran back into the woods. We could see that the poor thing was scrawny and disheveled. We assumed that it had been drawn to the open back door by the smell of cooking, so we put a small dish of food in the back yard. After an hour or so, hunger overcame its uncertainty about humans and it came back to eat. If we even opened the back door, however, the cat was off like a shot.
Late in the day, it came around again. This time, it stayed in the back yard as Dianne put some more food out, but as soon as I appeared around the other corner of the house, it retreated to the sanctuary of the woods. Over the course of the next few days, we kept feeding the cat, each time bringing the dish a little closer to the porch, then on the back steps, then on the porch itself. By the end of the fifth day, it would stay at the edge of the porch even after it had finished the food, and on the sixth day, we were able to touch her.
We had gained the trust of an abandoned, starving, and almost feral cat, but now we had to put that trust to the test. On the last day of our stay, we tricked the cat into a carrier and drove 7 hours back to New Jersey. After an hour of protest, the cat settled down and resigned herself to this strange new experience.
Named Venango after the Pennsylvania county in which we found her, the cat spent a few days in our basement acclimating herself to indoor living. She adapted well, and soon got the run of the house. Sleeping on a couch instead of in a woodpile and dining regularly on Purina and Science Diet instead of moths and voles seems to agree with her. Venango is a playful, affectionate, and sweet-tempered cat, remarkably so for one that undoubtedly had been abandoned as a kitten and perhaps mistreated even before that. We later introduced a kitten obtained from a shelter into the household, and, after a period of adjustment, the two cats are great friends. It is heartwarming to see them curled up together as the Weather Channel reports on lake-effect snowstorms in northwestern Pennsylvania that would have sealed Venango's fate.
Venango "helps" prepare
There is, of course, no excuse for abandoning a cat or dog. It is a cruel act that sentences the animal to harsh conditions, illness, and suffering, and compels it to find its food by raiding garbage cans or preying on wildlife. But some owners of housecats, who would never dream of abandoning an animal, feel that their pet "needs" to roam. They can't imagine that their well-fed and affectionate companion would attack and kill ground-nesting birds or would get into fights with other roaming cats. However, even a comfortable house cat retains predatory and territorial instincts. They expose their beloved pet to the considerable hazards of traffic and the possibility of picking up parasites or diseases from other animals. Our experience-Venango's experience-shows me that even a cat that was completely used to life outside can be active and happy when kept indoors.
For information on helping your pet live a happy life as a house cat, contact Cats Indoors Campaign, Washington Crossing Audubon Society, PO Box 112, Pennington, NJ 08534.Please visit the Cats Indoor Campaign website at www.abcbirds.org/cats/catsindoors.htm.
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