We've got a theme going with this and entries #19-20.
Female Feral Kittens that don't start socialization until 3-4 months old. Read all three if you want better insight into the difference between males and females past the relatively easy 8 week old stage. Here's an exchange with an adopter who has lost ground with the kitten in the picture. She was handleable at the time of adoption but needed continued work. She has regressed to being completely aloof and "untouchable." In addition she's developed some renegade habits which are not pleasing the adopter. Here's the email asking for advice:
it's vanessa that adopted dolly. still having no luck with her. she is so skittish and she climbs on everything. don't know if you have any advice or if you'd be able to take her back. she gets on top of everything and is constantly knocking over my plants and getting into the cupboards. not sure what to do.
I'm so sad and surprised to hear things still aren't working out. I do have suggestions if you are willing to continue trying and I also have some questions. I'm not sure which of these suggestions will work with your schedule and what you've already tried. Let me know and we can narrow it down.
1. Does she like to sit in a high up spot? Maybe a tall cat tree or shelf somewhere else with a bed would be preferred if you create an alternative. Is the other cat chasing her, or she's chasing bugs like our cats do and go flying across the apartment? Explain more if I'm way off the mark. We have some mild "zap" pads that train cats not to go places. After a few times, they just stay off forever to avoid the risk of getting the zap in that location. It's a mild electric current. We have a large one you could lay across the kitchen counter and that should cure her of going up on the counter which I'm assuming is the half-way point to the cupboards.
2. Dirt and foliage are often an irresistible smell for feral cats and they often rub up against pots out of pleasure and they can knock them over. Is there any way to secure them to stand up to a happy cats weight? Can you provide a small container of cat grass from the pet store? Does she respond to that? A donut of aluminium foil around the plant can deter cats from stepping in pots or digging in plants. Is it small pots getting knocked off or big pots she's digging in?
3. Is she getting along with your other cat at all? Some cat's cat's will prefer cat company to bonding with humans and need to be given an incentive to befriend humans. I'm wondering if your schedule is such that you don't spend much time at home. If you are away several nights per week and only stop in to feed some days, that might be why she's aloof. She may be thinking that you'll be gone soon if she just waits a little while. I'm trying to figure out why she hasn't settled into the family in such a long time.
4. First rule to winning a cat's devotion is to never leave food out when you are gone. I don't want your other cat to be deprived, but I know in the beginning you were going to make her come to you if she wanted to eat, and not let her eat off on her own, just avoiding you completely. Did that never work or were you too busy to stick to it. I'd suggested petting her while she eats for the first month or she doesn't eat. It might take some working back up to that at this point, but it is an easy process if you have the patience and time.
5. If your other cat is a good eater and eats quickly, take up the food when you leave if she hasn't come over and eaten near you. She'll be happy and anxious to see you every time you come home to feed. Shy cats only overcome fears by their survival incentive. They must feel the need to win you over; first by self-interest and only after time for pleasure. Food and interactive play are the only tools we have that they are willing to give in for. We can talk about how to gradually get back to this program if you think it applies to the situation. It can just be with the bowl at your feet while you watch tv, or on the bed. She'll be coming over in no time, but only if it's her only option.
6. Another possibility: Since I know she enjoyed being petted and held when she was being socialized, you could try putting her back in a pen for a month and petting her while she eats. We have nice cat pens to loan if you want to try it. They are comfortable with several shelves to move around.
Let me know if any of this helps or brings up more questions.