Abbie and Redd have now been looking after Milly for several weeks and, although she's proving to be low-maintenance, she's not exactly a model houseguest.
The guys are doing such a great thing sharing their house with a reluctant guest, so we just want to say a big thank you to Abbie and Redd for taking Milly on. It's very generous of them both. Many of you have been asking about Milly so we asked Abbie to give us a run-down on what's going on in Milly's world:
Milly aka Milly-Moo aka Millbo aka Devilcat aka Mama
Taking Milly Home
When we came to collect Milly, I asked Redd how he thought we should go about getting her into a carrier. The last cat we fostered was Mue, so Redd he said he'd pick her up. Perhaps I should have told him a little more about Milly, we knew at that point she wasn't well socialised, but instead I smiled to myself and figured I'd let him fill his boots: we all have to learn, at some point, the dangers of picking up strange cats. Milly wasn't going to tolerate anything she didn't want to, so I knew she'd be fine.
I needn't have been concerned either way: Redd is good with cats and he knows how to say hello properly. He greeted Milly by offering a finger for her to sniff and get acquainted, to which she responded with a fierce hiss and the slap of the paw. That pretty much set the tone of things, needless to say he didn't pick her up! We instead had to herd her into the carrier by gently nudging her with a broom. It sounds strange but it seemed the least stressful/dangerous option for everyone involved.
Milly was very quiet and well behaved in the car and seemed to enjoy looking around at the passing sights. When Redd got her home, he opened the carrier and looked away momentarily. When he looked back, Milly was gone! Disappeared like a small, angry, furry ninja. Redd had a little look around and found she'd taken refuge in the bin and was not keen on coming out, so for her first day, Milly hung out in our house in a bin. Sorry guys, it's not our usual standard of cat care, but that's where she wanted to be and was definitely in no mood to argue.
Look at this face: Would you argue with this mad bin lady? We did not.
In the car I had updated Redd about Milly and her mistrust and fear around humans. We agreed that the best thing for Milly was to give her lots of space as she doesn't seem to be used to a lot of human contact. Or, if she is, the trauma of being boxed up has done a lot of harm to her ability to trust humans.
Redd left her to it and she soon found a spot she felt safe, under the boiler. It quickly became clear to us that Milly would rather be left to her devices under the boiler, so we left her food and water there. Redd found her quite intimidating and was a bit too scared to try and turn the heating on via the boiler above her hiding space!
Her litter tray was on the floor but we weren't sure if she'd used a tray before or not - it's always tricky when you have a cat whose background you don't know, it takes some time to figure out their habits and what they know. I imitated sweeping litter like a cat so she could recognise where the toilet was located, so I now can add 'using a cat litter tray' to my improv acting repertoire.
The first week
The second morning Milly had moved again, we eventually found her beneath the sofa and moved her food and water there.
On the third day she had found a different part of the sofa to hide under. We sought Milly out to ensure she had access to food and water but realised her pattern: once she was 'discovered' she would move on to a new hiding place to feel safe. We even watched her wiggle to a different part underneath the sofa, a gap measuring 2.5 inches, we couldn't believe how well she'd managed to squeeze into the smallest of spaces! She's quite an impressive master of hide-and-seek.
By day 5 I was getting quite worried searching for Milly in the evening with no result, the sofa was lifted and any hidey-holes checked. After calming down I remembered we'd found the wooden panel at the bottom of our kitchen cabinet had been down, although this sometimes falls down we thought this time maybe Milly had knocked it down and was maybe hiding in the cavity behind the cupboards. We couldn't see her under the kitchen cupboard but, whilst searching frantically for her in the strangest of spaces, knowing she could squeeze herself into the most improbably gaps, we spotted a small gap behind the washing machine and found her there.
Managing non-social cats
We had never experienced a cat which hides like this and we were worried Milly would become unhappy, so we referred to our friends at iCatCare, who have loads of advice on their website and Youtube Channel to make sure we were doing the right thing.
According to iCatCare, a cat demonstrating Milly's behaviour is best left to their own devices. Thankfully, this was by and large what we were already doing, but there were a few extra changes we made to help things along:
We avoided using hushed voices which could add to her anxiety and went about business as normal.
We followed the advice regarding giving her a feeling of 'invisibility.' We no longer make any attempts to approach her or offer her treats or reassurance. Although we wanted to help socialise her, and we're especially used to our cafe cats who have been well socialised from early in life, we realised that our interactions could become negative stimulus for her: she became defensive and hissed at us when we tried to give her a treat, for example.
We've stopped reacting. If she does come out of hiding whilst we're in the room we will not respond in an attempt to make her become more comfortable with this
Although we don't see much of Milly, we go upstairs to a clean plate and depleted water bowl morning & night, so we know she's eating and she uses her litter tray perfectly. She's actually the tidiest cat I've known with a litter tray with no litter surrounding the tray. We've experienced a whole lot of mess in the past with more over-zealous poop-covering cats and Milly's neat habits are a welcome surprise.
Despite being nervous in our company, Milly is very active at night! Most nights we hear the thump of her jumping to the floor and the pitter patter of he exploring. We think she favours this time to eat, drink and use the toilet and we often come upstairs to find a few books knocked over or some other evidence of her presence. At 4:30am one morning we even heard her pottering around, meowing.
When I went on holiday recently Redd let me know that Milly had used the litter tray while he was in the room so at the 2 week point this was really good progress for her. It really demonstrated how giving Milly the feeling of invisibility was crucial to her confidence.
We also have heard her movements come to an abrupt stop when a game or tv programme is paused, so she it seems she likes to only move about when she know's we aren't watching too closely.
Milly's progress is slow but there is definitely progress and we intend to continue as we've been going, hoping she will feel comfortable enough to be around us soon.
We kind of love what a lil she-devil she is and our favoured nicknames include Milly-Moo, Millbo, devil cat and Mama (which I think Redd got into the habit of when we fostered Mue).
We are looking for a new family for Milly, as we don't think she's really an indoor cat, we consider her semi-feral and we think she may benefit from a home with secure outdoor access and limited human contact so please if you are able to offer this to a low-maintenance cat pal and have the time and patience to give her the space she needs, do get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org as we think she'll be much happier if she feels a little more free.