The year was 2001. We were out in our back yard when we spotted her – a little black furry thing hiding under the asparagus. At first we thought soft furry Duncan had gotten out – but this cat was smaller. And much more scared. We named her D’Ni: a name starting with a “D” because she looked so much like Duncan; and D’Ni after the people inhabiting our favorite computer games, Myst and Riven.
That fall it became apparent to us that D’Ni was pregnant. Being the cat–loving people we were, we started feeding her. Her favorite hiding spot at that time was under all the flowers next to the fence. That’s where I took her food.
One Sunday morning in September we heard pathetic meows coming from the neighbor’s garage. No one next door was yet awake so I went over there and tentatively tried the door. It was unlocked. The minute I opened the door a small furry black bullet flew off the rafters, shot through the door, and raced away to the house two doors down. For the remainder of the day we heard the plaintive heartrending cries of a mama cat that had lost her kittens. We never found out what happened to the kittens. Did the kittens die because she got shut in the garage and was not able to feed them? We only knew that little black cat was no longer pregnant, but no kittens were ever found.
And so began the experiment. Was it possible to tame a feral cat?
We held out our hands to her. By November she began sniffing them.
The weather outside was getting cold. We lined a cardboard box with soft towels. The winds were getting chilly. We took a hard–sided cat carrier out to the back porch, lined it with blankets, wrapped it in an old down coat.
At the beginning of December, all thoughts of kittens gone, D’Ni went into heat. Cats from all over Goshen began showing up in our back yard as we tried, unsuccessfully, to catch her. She was wild; she did not trust humans, and she was fast. The moment she heard us approach the back porch she was out of the crate and running away. We were getting very anxious – December is no time to have kittens.
On Christmas Eve, we were making breakfast – eggs, bacon, toast. We were still in our pajamas. I stepped outside to check on D’Ni. She was in the crate. I crouched down. She stayed in the crate. I slammed the crate door shut and she exploded. All thoughts of breakfast forgotten, we threw on some clothes and took crate and the enclosed struggling wild animal off to the vet. A few weeks earlier, I had already warned them that we were caring for a feral cat and that, whenever we could catch her, we would bring her in to be spayed. It was time.
When we picked her up a couple of days later, the deed done, her chart was coded “feral cat”. I had warned them. But perhaps they did not take me seriously. Apparently the kid taking care of the kennels had opened up her cage and she flew out, claws outstretched. They had to catch her with a net.
All winter we fed her outside, attracting raccoons and opposums to our back porch as well. We started trying to feed her in the kitchen. We closed off the kitchen from the rest of the house, opened up the back door, and coaxed her in. She started eating right by the back door, then further in. But we couldn’t close the door behind her. So we would stay there, shivering, until she was fled back outdoors.
When summer came, D’Ni became bolder. At feeding times, we opened up the door between the kitchen and the rest of the house. One day she rushed into the living room, grabbed a toy, and rushed back outdoors. It was great to see her actually playing instead of always hiding and running away.
By the next winter, she was regularly eating in the kitchen, though she still did not want the outside door shut.
Finally, in January, 2003, we decided to try to keep her inside. At dinner time, she came in as usual. We fed her, then shut her inside.
Oh the howling that ensued! For hours she howled. We went to bed and buried our heads in our pillows while she howled some more. Finally at 3:30am, unable to sleep, unable to stand the noise any more, we let her go back outside. The next day, we tried again. More howling, then silent resignation. She was so frightened that she became totally pliable. We could pick her up, carry her, snuggle her, and she did not struggle.
As she became more accustomed to the house, her wild habits came back. There was no more picking up and snuggling. She now knew where to run and hide. Claws out, she twisted out of our grasps and fled to her hiding spots.
But she got used to being indoors. And then she never really wanted to go back outside again. As the years have gone by, she became more and more tame. Now we can pick her up and even trim her claws. Now she loves climbing on Pete’s lap to sleep while he watches movies.
No more D’Ni Wild Cat. Now it is D’Ni Tame Cat.