Among all the feral cats my husband and I have helped, he was the one of the most desperate for human contact. His neutered mama brought him, his sister and his brother to our patio door one scorching July day. We discovered that a neighbor who promised to feed them until we could get the kittens neutered through a rescue group had just stopped putting out food.
Mama and brother remain feral cats. Sister was injured and fortunately adopted from the vet’s after treatment. Little Accent – so named because of his black nose against white fur – ambled all by himself into our family room. He joined four other cats adopted as ferals.
This little guy – now a sturdy 14-pounder – absolutely demanded affection. He would have been deliriously happy to ride all day in a sling with a hole for his tail.
However, Accent had one major problem. He climbed endlessly onto the nightstand beside my bed. We never figured out why. This was the one place where I couldn’t remove everything valuable or potentially dangerous. I needed liquids during the night. I’m also blind as a bat and need my (expensive) glasses within arm’s reach.
As cat rescuers, we know it’s impossible to keep cats off all furniture all the time, especially while we’re out of the house. And as former dog rescuers, we know you can’t discipline cats the same way as dogs. This is because cats honor each other’s territories. They don’t, however, behave in a hierarchical manner like dogs do.
Feral cats, even after going through a domestication process of sorts, are still feral at heart. They exhibit “wild” behavior suddenly when stressed. Keeping this in mind, we warily started with traditional behavioral techniques to circumvent the little guy’s obsession. A great place to find these options is at fanciers.com.
Bitter Apple didn’t phase the cat. Neither did pushing back his face and yelling, “No!” All that accomplished was awakening my husband, who normally would sleep through a tornado. I walked into the bedroom just in time to see Accent tossing around the aluminum foil we had so carefully placed on the nightstand. The cat also loves water and climbs into the bathtub before it’s fully drained, so squirt bottle failure wasn’t a surprise. He tried to eat the double-edge sticky tape we used.
I got very little sleep. A typical night meant lifting him off the nightstand at least a dozen times. One night’s claw marks on the bedroom door from multiple cats convinced us that shutting it wouldn’t work.
A week later, I stumbled upon an article at Professor’s House. It stressed having reasonable expectations and using both patience and persistence.
I realized I wasn’t thinking like a feral cat. What did this cat crave? Accent wanted human attention – mine in particular – more than anything else on earth.
The answer to the problem was realizing that the cat wanted us to notice him more than he wanted to stroll around the nightstand, sending lamps, glasses and clock flying in the dark. I also realized that each foray followed hopping onto the bed, where he would start “rooting” for attention.
I began to lavishly hug him at every nocturnal approach. However, whenever he turned toward the nightstand, I softly said, “No.” I then picked him up and placed him on the floor, away from us. Suddenly the cat was by himself. No nightstand, no humans.
After around 200 attempts, thinking like a cat worked. Accent caught on that the nightstand – whatever its attraction – wasn’t worth the price. He made his choice.