Skip Pollard: Hobo’s story: A lesson in love
There are those who say a cat born feral is destined to remain a wild creature if it lacks close human contact during its first year of life; who say a feral can never be truly socialized. This is a story of perseverance and faith; of the transformative power of love. This is Hobo’s story.
It was spring when Hobo showed up in our backyard. We’d just finished some home renovations that included the addition of a screened porch when, early one evening, we saw this skinny, filthy black-and-white cat sitting halfway across the patio staring in at us.
“Don’t we have a can of sardines somewhere”? my husband Brian asked.
And with that, our life with Hobo began. Very quickly, this feral cat we named “Hobo” (because of its raggedy condition) became a resident of our backyard, cautiously accepting our handouts if not our attentions. So, growing ever fonder of our new friend, after a few weeks we decided to trap her and take her to the vet to be cleaned-up and spayed.
Baiting a trap with Hobo’s favorite food (sardines), we called out to her. Recognizing the summons for food, she emerged from the garden and started along her regular path toward house, whereupon she encountered the trap and took the bait. She was captured and furious. As we approached to cover the trap with a towel, she frantically launched into full defense mode: growling, hissing and spitting.
At the animal hospital, they had to knock Hobo out just to touch her; she was clearly terrified of human contact. Regardless, we decided to take her home to try and socialize her — totally unaware of the time and effort this would take, or if it was even possible with a feral cat that was estimated to be between 1 and 2 years old.
We converted the screened porch, which was connected to our dining room, into a “cat coop” with chicken-wire-lining that couldn’t be clawed through, and there began Hobo’s transition. In one corner was a cardboard box with a door hole and towels inside so she’d have someplace dark and defensible in which to hide; another corner held the biggest litter box we could find. This provided a controlled space in which to inure Hobo to human companionship, forcing her to tolerate our proximity, and eventually our touch, with the promise of food as a reward. Eating is strong motivation for a half-starved feral cat.
Then came the challenge of transitioning Hobo into our home. For months she’d been living in the porch, refusing to enter the house when we were about She’d come in each night for food that was left under the dining room table, but she wouldn’t come in during the day. Regardless, the door leading inside was always left open, and one day when the neighbor’s gardeners fired-up their leaf blowers (a sound that terrified Hobo, instead of fleeing into her box, she ran into the house to hide. For the first time ever, she identified “inside” as her safe place. The next time this happened we closed the porch door behind her, thus ending her outside life.
As the months and years progressed, Hobo gradually became more and more trusting; ever-more contented with human contact. Progress was slow — excruciatingly so, at times. But there were many small breakthroughs to celebrate along the way. It was a slow-but-steady evolution. In time, Hobo became as affectionate as any cat raised by humans since birth. And toward the end, when we had to medicate her twice daily, this once-feral cat never growled, hissed, or tried to claw or bite us when we scruffed her and squirted medicine into her mouth. As much as she clearly hated the routine, she endured it with tolerance and trust that we weren’t going to hurt her, perhaps understanding on some level that we were just doing what we could to keep her comfortable as she slowly succumbed to congestive heart failure.
There are many lessons to be learned from our time with Hobo — most significantly, the life-changing power of unconditional love, but also the importance of human compassion, understanding, and acceptance. Socializing Hobo took immeasurable patience. It took respecting her limitations and combatting resistance-borne-of-fear with nurturing attentions. It meant overlooking instinctive reactions to try again, and again, and again to gain her trust.
And in the end, we succeeded in teaching Hobo what it was to accept love, and that love was returned to us a thousand times over.
Skip Pollard lives in Grass Valley.
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