Taming Feral Cats -- or Not
Frank became Frankie
Thirteen years ago this June, we discovered that the feral cat that had taken up residence in our backyard was not a he, but a she. So we named her Frankie instead of Frank. She had a litter of six kittens under a sheet of plywood that was leaning against the back of our house. They were all gray and black tabbies except one. That one was solid gray. My husband decided he wanted it. We had only a huge fat cat named Ben and he wanted another. Ben was also a rescued cat whose original name was Elvis. He had formerly lived in a home with seven other cats and we decided he was lonely. Little did we know what we were letting ourselves in for.
One day after the kittens had begun to walk, my husband Joe saw Frankie line them all up in a row and start to lead them away. As they were leaving, we scooped them all up, put them in a box and brought them inside. I was worried about Frankie, losing all of her kittens, but we fed her both dry and wet food and she seemed totally into eating more than anything else.
We kept the kittens in the bathroom for a couple of days, then I took all except the gray one to a shelter. Joe named the gray one General Lee. We didn't realize it at the time, but we had just brought the cat from hell into our home. He did not start off badly; he evolved.
No more kittens in the backyard.
After General was settled in the bathroom, we caught Frankie in a humane trap and took her to have her spayed. When I brought her home, she howled all the way from the vet's to the house. When I opened the cage, she flew out, mad as a hatter. I thought we'd never see her again, but at 5:00 o'clock, as usual, there she was waiting for her food. She seemed to heal fine and lived in our backyard, survived Katrina, and thrived for 13 years.
General seemed content for a while in the bathroom. We emptied out the bottom of the vanity and he lived there. One night Joe returned from a business trip to Los Angeles, and we went to bed early. We kept hearing a banging noise from the bathroom. It was that tiny kitten, banging the doors to the vanity, wanting to be let out. I remember Joe remarked: "It sounds like Godzilla in there." Little did we know. Of course we let him out and had to search for him forever the next day. He was so small, he could find tiny places to squeeze into and we spent half our time looking for him.
General and Ben
Our big fat cat, Benny, played constantly with General. I'm certain he grew tired of General walking all over him, jumping over his body as he slept, and being essentially a huge pest, but Ben never lost patience, never swatted him, etc. Only once did I hear a growl come from Ben and ran from another room as it was so out of character. General had Ben's tail in his mouth and was running back and forth with it. I suppose Ben had had enough.
A friend of ours remarked at what large feet General had and said he was going to be a big cat. He continued to grow and became a magnificent gray cat. He and Benny remained friends except we began noticing that at certain points, General became impatient with him and would chase him under the bed. We also noticed that if Ben reached "high ground," the couch, he could ward General off. Most of the time, though, when General lost his temper and began hissing and spitting, Ben took off at a slow trot to get under the bed or the couch. He wasn't afraid because he was much larger and could probably hold his own. It was like he just didn't want to be bothered.
When the photo was made of General in the suitcase, my husband Joe had some choice remarks about leaving him in it and shipping it off somewhere, but he never stayed mad at General long.
Benny Left Us
One morning around 2:00 a.m., I heard a frightful howling noise from our bedroom. I had left the room because of Joe's snoring. When I went back there, Ben was lying on the floor with General sitting quietly a foot or two away. Joe said, "I think he might be dead." When I picked Ben up, I realized that he was right. What on earth had happened? Joe said Ben was jumping off the bed and let out a whimper and that's when General made the terrible howling sound and when Ben died. We think he had a heart attack. We were both heartbroken to lose the beautiful cat that everyone loved so much but glad that he went the way he did, without warning and without much pain. It was interesting to both of us that General seemed to pick up on his death and howl the way he did as Ben died.
Over the next few years, we watched General when either of us was sick. He never left our sides until we began to improve. Once when I was running a very high fever, he sat on a shelf in the top of my open closet looking down at me, day and night, until I recovered. Even now, if I am upset about something, he sticks close to my side, trying to get close enough to touch me if he can.
General at the Camp in Arkansas
Although we love him, General has not been a pleasant cat to live with . He has a terrible temper. I have small scars on the backs of both legs where he has nipped me because of something I've done, my tone of voice, or simply because he's in a bad mood. About ten years ago, we were playing with him before we went to bed one night. We had stopped playing and I was locking the doors and getting the house ready for the night. I saw General across the room, looking at me. All at once, he rushed at my legs, knocking me down and causing my leg to twist under me. I've never felt such pain. I told Joe I thought my ankle was broken and we headed for the ER at Ochsner. Of course, General was nowhere to be found. After I screamed, he ran for our bedroom and under the bed.
Well, the ankle was broken and I also had ligament damage. I wore a cast for two months and a boot for two. So many people told us he would be a dead cat if he belonged to them. We knew he just didn't realize it was time to quit playing.
Once when my sister visited, General had to be locked up because he would not leave my brother-in-law alone and kept slapping his foot and trying to nip his leg. One night when I went to bed, being locked up seemed to take its toll and he went for me, snarling and hissing and clawing and biting all at once. Before he did much harm, I was able to put a comforter over my entire body. I let him carry on for almost 10 minutes, then lay very still for a while and finally carefully emerged. There he was, nudging my hand, wanting to be petted.
After Ben died, one of my friends told me about a feral cat her sister was feeding near her business. She asked if I wanted her. Of course, I said yes. She was white with gray and black markings and a stunning cat. The first time she met General, we filmed it on our camcorder. I think General believed he would scare her really badly and then be able to intimidate her from that point on. Didn't work out that way. As he circled her, she watched him come closer and closer. Now, bear in mind that General has no claws, as bad as he thinks he is. As he came close and started to make a growling sound, Scarlett raised one front leg over her head, showed him her claws and hissed. He never, ever bothered her again.
When we finally decided we had to get Scarlett declawed because she had destroyed a perfectly good couch and two chairs, the vet's office called to see if they could do some tests before the surgery to be sure she was okay. We said fine. I've always been grateful that we said okay and didn't try to save the money for the tests, which was considerable. She was very much not okay. She had eaten some of the bad food from China, the vet thought, and her kidneys were in bad shape. We gave her fluid intravenously at home for almost a year, then she grew very ill and we took her for the final shot. General grieved for her for several weeks afterwards, looking for her everywhere.
He was on his own for a long while. A year ago, we took Lucy into our home. She is a beautiful calico cat my daughter rescued from under her own house. For some reason, General is not combative with her, perhaps because she was just a kitten when she came. He plays with her and they are friends. I did notice that when he is in a bad mood and she tries to play, he hisses. She immediately freezes totally still and slides away as quietly as possible.
I think General probably just has bad genes. He would likely be diagnosed with some sort of personality disorder if he were human. He and his mother were not fast friends, as one would expect. They would meet at the back door sometimes and look through the storm door at each other. Both would hiss and spit. They loathed each other. His mother, my beautiful feral Frankie, died last year. I noticed that for a week after her death, General was very subdued. I don't know if he was picking up on her death or our grief, but one of the two.
The skirmishes with the squirrel in the photo lasted all summer. I'm not sure who won, but I finally got tired of all the racket and cleaning nose prints off my window and moved the feeder.
General has mellowed a bit as he's gotten older. He's no longer the cat from hell, although my grandchildren are still terrified of him, especially the oldest. When he was small, he could not pronounce Js and said a Y sound instead. When he would need to go to the bathroom, he always asked, "Where's Yeneral?" He still asks and he's now 12 years old. General doesn't bother him often, but every now and then he hisses at him and that's enough to keep the fear going. General escaped from the room with Joe one night and made his way into the room I share with the boys when they sleep over. He meowed one time. Even in his sleep, my grandson was out of his bed and in mine in a heartbeat.
General Staring at the Wall
Gennie has been the perfect pet for Joe and me. We understand him because he's a bit like us, not always conforming, not always doing what other cats do, not always following the rules. He will be 14 this summer. Hard to believe it's been 14 years since he banged the doors on the vanity in the bathroom, wanting out into the world. He has become more my cat than Joe's since I started working at home. He wants nothing more than to sit beside me on the couch while I work and be petted now and then. When I get up and do housework, he gets annoyed and hisses and snarls, same old nastiness. He doesn't do company well these days and mostly stays under a bed when someone is here. We take him and Lucy with us to Arkansas and he loathes the truck and the trip, but likes being in the tiny cabin where he can keep everyone in his sights at once. The cats are free range in the truck. Neither like to have a thing to do with a carrier and both immediately wet themselves if put in one. We often get smiles and waves when people see them walking about, peering out the car windows.
I'm hoping General makes it to 20 years old. He is pretty much a bastard cat, but he rounds us out in a certain way and gives the house a different energy than Lucy's sweetness does. God forbid we should have too much niceness around here!
General spends many days staring at the wall in the den. Some say it's the heat from the lamp that he's after. I hope they're right and that it's not his basic insanity.
The photo below is the last one. I've always loved it because it's a statement to our total obliviousness to reality at times. We were always dog people, for years and years. We once had three dogs at one time and when they all finally died, we decided to try cats because we had begun to travel a bit and they are easier to care for. When we ordered tags for Benny, Scarlett and General, we ordered the same tags we had ordered for years for our dogs, never giving it a thought. When my daughter visited us one Sunday, she said, "Mom, you do realize the cats have bones around their necks, don't you?"
General left us in March. He was 16 1/2 years old. I won't write about him again because it hurts too much, but I am glad I wrote his story here on HubPages. He was our boy. We will miss him forever. He rests in peace under a row of elephant ears in our backyard.