Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Socializing three kittens at once: Tips from a foster family

Satchmo the kitten is ready to play

Kittens don't come into the world knowing that humans are safe. In fact, kittens tend to believe that other cats are their sole source of safety. Kittens must be taught that humans are kind, loving and gentle.

Sometimes, little kittens are born into communities with plenty of loving human contact. They spend time with adult cats who trust humans, and they have their own positive interactions with humans. These little guys are socialized almost from the get-go.

But often, kittens are born into feral cat communities in which they don't get a chance to meet loving humans. The adult cats they know are afraid of people, and the people they may see aren't all that nice to them.

That's what happened to my current crew of fosters. They were found in a huddle in a feral cat colony, and they were already weaned. Momma was nowhere to be found, and they didn't need her for food. So they entered the shelter system for socialization.

Nina Simone foster kitten

Last year, I helped with a similar little undersocialized kitten I named Eartha Kitt. Her socialization program was pretty simple: She did everything with me. If I went somewhere, she went too. If I did something, she did it too. We were always together, and she learned to trust due to that constant exposure.

Having multiple undersocialized kittens is different. I can't take them all with me all the time for practical purposes. And also: If they are together, they stick together. They interact with one another and not with me. It's only when they are apart that they truly open up.

Take little Lena Horne here. I shot this video on a morning in which she hissed at me, in her kennel hiding behind her sister, for a full 2 minutes. Look how she is away from the herd.

This is a completely different little cat, full of cuddles and purrs.

My approach has been to assign each kitten a day of independence and solitude. On that kitten's appointed day, the kitten goes for walks with me, sits in a sling with me while I'm in the house, sits on my lap during meals and television time and spends all other time in a solo kennel in the living room.

That allows the kitten to break free of the siblings, and it also allows the kitten to really interact with humans.

Satchmo the kitten is exhausted

This solo working day is exhausting for these little guys. They spend a lot of it cuddled with me, but they also spend a lot of the day afraid of what's happening. I think they appreciate the two days of rest that comes after the working day. I know I would.

I've had these guys for a little over a week, and my approach is paying off. They are all at the front of their kennel when I come to see them, and they've started calling to me from their kennel when I walk away. These are socialized-kitten behaviors, and they make me happy.

But, these kittens also hiss and spit at the hubby, and they sometimes hiss and spit at the dogs. They're also terrified in public spaces. So there's more work to be done. But I feel confident they'll get there.

Satchmo, Lena Horne and Nina Simone will all be up for adoption in a month or so from Willamette Humane Society, but they can be pre-adopted from my house as well. Know anyone who would fall in love with them? Send them my way!


  1. Wow! I admire those of you who foster kittens and cats. It has to be hard, but so rewarding once they are socialized and adopted.

  2. The thing about feral kittens is that they are young enough to change. Thank you for taking the time to help these three.