The first time I saw Rocky, I thought he was a raccoon. My cat, Mochie, meowed and ran from window to window. When I checked on the cause of the commotion, I glimpsed a fluffy raccoon tail before the animal sprang from my porch in one huge frantic leap.
But Rocky came again and again, and I soon realized that the furry blur that ran as soon as I appeared – was a cat. I felt terrible for him and put out cat food each day. In the beginning, he only ate in the dark. I think it was too scary for him to expose himself for so long in the daylight. Eventually, he became bolder and I could see him watching my house from the edge of the woods. He observed me, always from a considerable distance, and finally decided it was safe to eat cat food during daylight hours – as long as I was inside the house.
He came every day. Mochie always announced his arrival and enjoyed watching him from inside. But if I touched the doorknob, Rocky vanished in a flash.
Winter set in and the temperature dropped below freezing at night. I worried about Rocky, but he continued to show up for his daily meal. I couldn't get close to him, so I set up a cat bed on my covered porch – a warm corner with a wall on one side, a glass door on the other and two bales of straw so he could hunker down out of the wind and snow. Rocky seemed to like his outdoor room and often slept on the porch.
On one memorable day, he brought dinner. Rocky feasted on a dead squirrel on the patio in front of Mochie and me. When he had eaten enough, he stretched out on top of a straw bale in the sun, his stomach bloated like a big ball. When he woke, he ate another meal of leftover squirrel. He ate everything, including the bones. By morning, only the tail was left.
As spring came around, I knew he had to be neutered or we would begin an endless cycle of feral kittens living a tough life outdoors. Since he was clearly feral and still afraid of people, I was concerned about having him in the house. I built a floor to ceiling chicken wire cage for him in the basement, big enough to include a window and a sofa. Comfortable digs for a cat used to roughing it.
I set a Havahart trap for him and baited it with food. Though he was wary at first, the food was too tempting, and Rocky soon succumbed. He spent the night in the trap because I didn't dare let him out. He was not a happy cat. The next morning, he went straight into surgery.
When I brought him home, I thought he would be a little drowsy from the anesthesia. I released him into the cage, and he immediately hid behind the sofa where he thought I couldn't see him. My dad and I watched him for a few minutes, and then, like superman, in one huge bound he flew through the air, over the sofa, to the top of the chicken wire, exactly at the most vulnerable spot, where the door joined the wall – and he was gone. Loose in my basement.
I didn't see him for two weeks.
His food disappeared every day and the litter box was used. But I never saw a cat. Rocky was a master at concealing himself.
At the end of two weeks, it dawned on me that food was the key. Every time I brought him food, I called him. I started by feeding him in the middle of the basement and slowly moved the food dishes toward my upstairs laundry room. Rocky proved to be a smart fellow and before I knew it, he waited for me, crouching just below the top step. He could see me, but he could also bolt for safety if I came too close. And he learned his name. All I had to do was call, and Rocky came running.
Over the summer, he began to associate me with good things, like food and toys. I couldn't believe it the day he wound around my ankles and purred. My little feral boy allowed me to stroke him and no longer ran from me. But I couldn't pick him up.
Shortly before Halloween, one of my friends offered to give him a home. Is that a great friend or what? The only problem was getting him into a crate to be transported to North Carolina. Besides, since she was being so nice about adopting Rocky, who wasn't exactly a cuddly kitten, I wanted to take him to the vet first so he would be up-to-date on all his shots.
I set up the Havahart trap in the basement, baited it with his favorite food and waited. Nothing happened. He'd learned the first time. I baited it with shrimp -- yum! He still didn't fall for the food. He tried to retrieve it from the safe end of the trap but avoided going in the front.
I hit the internet to learn more about trapping cats. Hunger seemed to be the strongest lure. I didn't let him starve, but I cut back on his food so he would feel pressed to go into the trap to eat more. Nothing doing.
Rocky had lived by his wits in the wild. He was a smart cat and that was the only reason he was still alive. I gave up on the trap because I didn't think he would ever fall for it again.
Desperate, I bought The Colonel's Kentucky Fried Chicken, which I understood was often used to trap animals. I hauled a large dog crate into the middle of the basement and placed the chicken in the very back. Then I sat down and waited. Rocky walked around the crate and me. He sniffed the crate from all directions. I'd cut way back on his food and that chicken smelled so good I wanted to eat it. I waited, my hand casually resting on the door. He stuck his head inside. When it seemed safe, he took another couple of steps, and I slammed the door behind him. He flipped around so fast that he nearly managed to get out before I had the door fully closed. My heart raced, but I had him.
When I delivered him to the vet, I warned them that Rocky could fly. They didn't believe me, of course. When we went to pick him up, it turned out that he flew out of the crate when it was opened, and they had a tough time catching him.
On Halloween, Rocky finally made the trip to his new home. After the rough and tumble beginning, after the traps and the fear, Rocky now lives in the lap of kitty luxury with a sister cat, Lucy. Someone accidentally left a door open at his house recently, giving Rocky and Lucy an opportunity to walk outside on the deck, where tasty squirrels run. It turns out that Rocky isn't interested in trading cushy indoor comfort for the wild life again. One shake of a bag of cat treats, and he gladly ran inside the house.
The cat who was afraid to show himself in daylight is still wary of visitors to his home. But he loves his mom, sits on her lap, snuggles and purrs -- just like any other kitty.