Mithrandir, almost not quite feral

On a recent consultation, I reminded the human that their 2 1/2 year old Maine Coon was still a kitten. As our own Maine Coon mix, Mithrandir, approaches three years old, he provides a great window into the process. He’s careful, because of his feral origin, and somewhat transparent, since he’s a breed who develops slowly.

Mithrandir at three years old

Mithrandir at three years old

Since his arrival, he’s been both fascinated and cautious about requesting affection from us.

building trust

He started out talking to us from the doorway, walking into the room and around our feet, but then when he was scooped up for a hug, he goes quiet and saucer-eyed, pondering whether or not he really wants to do this.

Upon his first wiggle, we put him back down, and he would then stop and think about how much he liked it. Then, he inevitably concludes that he did, alot!, gives us some Cat Kisses, and bounds off to play.

The time between scooping him up, and the wiggling, continues to get longer.

This morning, I watched Mr WayofCats heft him like a bundle of cement blocks, bringing him up to face level to have the back of his head kissed. He prefers this while being held. On the bookcase he will allow me to mind meld with his forehead.

He can’t handle two “trust requests” together.

He’s come a long way from the kitten who ran from our extended hand… and yet would peek out at us, equally eager and fearful. Many ferals have this quality; they want love as much as they fear its human source.

Lately, the possibility of lap sitting seems to occur to Mithy more and more. He will charge onto my lap, heedless of whatever else might be on it, as though he is being compelled. He settles in and lets me do some full body petting. Like RJ, he seems to have what we call the Maine Coon Charging System: when his heart is full, he abruptly remembers an urgent mission, and he’s off in search of adventure.

He’s not likely he will become as easy with hugging and snorgling and nose booping as our current champ, Sir Tristan, who had No Dignity as a kitten and Very Little Dignity as an adult.

Unlike Princess Olwyn, who is all about the Dignity, it’s not about his personal sense of himself that troubles him. It’s that lingering sense of humans as something not to be trusted which he got from his feral mother. He’s slowly building up his own Cat Database of happy encounters with humans, but some reflexes are going to remain. We’re okay with that, though.

What we’ve got is plenty sweet and cuddly.

For more about our feral-taming methods, see The genial vs feral continuum.

everyone’s baby

Everyone has a soft spot for Mithy. Even Princess Olwyn, who rarely approves of anything.

He is a happy baby who rarely causes trouble. He’s gotten over his fascination with trashcans, he’s learning not to squish Tristan too much while playing, and he still sees RJ cleaning his paw and becomes eager to insert his head into the action. RJ loves to clean kitten heads.

Our kitten now weighs about 20 pounds. We know, because when RJ went to the vet he weighed 16.5 pounds, and Mithy is noticeably heavier.

He is also difficult to photograph. He gets nervous once we pay concentrated attention to him, and takes off. I have to sneak up and take a couple and leave again.

That is how we keep noticing Mithy’s remaining ferality; at the edges of things.

He has his own way of handling guests. I hold him and stand in the living room doorway, and cooperative guests try not to notice him. (This remains difficult, as cries of “Giant Mutant Kitten” burst out of people when they first see him.) It is still a matter of seconds before he wiggles to get down.

Then, he comes back by himself.

He still skulks around the edges of the room, but with an escape route open to him, he is calm enough to be admired from a distance. Which he always is.

At three, he’s slowed down enough for Tristan to complain. Now, he’s perched in front of a window, snoozing on the top of the bedroom bookcase, or watching Tristan race to the top of the cat tree in pursuit of a thrown sponge ball more often than he is wrestling with the other cats or begging for wand play.

He is also famous for the skill with which he suddenly shows up; having the most undetectable teleportation ability of any cat I have known. This is especially impressive because he is, after all, a Giant Mutant Kitten.

we regret nothing

My record for “choosing the most pathetic kitten in the place” was continued with Mithrandir, even though it was Mr WayofCats who saw his picture on Facebook and fell in love. Mithy’s whole litter were recovering ferals, and were the most challenging bunch available at the adoption event we attended in order to adopt him.

Checking back later, we discovered everyone from that litter had gotten homes within a few weeks.

I wish all of them well and hope they turned out as delightful, and cuddly, as Mithrandir is proving to be. Taming a cat is one of the bigger challenges when walking the rescue path. Love is how we offer a way to safety.

Some cats, despite their other difficulties, have a giant suspension bridge to support their way back. Ferals have one of those rope bridges which dance over a dangerous gorge in adventure movies. We’re on the other side, telling them they can make it, and it’s so nice over here.

Don’t look down!

The key to success is giving them plenty of opportunities to ponder the difference between what their fearful brain reacts to, and what their heart longs for. Because every cat has an unbroken line of domestication behind them, or they wouldn’t be here at all. This is especially pertinent for Mithrandir, who is a modern Maine Coon in looks and temperament; these are very much Beta cats, who love to be social with everyone.

Ferality isn’t a matter of genes. It’s learned, under dire circumstances, and it goes deep.

But while there’s no such thing as a complete cure, there’s certainly a lot of moderation we can watch develop.

Bringing joy to us both.

    Find out how we got Mithrandir.

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    There’s more ways to care for our cat with The Way of Cats than the article you are reading now. See all of my posts on CAT CARE.

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