Seeking socialization help

KittenFosterer

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Hi all. LONG message ahead. I have fostered many kittens, most right off the street, but all have somehow been friendly (though a few have been very shy). I now have a trio of 3 in a playpen in my bedroom that are very shy (1 was straight up wild) that I am not making progress with. I am hoping someone with a lot of experience can weigh in. I have asked the rescue I work with but they are so overloaded no one has gotten back to me. I do a lot of googling, reading Kitten Lady, etc.
These cats are like little old cats. They lie in the playpen, but they do NOT play. They don't interact much with one another, and they don't tumble around. I never see them sleep b/c they are afraid when I walk in and I assume that wakes them immediately. Or perhaps they are so vigilant they really don't sleep at all. They show NO interest in toys. They are about 9 weeks now.
I am not used to ANY of this.
I am able to hold 2 of the 3. Both have fallen asleep in my arms and 1 started to purr for me. Yet when I put them back in the playpen they are scared, run when I walk by, hiss, etc. The 3rd is the real issue; she is TERRIFIED of me. At first, I didn't know what to do with her. She is underweight, and won't eat if I'm near, so petting her while she eats, feeding with a long spoon, etc don't work. I need her to eat bc of her weight.
I started putting her into a very small soft sided kitten carrier. I bring her to the couch and sit with her (I put food in) quietly. After she's done eating, I open 1 side of the carrier and slip my hand in (with my knife proof glove!) and start to pet her. I will keep my hand on her for at least an hour, petting and cuddling. She tolerates it, though it may simply be terror, I don't know (she's all black, and it's dark in there so it's hard to see her reaction). The other day, I took off the glove and she actually groomed my hand for a few secs!
YET whenever they go back to the playpen they are terrified again, hissing and hiding and running, even avoiding food. I live alone, their room is very quiet, and my cat rarely bothers them.
Please do not suggest I let them leave the playpen. They will hide and not come out even for food, and also, my house is not well set up for that so I can't risk it.
Does this sound normal? It's been 10 days and I know that's still early but I'd expected more progress since I can touch all of them in 1 form or another. Why are they reacting with terror not 20 seconds after being pet for an hour? The boldest one is starting to look like he might want to explore (though BARELY which is also new to me) but I am limited in letting them for reasons I've already stated. He may also simply want to get away from me; it's hard to tell.
If you have concrete anecdotal info for me, something that I can't google on my own (I'm a librarian, I have googled!), and are willing to share, I would be so appreciative of your help. I feel extreme pressure to get these babies ready for permanent homes, and will keep with it, but the anxiety is killing me b/c I have never seen kittens react this way. Thank you
 

di and bob

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Do you have a small box with a hole cut in the side in there for them to hide in? They may just feel way too vulnerable in the open. If you can touch them at all in ten days, that is real progress. 10 days is not long at all in cat time, they thrive with routine and consistency. I would give them someplace to hide and eventually they will get comfortable, which they are not right now. Just keep doing what you are, instigating play and touch, they are young enough, they will come around. Bless you for helping them....
 
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KittenFosterer

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Thank you! i hadn't thought of a box--I can try to find one. The playpen is a bit small but I should be able to find something that will fit inside. The one boy is doing pretty well and gets nervous but doesn't run from me. He's the one that now purrs when held. Thanks for that suggestion, I hadn't seen it mentioned before.
 
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KittenFosterer

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to correct myself: the boy who purrs doesn't run away as much as the other 2.
 

fionasmom

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Welcome to The Cat Site! Thank you for trying to take care of these kittens. I have been in this position since I only rescue and work with ferals or strays....most have been ferals though as opposed to the friendly stray who could be rehomed or adopted. I would never suggest that you get them out of the playpen. That is an accident waiting to happen, especially with kittens who are not overly socialized. Years ago, a litter was born on my front lawn in a lavender bush to a very feral mother. I trapped the kittens (TNRed the mom) and put them in a bathroom for 5 months. There was a lot going on in the house at large, they were not inclined to be friendly, and the house included a huge GSD who was very sweet, but the kittens would never have realized that. I went in and sat, talked, gave treats...you know the routine. They were a little bit of a hard sell though. One boy, who was the "protector" would sit in front when they went into their crate; he became entirely socialized, almost like a baby, over time. The other two never became what you would call lap cats but did adjust to being with people. One boy went to a home and the female is still here in my house almost 17 years later.

I agree that you are absolutely on the right track with these kittens. Ten days is nothing in kitten time, especially shy kitten time, and from your description it seems that you are making progress. The idea of the box or other type of hidey hole in the playpen is a good one. The kittens I had in the bathroom had a small crate which they used all the time as a bolt hole. As they figured things out, they also opened cabinets (where I had removed anything dangerous) and went in those. Please let us know how this progresses.
 

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Animals, especially cats, feel very vulnerable and standing out when they are out in the open. They think they could get attacked at any minute. A hidey place would let them be more comfortable, if they feel hidden they can concentrate more on getting to know you. Keep trying to pet them, petting while they are engrossed in eating often works. I have tamed a lot of ferals petting them while they eat. They always look shocked and run for a while when they finally realize I am touching them!
 
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KittenFosterer

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"bolthole"---that is a perfect term and great idea. Working on finding a box. And thanks for the support; I appreciate it so much. As I said, I feel tremendous pressure to save these babies from a life of fear (and to make sure potential adopters get a socialized cat. Maybe not a lap cat, but not a cat that lives its 15 year life under the sofa) and we have *no* luck finding barn cat placements in the city. Question: I do plan to keep taking the wild one out of the playpen daily for our petting sessions b/c she does tolerate them and I think it's important. This means I will need to remove the box once a day and grab her. I am worried that this may be more traumatizing? I don't know. I don't really want to stop working with her every day. I feel like her grooming me (about 10 little licks) was a good sign. Thoughts? Thanks.
 

di and bob

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You might try stroking her in the box first. If she objects too strongly it may mean you might HAVE to take her out and keep loving/holding her. She needs the interaction and I think the trauma will be short lived. Always use treats too, cats are usually highly motivated by treats. And toys. You might try luring her out with treats/toys, especially if she sees the others enjoying them. Her licking you is HUGE! It means she is accepting you. You are very motivated, I think everything will be fine!
 
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KittenFosterer

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thank you. None has shown any interest in toys of any kind. They don't even play with one another's tails or anything like that. I have never seen anything like it which has me anxious, I think. I will work on getting a box today. But the playpet is set up so that I won't be able to interact with her in the box at all. I'm just not talll enough to lean over and do that, I wish I could.

BUt there's an update: her more tame sister was crying last night (she's very vocal)--there was food on their plate but I don't think they liked it b/c they usually wolf down food. So I thought: Maybe she's bored? (She probably just w anted different food) so I picked her and lay down with her on ny chest. She evntually slid down my shoulder with her behind on the mattress, her upper body on my shoulder and her face in my neck. As I was petting her, I heard a rumble and then another rumble and then it turned into a full-on purr! I was so excited. It's literally one of the best things that happened to me this year (2020=crappy for me, realllllly crappy). Then I put her back and she ran again, so I can't explain that.
 
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KittenFosterer

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oh and she groomed for a few seconds too!
Is there a way to edit these posts? I had to keep adding what I forget.
 

di and bob

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There is a way to edit but you have to post so many times to get to do it. It's usually on the left bottom corner of your post.
Her purring is definitely a sign of progress. I don't think they will play or want to socialize until they get comfortable. Which means having a place to hide and observe the new world. Even having a 'tunnel' that you could pick up easier and get access to them would help. You might have to try to tempt them out of the box with food or treats when they are a little more used to things. Always put their food down and see if they will come out to eat, eventually, they will when they trust you. These things take time, she felt safe being right next to you but felt scared when you removed her and put her back. This will all change in time, I think you are progressing a tiny bit each day!
 
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KittenFosterer

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You guys are being SO great thank you. You're validating that I'm on the right track, you're offering good suggestions and best of all, you're really listening to me and not offering things I've already tried. As an obsessive googler, if I ask questions, it means I need anecdotal information and you're all giving me that. I am feeling better about things. This girl is so sweet. Her brother is easy going overall, but she has a little personality I'm starting to see and she's opinionated. Like, things have to be on her terms. So, in other words, she's a cat. :)
 

fionasmom

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I agree that you are making great progress. A tunnel is a good idea and a lot of cats really take to it. My avatar was born, along with her identical sister under a neighbor's house. Completely feral but she came over to my property with some encouragement with food as we had to get the family out from under the house. Sat at the back slider and played ball with me against the window for a while then transitioned to timidly coming in for treats. Moved to coming in for part of the evening and sleeping in my lap, but wanting back outside to her sister. In the meantime I TNRed the rest of the family but before I could move ahead they were killed by coyotes which bonded the sisters even more. During a very heavy rain she walked in and I ran out and grabbed the sister and threw her in the kitchen and slammed the door. She sat next to the door which would never open again for a few days and now both are annoying lap cats. I even try to avoid their signals that it is time to sit on my lap, or play with Da Bird, or have a snack, or be brushed, or have a belly rub.

I had previously TNRed the sisters about 6 month before bringing them in. Both tried to attack me as I released them from the trap and you would never know that it is the same cats now.
 
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KittenFosterer

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So yesterday I put her into her carrier and pet her for about 2.5 hours straight. Sometimes it seems she's breathing really quickly and I worry she's just so terrified that what I think is her being docile/accepting is terror (very small carrier and she's also quite small but there's not really anyplace for her to go). Sometimes I'll remove my hand but keep the flap open and she has not tried to bolt, so I'm seeing that as...maybe not a sign she likes me, but a sign she doesn't feel I'm trying to murder her. I don't know. Then again, when she's in the playpen, even with the box, she is hissing at me when I go by. So I don't know. I'll keep it up bc I am committed to this and know that it'll take awhile but if only she'd give me more of a sign that I'm on the right track. I worry she may be that cat that always struggles to be around people and can't get adopted. She's slated for PetCo (a pet store in the US where they do adoptions) and I don't see her doing well in a cage anytime soon. I did get her sister to purr for me again yesterday which was nice. I've named the terrified one Priscilla Bean finally (the others have had names for a week). I want her to be fierce like Priscilla, Queen of the desert and she has these TINY toe beans b/c she's so small. It somehow fits. :)
 

fionasmom

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I love that movie! You aren't doing anything wrong and I would keep up the routine. If you stop, she may regress from the point that she has reached, event though it does not seem like much right now. She will start to put two and two together eventually that she is safe but you retreating will only reinforce that the "danger" is gone. There are these cats who don't end up being exactly lap cats and who do not thrive on human contact. They will adapt to living with a caregiver, but may be more of a presence in the house than a cuddly pet. Others might bond to one person in the household. If someone expects the velcro cat who is glued to them, she may not be a fit; however, if she goes to someone who understands cats, she will be fine if they have different expectations. My best friend owns a 16 year old rescue cat who is closely bonded to the husband, does not like to be touched, but shows affection by following him around. If he goes into the upstairs bathroom, sits on the closed toilet seat and calls her, she will come in and roll around on the floor and let him pat and play with her. No dice if they are not in the bathroom. But she is the cat for them and they adore her.
 
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