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        Nikita's Journey; learning to trust,
                learning to love

Mary Anne's journal

May 8, 2000- Monday

I first leaned about Nikita's plight through a post on a cat board I frequent. Lisaviolet (the web mistress) wrote of three cats in Riverside, California who were in need of a home. Originally from Orange County, now married and living in Oregon, I called the Riverside number and spoke to Jennifer the Kennel Manager of the Riverside Humane Society & Pet Placement Shelter. I asked her to tell me about Nikita.

Nikita, I was told, had been a shelter cat for over a year. Adopted out twice, she had been returned for different reasons. She was having a hard time adjusting to all the shelter activity, so Jennifer had then taken the 2-year-old female home, and that was where she had been for over a year. Jennifer said she felt that Nikita was a "special needs kitty" and although she had worked with Nikita almost daily, it was just the other day that Nikita allowed Jennifer to pet her!

I said that I was very interested in Nikita and what followed was a series of interviews via email. Then there was about a 2-week delay, as sponsors were rounded up to fund the flight from Orange County Airport to Eugene, Oregon. One of the sponsors was extremely reluctant to send Nikita to me. I understood her hesitation, as I lived out-of-state, so shelter checks would be quite hard. I finally ended up assembling a collage of photos of all the cats I have rescued in the past 10 years, (before and after shots). That must have cinched the deal, for the shelter told me that they would pay most of the freight cost and send Nikita to me via Alaska Airlines. She would be transferred in Seattle WA to Horizon Air and flown in to the small airport in Eugene.. All that was left now, was for Nikita to be checked out by a vet, and have all her health papers in order. Mike (my husband) and I were anxiously waiting for the word that she was on her way.

She arrived on May 8, 2000 a Monday. They had managed to put her on an earlier flight and instead of arriving about 3:00 p.m. she came in right at noon I was sure glad I had called earlier and spoke to cargo to find out the change in the itinerary! It was almost comical, how hard it was for me to track this cat and find out just when they expected her. But she was handed to me inside her carrier and as I looked inside, I saw this lovely silver-gray tabby in shock from her recent experience. The shock was fairly long lasting, because in the two-hour ride home where she rode in the carrier on the seat between us, she never once meowed to show her displeasure. I was sad to note, that not even one blanket had been included inside her carrier to shelter her from either cold, or to soothe what was probably a very bumpy ride. The only thing besides her in the cage was a piece of some kind of fur (probably fake rabbit) if I had to guess.

Upon arriving home, I placed her inside the hospitality cage; a large cage that I use for the introduction of all my critters. I wanted my other eleven cats to see her and get used to her smell. She was placed inside, with fresh water and a little bit of food, and she promptly ran to the farthest corner and did not move all day. Except once, when I invaded her terrain. Then she moved lightning- fast and quick with a hiss and a lunge and a strikeout of her claws! If I hadn't been wearing my glasses she would of had my eye for lunch! I now determined that "Ms. Hiss" (her new name) would not only need lots of our TLC, but she would also need to be handled with welding gloves and face shield. She remained in the same spot till midnight- when I did one final check and found she had not eaten or drank anything. This concerned me, so with a quick makeover I cleaned up one of the upstairs rooms and put her inside the room. Here she has a sofa bed to hide under, room to roam and I was also free to watch her body language.

When I let her out of the carrier for the second time that day, she came out low and slinking. She went to the farthest corner of the room and stood there glaring at me. As I advanced slowly toward her, I was talking to her in soft tones. To my alarm, instead of retreating, or growling a warning, she advanced on me fast to strike again. I warded her off with a piece of cardboard I had thought to bring upstairs with me, and she hit the soft surface with a dull thud and then hissed and darted for cover under the bed. I now confirmed my earlier suspicions that not only was this poor cat abused prior to her arriving at the shelter, but also she had been abused in such a way she had to defend herself against the attackers! I left her upstairs in peace with all the comforts of home but her true freedom. This is the start of her long journey and my Journal to her socialization.

May 9, 2000- Tuesday Or Day Two "Just Call Me Gladiator"

This morning I realized how foolish I had been to unfold the sofa and leave it outstretched as a bed. I had hoped that Ms. Hiss would of hopped on top to sleep- (in an ideal world maybe). But her world at the moment was far from ideal and had been filled with dark images and shapes that often hurt her. She was leery of anything that I offered her, and she kept her eyes focused on me all the time I happened into view. As I went in to greet her this morning, I found her food still untouched, her litter box unused, and she was still tucked away in the farthest corner of the old, dusty sofa bed. Even getting down on my knees and peering underneath with the strong beam of a flashlight to guide me, I could only make out a wisp of gray hair (presumably from her tail). I had to get her out into the open, I needed to try and urge her to eat. But how would I get her out from under her hiding spot without hurting her? I backed away thinking furiously, then spied through the window two cement blocks up on the roof where Mike had left them from last year. In order to get them- and to prevent her from escaping outside, I would not be able to use the outside door. Instead, I would have to enter our musty attic, and brush away the cobwebs to get to the escape door. I shuddered in disgust, as I hate our attic, it is slanted in a small A-frame and there is little room to fit my broad 6' body. I snatched a cap from the closet in the room, grabbed the flashlight, and checked one more time to see if Nikita had moved, which she hadn't. So taking a deep breath and gathering my courage I turned on the flashlight and opened the attic door plunging into the darkness. Only a few steps later, the flashlight faltered and then went out! "Great.just great.." I muttered, but I was committed now. If I turned back to put a battery in the light, I took the chance that some miracle had occurred and Nikita had moved from her hiding place and was stationed at the attic door sensing an escape. Once inside the attic, she would be lost. Then it was a simple jump to the roof and out she goes never to be seen again. "Not while I have anything to say about it," I thought to myself, besides I have been in the attic before, so it was no big deal. I just had to remember to keep my head low, my legs bent and bend over at the waist. Then I could move to the attic door, not comfortably, but I could move. So move I did, and slinging cobwebs and harsh words right and left, I fumbled my way in the dark to reach the coveted door. As I moved forward, I had visions of the yellow jacket nest we had found one year up here in the rafters, and of the few bats we had one late summer evening. And all those spiders! Arachnoids just waiting for me to come by! With my luck, Momma Spider had just decided to lie in wait for the first plump human to come into contact of her web.."This is ridiculous Mary Anne," I snapped to myself. "Get a grip and stop thinking you are in a Hollywood movie!" Slowly and carefully I made my way past the boxes, the books, the suitcases, and all the other lifetime collections we had stored away. At last, I felt the doorknob-"Oh sweet release was here!" I thought and I pushed against the door. It held firm, wedged or stuck or swollen by rainwater that always collected in the bottom. I muttered some more expletives, and pushed my weight against the door until finally, it gave, spilling me out onto the flat rooftop, and into the sweet smell of Oregon rain. The wind whipped my hair around and I found I was taking huge gulps of air. I scolded myself for being so afraid of a dark attic! I snatched the two cinderblocks, and walked with them over to the door in the bedroom. Peering through the glass, I could she that Nikita was still in hiding, and I stepped back into the room with only a major crick in my shoulders, neck and back. I took the cap off my head and shook out all the cobwebs...shudder.. Now I had to figure out the way to get Nikita into the middle of the room without either scaring her or hurting her. I decided to go ahead and tip the couch over on it's back, prop the back up with the two cinderblocks and see if I could extricate her from underneath gently. But when you work with ferals, you can make all the plans in the world. You can commit those plans to either memory or paper. You can line up legions of helpers, and it never fails that the feral makes its own agenda and all your plans go up in smoke! And that is exactly what happened, as I slowly tipped the sofa back and rested it on the bricks, I looked underneath and Nikita was gone! "Where in the devil did she go?" I wondered. I walked all over the room looking on shelves, Peering into boxes, and even pulled the file cabinet out to see if she was underneath? Nope, nor was she behind the sofa, up on the file cabinet or between the cushions of the couch. First making sure she was not underneath the back of the couch I finished tipping it all the way back, and that's when I saw her. Somehow, in a matter of seconds, she had wormed her way into the side of the arm of the couch. Into a space so narrow, she might has well have tried to sleep in a shoebox, there she was facing me, crammed back in this narrow space, her eyes glowing, her claws clacking. It was quite apparent she was waiting and willing to do battle. Previously, I had taken a large side of a cardboard box, and even though Mike laughed at me, I had fashioned a crude sort of shield. I punched two holes in the center, then wound duct tape into the holes fashioning a crude sort of handle. I now had a shield to ward her off if she exploded, yet it would be soft enough that it would not do her any harm if she did bounce off of it. I now put on my face shield (welding shield) and welding gloves. I had on a long-sleeved shirt, shoes and socks so I was prepared as well as I could be and I slowly advanced on Snarl Puss. I have to give this cat an A for acrobatics! Not only did she launch herself right at my face, but also when I thrust the shield up in self-defense, she smacked into it, dropped to the tile floor and still managed to bite my foot! Later, I would find a hole in the toe of my Nike. Then scrambling for traction on the slick tile floor, she went over backward and darted again for the safety of the narrow ledge of the couch's arm! With as much gentleness as I could have under the circumstances, I reached carefully forward, and was able to grasp the scruff of her neck. The minute I had her neck, her body tensed and her feet spread out, claws descending. She was clearly not happy with this submissive grasp and evading her flailing paws I once again deposited her into the cat carrier.

Inside she was hissing, growling and pacing and I was upset that I had made a bad choice and allowed her the sofa bed to hide under. In trying to remove her, this had caused her further grief. I quickly put the bed and the couch back together and shoved it back against the wall. I cut off all the ways she could get underneath again. I looked around knowing she needed a place to feel safe, and in this open room, there was little cover. I pulled out the file cabinet, set the drawers on the floor and turned the unit on its side. Piling blankets inside, placing some on the top, I gave her what I thought would be a refuge, but where she could be easily monitored as well. I really needed this cat to start eating! I placed the carrier into the middle of the room, opened the door, backed away and turned out the light. Standing behind the safety of the screen I had installed in the room- near the door, which would stop any of my crew from getting into the room, provide me a safe place to monitor Ms. Hiss but would also stop her from making a dash from the room, I stood and waited. My heart hurt to watch Nikita advance slowly out of the carrier and fling her head back and forth to see if any monsters lurked nearby. I had the flashlight on and was getting ready to go downstairs, when suddenly the screen shook with great force! I focused the light, and saw two green eyes glowing in mid-air! Nikita had launched herself into the middle of the screen- hanging there with all 16 claws gripping the nylon mesh. Her eyes were slitted, her mouth was open and I could see all her lovely pointed teeth. Whether she wanted out, or just wanted to attack me, I do not know but as I made my way down the stairs, my tears blurred them. Before the doorway disappeared out of sight, I shone my flashlight back to the screen. She was now off the screen but I was sure that she was still in *alert mode.* This will be the last time that I will traumatize her like that. I hate that I did not think ahead of how preparing for her a place to hide so successfully only allowed her to be traumatized again. I will continue to work with her, since she is really an Internet kitty, I will continue this journal so that I can look back, but also so I can see ahead. I hope that as I make my way with her and share journey others reading this will learn from my mistakes as well as my successes. She is definitely a "Special Needs" Kitty, and both of us could use prayers as we start out together. Mike is bringing home a big cardboard box tonight and I will make that her sanctuary as she continues to adjust to me, and I to her.

Evening Check or Optimism Fades

I went upstairs to check on Nikita and see how she was handling the loss of the sofa bed as a refuge. As I peered into the new hideout- the only warm fuzzy thing was a piece of fake fur that traveled with her on the plane. It really reminds me of a Tribble, from the old Star Trek episodes, you remember? The pieces of fluff that tittered and mated at an amazing rate? I wish it had been a tribble, because not only would Nikita have had company on the long trip, but also she would of at least had something else to sleep on. I carefully reached into the refuge with gloved hands, and lifted the blankets and pillows she had for her comfort. I had thought she might have slid underneath them and I could play peek-a-boo with her. No such luck, she had again vanished?

I stood back and surveyed the room. I had successfully sealed off the area above the chest of drawers set. If she had somehow managed to maneuver her way into to that tiny space above the dresser all she simply had to do was raise her head, lift the partition and she would be in the attic, then on the roof then gone! I checked to make sure the particleboard I had wedged in place was still firmly attached.. it was. Stepping back once again, I looked hard at the room. The only place where she could stay out-of-sight from me, was under the sofa bed, but I had pushed it all the way against the wall, blocked off all the cushions so she would not burrow underneath- so where was Ms. Hiss now? In desperation, I called to Mike to come upstairs and help me. Carefully, we both lifted the heavy sofa up and off the floor moving it just a few feet. I heard a low growl, and looked behind the sofa and lo-and-behold! There was Nikita squished into a tiny ball. Somehow, she had dove off the back of the sofa and managed to secrete herself in a space so tiny, I would have never considered she could! Oh this cat is good- what a willful creature she is turning out to be.

Placing her in her carrier was tricky, but with Mike's help she finally went inside. Mike and I then pushed blankets, pillows and finally stuffed animals down the crevice she had previously occupied. I apologized to the Beanie Babies as they vanished down behind the end of the couch. Pretty soon the tiny head of a pound puppy showed over the top, so I knew that there was no way Nikita could get there again.

Previously in the day, I had the foresight to empty out one of the closets in the room, (when it became apparent that Ms. Hiss was not playing by the rules) I crammed summer clothes into another closet, took a brief trip down Memory Lane when I had to find another place for my mountain of LP's.Ooh look! Bobby Sherman.EEEK! And also placed my cat collection carefully packed away in boxes in an alternate room..(Gee forgot I had so many)! Finally I had an area for her about 3' square. I put her blankets; an old shirt of mine and the litter box, food and water all inside. I placed the carrier by the closet door and opened up the gate. I waited, but this time, she wasn't playing, so I gently tipped the carrier and still no Hiss! She was hanging onto the sides of the carrier with her claws and she wasn't going to come out- No Sir.no way! I had to disassemble the carrier and lift the top off. As I pried the screws out of the top lid, she was chasing my fingers and her claws were poking out of all the holes located in the sides of the carrier! Thankfully, her claws did not quite reach- so I finally pried the top off and there she was, glaring at me. LOL Probably wondered what kind of lunatic she got sent to this time? She flew inside the closet, I wedged the door shut enough so that she could get in and out, but it was almost total darkness inside for her now. I placed my offering of warmed Purina ProPlan canned food inside, set the radio to a mellow music station then I left.

When I came back about an hour later, she was still inside the closet! (Thank You God for small favors)!

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