What I learned this month: Adopting owned pets

In February we had crazy cold weather here in Michigan – not as bad as some places, but cold enough that when I looked outside one morning and saw a cat wandering through the snow, I knew I had to put something out for it. We found an old cat carrier downstairs, put some old towels in it, and put it out on the front porch near the garage access door, to keep it out of the wind. We put out some old cat food that our picky eaters wouldn’t touch anymore.

The next day the food was gone, so we replenished it.

For the month of February we had about five or six neighborhood cats come and go regularly. We didn’t always see them. Sometimes it was just a mass of paw prints in the snow around the food bowl that was now miraculously empty. We named all of the cats, but our most common visitors were:

  • Tux – a lifelong neighborhood cat, the roughest guy on the block
  • Shadow – a small, polydactyl black cat
  • Mandarin – a small orange tabby, to whom we assigned Most Likely to be Trapped Twice With Food
  • Flerken – a tiny (seriously tiny) gray tabby, who got very pregnant at some point and disappeared for a month or so

This continued into March, as the cold clung to the area. By April, we were down to two regular visitors and one permanent tenant.

We had long suspected that Shadow had been, at one point, indoors. She was quick to trust us, liked to be around us, and seemed generally less adapted to being outdoors. By May, she was happily playing with us on the porch, rubbing our legs, letting us pet her.

I was quickly infatuated. I mean…a tiny black cat. Polydactyl. I never stood a chance.

As summer continued, we sometimes saw Tux, but ultimately Shadow was the only one left, and she made it clear she had adopted us. She lived on our porch. She had regular feeding times. I wanted to bring her inside, and the long process started in late June.

For those of you uninitiated in the cat world – cats are NOT easy to integrate with an existing colony of cats. While we only had two, they were still basically a colony. And that’s the least of potential issues.

FIV, Feline Immunodeficiency Virus, is one major concern. Most commonly spread via bites from infected cats, it’s similar to HIV. Cats infected with FIV can live normal lives, so long as they avoid infections, especially from major concern #2 – Feline Leukemia. Shadow herself does not fit the bill of a common carrier; because FIV is most commonly passed via a bite, outdoor males are the must susceptible. But she was outside with males, and it was certainly possible that she would have gotten it.

Concern #2, Feline Leukemia (FeLV) is also transmitted via bites, but it can ALSO be transmitted via normal behaviors, like mutual grooming.

House cats are usually vaccinated against these viruses, and they are at less risk most of the time, being kept inside with other cats that have been vaccinated.

But before bringing Shadow inside, we needed to be sure. We had gained her trust enough for me to pick her up, and on July 1, I was able to put her in a carrier and take her to the vet.

We had a lot to check on, so I wasn’t too surprised when they whisked her away to the back and 10 minutes rolled by. 15. 20. At which point the vet returned to tell me that they had found a microchip and were tracking down her owner.

It had always been a possibility, of course.

What I had not considered was that the owner would be found and would agree that, since we had been caring for her for the past 6 months, she was likely better off staying with us. So on July 1, I came home with a new cat.

Test results started coming in.

  • No FIV
  • No FeLV
  • We started her on a dewormer, and by the time we were able to get a sample to the vet, she was free of those, too

And I went through the process of transferring her microchip data to us. That was an exercise, but it was much easier than I thought it would be.

So now here we are, outnumbered and loving it.

I have always believed that we are chosen by our furry friends and not the other way around, and I think this past month has simply proven that.