For a while it was a running joke between Chad and I that we didn’t need any other cats – but, we didn’t have an orange one yet, so maybe if one showed up…?
Last spring, shortly after we moved our formerly feral feline, Owlfie indoors, a new cat did show up on our farm. And – he was orange.
A Feral Cat on the Farm
He acted skittish at first when we tried calling to him, running away when he would cross our path outdoors, skulking around. Then one day when I tried calling to him and, surprisingly, he came right over to me.
He’s a very big boy, so I was a little nervous when I first tried to pet him. But he responded with pleasure to the feel of my hand on his back, arching his back and rubbing against my leg.
Seeing him up close for the first time, we were able to see that his ear was clipped, designating him as a feral.
We kept putting food out for him and he kept hanging around. Soon we started to talk about what to do about him. We didn’t need another cat, certainly, with eight house cats to care for already.
However, our local animal shelter goes through periods where they are at full capacity for cats. People are more likely to adopt a kitten than an adult cat. And in our rural community, if he was miraculously adopted by some family, they would most likely keep him as an outdoor cat where his impact on our local bird populations would continue.
When it became clear that he wasn’t leaving again, and that we quite liked his laid back personality, we named him Barney, after one of Chad’s ancestors, Barnabus Hamblin.
He quickly became quite a clingy cat, walking very close to our legs when we were outdoors, earning his nickname, “Barnacle boy.”
Long story short, Barney spent the spring and summer by our sides in the garden, but also hunting birds at our bird feeder. We knew we’d have to eventually transition him indoors to save our local bird population – and to protect him from the infrequent but fast-moving traffic on our road.
After a vet visit for a checkup and shots, we moved him indoors to a room of his own.
Barney now has 6 cats and 2 dogs to get acquainted with (two of our cats live in the man cave, so those are two he won’t have to deal with for now.)
Here’s how we’ve been handling his transition into the household pet community so far:
I started by letting him into the house while all the other house pets were locked in the bedroom, so that he could explore and get the lay of the land without dealing with strange cats or dogs.
Next, I let him out into the house with just one other cat out and about, Bobo, who tends to be quite friendly towards new cats.
With a supply of treats in my pocket, on another occasion I introduced him to Leo the dog, who has more self control than our other dog, Charlie. Leo did pretty good staying in place while Barney wandered around.
On his first introduction to Charlie, however, Charlie totally ignored the promise of treats, preferring to get up and check out the new cat. (What can I say, she has always loved cats!) When Charlie cornered Barney in the kitchen, trying to get a better smell of him, luckily, he did not swat at her or act aggressively, though he wasn’t exactly thrilled to make her acquaintance by the look of him.
So, we’re taking it slow with the dogs.
Next I started increasing the amount of time spent in the house and the amounts of cats he can interact with at one time.
When I noticed that even Bobo was getting a bit hostile towards Barney at times, I looked for some outside guidance.
Ever heard of Jackson Galaxy, cat guru? He has good advice on introducing new cats to each other: give them something to do.
This turned out to be a brillant piece of advice.
Now, when I have Barney out in the house with a few other cats, I give them all treats in the kitchen. The idea is to give them something to focus on and increase their “feel good” associations with each other. The challenge is making sure that none of them start stealing each others’ treats and getting food aggressive.
Another way we have tried this strategy out is with Loki and Barney. Loki is a Siamese cat that we took in a couple of years ago as a sick little kitten. She hasn’t had to meet any new cats since her first arrival in our home, and as I suspected might happen, she is the one showing the most displeasure at Barney’s arrival.
But Loki loves to play. So for two evenings in a row we have tried playing with Loki and Barney on either side of a baby gate. They can see, hear, and smell each other, but the gate serves as a symbolic barrier.
The first try at this went so-so, with Loki playing with her string toy while Barney sat and watched. The second attempt was much more of a success – first I played with each of them, taking turns back and forth letting them swat at a shoe lace. When that went swimmingly well, I took a very long ribbon that each could reach at the same time, draped it across the baby gate, and encouraged them to play.
Rough Beginnings, Smooth Futures
I’m convinced that giving the cats something to do while they get to know each other is going to be key to getting Barney integrated into our household.
And if any hissing comes up along the way, which it inevitably will, all I have to do is think of Louie and Pearlie.
When we first brought Pearlie into our household, Louie was very unhappy, urinating in the wrong places, hissing at Pearlie, and showing his disgust. Within a year these two were best buddies, and we frequently find them lying in each other’s arms, grooming each other.
So far, I’m quite proud of Barney for adapting to his indoor life and being patient about having limited access to the house.
I think that by Christmas, he’ll be a fully integrated member of our pet household.
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