Catching an escaped prisoner

I had a week or so of insomnia again, so I’d taken the opportunity to socialize the kittens in the middle of the night. It’s quieter then, with fewer things for Sprout and Lady to be afraid of. Unfortunately, It’s also a lot easier for the kittens to get unruly since I am generally alone at that time of day.

On Saturday night I heard some crying from the kitten room, so I opened the door and everyone rushed out. I think it’s an elaborate scheme designed to trick me into freeing the prisoners. Not gonna happen – Buttercup cannot be trusted unsupervised with the kittens.

sprout-escapesMost of the kittens are not hard to round up when they escape. I can just call Pumpkin and Patch and they come running back to me, purring. The smallest 4 can’t jump over the fence because they are too small, so they are neatly contained in the kitchen. But Sprout, oh Sprout.

When I open the kitten room door Sprout heads right for the fence. It one graceful movement she is over and exploring the living room. I’m happy that she feels confident enough to explore the house, really. She also lets me bend down and pet her when she is in the kitten room. Unfortunately, unless Michael and I have direct control over her when she is in the living room (like when we bring her out for snuggle therapy), Sprout will not let us touch her. This is problematic when I want to put her away.

Especially with undersocialized kittens, it is very important to be aware of what each action you take means to the cat. You want to reinforce desirable behaviors, and discourage the less desirable ones. When Sprout escapes, I cannot just recapture her and lock her up. She already runs when I approach her, so if I only go after her when I want to put her away, she’ll make that connection and never let me catch her again. Instead, the capture routine gets a little extended (not such a great thing when I’m in a hurry, but what can you do?).

The first thing I do when Sprout runs under the sofa is to lure her out with an interactive toy. It isn’t long before curiosity gets the better of this naughty kitty and she emerges to pounce on the toy. I have to resist the urge to scoop her up right then and there – the whole reason she went under the couch in the first was so that she didn’t have to face me. Instead, I continue to play with her, luring her farther and farther from the couch. As she gets more involved with the toy, I reach down occasionally to pet her, still avoiding picking her up. I want her to see that when I reach for her it isn’t always to hold her. After a few minutes, I do reach down and pick her up. I still can’t put her away at this point, or she will think that the only reason I hold her is to put her away. Instead, I place Sprout on the sofa and play with her there, again reaching down to pet her when she is distracted. Only after we have a few minutes of fun can I put her away without encouraging Sprout’s negative feelings about me holding her.

The technique I used with Sprout can’t be used with all cats. If the kitten is the sort who gets overstimulated when she plays, you can’t touch her during a play session or you’ll get bitten or clawed to pieces. In that case, it might be better to lure the cat back to the confinement area with the interactive toy, or coax her to come out with her favorite food (then you can apply the technique I used). The bottom line is that you have to make touch a good thing (or at least not a scary thing) and you have to disassociate the carrying action with confinement. Simple, right? Pfft.

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