#15 Dogs off-leash are terrifying kittens

Question: We are ready to trap and socialize a group of kittens but unfortunately we have some very heartless dog walkers that are letting their dogs off-leash in the area where we are trying to gain confidence with the feral kittens. Trapping has become impossible because neither we nor the cats know when a dog is going to come attacking out of nowhere. One very nice dachshund becomes a killing machine when off his leash, and the owner is deaf to our pleas of cooperation. We do have very strict leash laws in place, but our law enforcement doesn't have the manpower to be arresting errant dog walkers. Any suggestions??
At wits end in Whittier

Dear Whittier,

Since this is life or death, I'll share with you a tactic that worked in another dire situation involving dogs off-leash attacking cats. I can't recommend that you do this too, because it may be illegal but here's what some other desperate feral caretakers did in your situation. They posted signs saying "Danger, Rat Poison has been placed in this area to control the rodent population. Use extreme Caution." Usually dog owners will leash there dog if they think there is a danger for their dog, even when they couldn't care less about the safety of cats. These renegade cat-rescuers even went so far as to fake a health department official notice with a logo that they lifted from their cities Health Dept. website. Apparently they just highlighted the logo and copied it or clicked and dragged it to the top of their bogus "official" notice. Since this is surely illegal, I can't recommend such extreme measures which could get you arrested. They did not get caught perhaps because they were careful not to let anyone see them putting the signs up and were prepared to replace them regularly when people tore them down. They even went so far as to put some phony poison-bait boxes down with a printed skull and cross bones on them. This was apparently necessary to get one particularly obstinate dog owner to take notice. No harm was done to his dog since it was only a little peanut butter and oatmeal but the heartless guy finally stopped letting his dog off the leash when he saw his dog gobbling something down by the water. Most people protected their dogs right away. Not surprisingly, this guy didn't bother rushing his dog to the vet, so they didn't need to blow there cover with an anonymous call to appease the vet that no poison was actually involved.

If you are the guerrilla-rescuer type of person that does this kind of thing, make sure you don't get arrested! It's best not to tell anyone about it and just keep it to yourself while the dog walkers gradually notice the signs. If they call the health dept. to ask about it or to complain, no one will know if it's true or who put the signs up. The person on the phone at the Health Dept. probably won't even know for sure if it is true without a lot of checking.

I should mention that this may only work if you haven't been complaining yet to the dog walkers and they don't think of you as "that crazy cat guy". If you have already alienated the dog walkers, they may not believe the signs and suspect that you put them up and it isn't true. If this is the case, don't do this or they will surely suspect you and send the police to knock on your door. At the very least, wait awhile to make them forget about the protests in the past if you've voiced any. Only after they think you've resigned yourself to stop complaining will you not be the first person they suspect if the signs don't look of city government quality.

What I can recommend with a clear conscience is that you try not to antagonize the dog-owners face to face in any way. This can often backfire and they become outright cruel when beforehand they were only careless and indirectly harmful to the cats. If you antagonize them, they often get childish and will start actually trying to get their dogs to chase the cats just to get back at YOU for criticizing them. YOU can actually turn them into cat-haters where before they were just being inconsiderate. Many times people problems turn into problems that hurt the cats because one person uses the cats to get back at another person. Whales save Us!!!

I really don't know a good way to get a dog walker to take consideration for free-roaming cats in an effective way through pointing out their heartlessness and cruelty. If I did, I'd be much to busy to be writing a blog. Anything that suggests to another person that they are being selfish, cruel or breaking the law just seems to make them dig their heels in and get defensive. If you are a born diplomat, go for it but i don't know what to suggest. If you have a dog of your own on a leash, you may get a better reception. If you have to start with defending the squirrels and see how they react before mentioning the cats. Above all, don't lose your temper and start screaming to satisfy your own contempt for the person's thoughtless cruelty. That won't help the cats. Think up something ingenious and win them over with your wit, humor and try to channel Ghandi, Will Rodgers, Oprah or whoever you can muster. Bite your tongue and listen MORE than you preach. If you can do it, your a better man than I. I know the theory but maybe in my next life I'll be able to apply it.

Best, Mike


#14 Kitten Color Quandry


I’ve noticed that the kittens I’m socializing seem to respond to some colors of toys better than others that are exactly the same, with no apparent reason. Is there any explanation for this? In a Kitten Color Quandry

Answer: You don’t mention specific colors, but scientists have concluded that blue and green appear to be the strongest colors perceived by cats, although in tests, cats also responded to the colors within the purple, green and yellow range. They concluded that Red, orange and brown colors must fall outside the range of detection for cats.

I use this information whenever possible to work with feral cats and kittens. It's not crucial, but it can be just one more tool in the kit to “cue” a positive response from an untrusting or frightened cat.

1. Try feeding from blue or green dishes and use the same ones every time you feed. Just seeing those dishes gets the cats revved up and anxious to work with you. This can maximize the power of anticipation to your advantage.

You’ll be building on any progress you’ve previously made the minute you enter the room and the cat recognizes the dish. (S)he will hopefully be positively excited by the prospect of food, rather than wondering if (s)he needs to make a quick decision for “fight or flight.” Each entrance you make with the dish will reinforce that something good CAN happen when a human approaches. Soon the cat will no longer panic each time a person enters the room.

2. I do buy the blue or green version of their toys whenever possible. Especially for interactive play. Personally, I haven’t noticed that the cats clue in to the different colors, but it couldn't hurt, right? If they have a favorite toy that is working for you, forget about it's color and use it. That advice goes for every aspect of kitten socialization. Try everything and use whatever works!


#13 Remember that Kittens are farsighted when working with them

Question: How can I get started with less stress at the top of our socialization sessions? When feeding them by hand, it all goes well once we get started, but the first time I reach at them they seem wary of my finger until they realize it's dipped in baby food. Thanks, Sally, Omaha

Answer: Dear Sally,

It is helpful to know that kittens appear to be farsighted. When showing them a treat, let them see it at a slight distance before you reach in close. They seem not to be able to focus their eyes well up close. If you drop a treat or it falls off your finger they seem not to see what is literally, “right under their noses.” With baby food, I wait until I'm in the room with them to pop the jars vacuum seal. They learn this sound very quickly and associate it with the good times ahead. I sometimes blow the smell over their way too and show it on my finger from a distance and calmly reach toward them without staring at them. These are both good "warnings" not to be afraid of the hand reaching at them.

My opthalmologist tells me that adult cats have a strong and flexible eye lens which can focus both near and far. Although not designed for small detail, feline eyes can detect very slight movements both near and far. This is a crucial ability to have if you need to be good at hunting both up-close in the underbrush and across a field.

Also remember some of the things we've discussed in previous entries which are: make a calm quiet entrance with, no direct eye-contact. Don't move fast but don't move like a predator stalking it's prey either. Resist the urge to clean up the place before you start if they are already skittish. Just come in and get started with the food as calmly and quickly as you can.