DEAR DR. FOX: A recent letter about a family who adopted a feral cat who likes to drag a blanket around the house got my attention. It mentioned that the cat didn't purr, and he hissed at them a lot.
In 2000, I took in a family of four feral kittens. I'd never had feral cats before. The three boys adapted well and were quite social within a few months; after a year, they acted like ordinary domesticated cats. The girl was a different story. For four long years, the only way I knew her location was when she would growl, hiss or scratch if I got too close to her, as she hid under or behind furniture most of the time. She rarely purred, would sneak out to eat when she thought I wasn't looking and was not close to the others. I gave her space and affection as much as she'd tolerate, and one day she jumped up on the couch and sat next to me on her own. After that, she purred regularly when I pet her.
Feral cats can be challenging; patience and kindness are often the keys to breaking their natural trust barrier. I hope that family's kindness and patience is rewarded as mine was. -- R.K., Waukegan, Illinois
DEAR R.K.: I appreciate you sharing your experience rehabilitating feral kittens and proving that it is possible but takes time for some to become socially responsive toward humans.
Cats are a super adaptable species genetically, quite capable of living independently as predators (with the exception of mutants such as Persian and hairless sphynx cats), or enjoying life as indoor companion animals. Still, far too many lead a double life as indoor-outdoor predators and pets. I advise never letting kittens and young cats get a taste of the outdoors because this can quickly condition them to adopting a Jekyll and Hyde existence, free-roaming outdoors and being at risk as well as a serious risk to wildlife and public health, often coming back home with dead or half-dead prey, or with some injury or disease.
Animal shelters need more resources and networks of foster homes for cats considered unadoptable to rehabilitate them and make them adoptable. Otherwise, there should be sanctuaries with group housing rather than neutering and releasing them outdoors to fend for themselves. And cat owners should never allow their cats to roam free off their property.
DEAR DR. FOX: We have a 14-month-old basset hound with two behaviors we'd like to eliminate.
First, she continues to pee and poop in the entryway of our house. She doesn't know how to let us know when she needs to go out. She barks only when the doorbell rings.
The second behavior we'd like her to change is to stop biting our ankles and feet, which she thinks are toys. She chews on my husband and me, and when we tell her to stop, she thinks we want to play more, and she gets too excited.
Any guidance you can give us will be greatly appreciated. -- M.H., Annapolis, Maryland
DEAR M.H.: Your young dog is doing very well voiding near the front door rather than anywhere else in the house.
Lay down a plastic sheet and newspapers and clean up as needed. Attune yourself to the dog's routine, and get her out when she is most likely to want to evacuate, especially after a nap and especially before and after she is fed. Take her to a spot outdoors where there is newspaper already soiled by her, and praise her with a treat after she does her business.
As for chewing on you and your husband, she will grow out of that. Redirect her to chew on a safe strip of rawhide or on a chew toy. If you buy a knotted rawhide bone, be sure to monitor closely, letting her chew for 10 to 15 minutes at a stretch, and remove the knotted end when it is chewed down in case she tries to swallow it whole. I prefer chews that are short tubular rolls of rawhide without the end knots. Some dogs like rubber toys, especially those that squeak when bitten. But our new rescued mutt Kota is afraid of toys that squeak!
(Send all mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.
Visit Dr. Fox's website at DrFoxVet.net.)