My 13-year-old standard poodle, Mazie, has had the same morning routine for years. She grabs one of her stuffed toys, runs upstairs, jumps onto my bed, whimpers, runs back downstairs, makes a big circle through the living room and kitchen, whimpers, runs back upstairs, and repeats this routine three or four times before abruptly dropping the stuffed animal. She then eats her breakfast and does not touch the stuffed animal again until the next day. Her whimpering almost sounds like she is in pain, but she isn't. I am curious as to why she does this.
– Pamela, Allentown, Pennsylvania
Your dog could have started this routine years ago to signal to you that she was happy and/or wanted to engage you in play. If it's playtime she is seeking, she may let you take the toy for a game of fetch, or she may not let you have the toy at all (because that is a game as well). Either way, you can talk to her in a playful voice to share her joy. She will love it.
As for the whimpering, it may also be a sign she wants someone to play with her or an indication of a bit of anxiety. Because her routine is so ingrained, once she starts it, in her mind, she may not be able to stop it until she completes the loop. The whimpering probably occurs as she transitions from one thing to the next (i.e. between the bed and running back downstairs) and may be just her way of moving herself along to complete the morning routine. I wouldn't worry about it unless you see more anxiety developing.
Regarding Nancy, from Queens Village, New York, who asked about how to socialize a feral cat successfully, I have some suggestions. I also have rescued and done TNR (trap, neuter, return) for feral adult cats and kittens. After getting what I call the "spa treatment" at the vet (vaccinations, nails trimmed, dewormed, feline leukemia negative), I bring them home and limit their space to one room, giving them everything they need, which includes a quiet room with windows, food, water, safe hidey-holes, comfortable soft bedding, toys, and litter boxes.
Second, to tame them, I use a wand play toy to rub them three times daily for two months. (This is the time it took me to convert my two cats.) Eventually, the contact and good feelings from having their chin rubbed or touched lightly around the ears overtake the feral instinct. Third, I switched to my hand when they seemed ready. Fourth, I gently pick up the cat leaving their hind feet on the ground, rubbing under their chin and on their head. Then I release the cat. About this time, it was time for a nail trim, which I accomplished with my two TNR adult cats.
The final step is picking up the cat and placing them in their safe space. (Being able to pick up the cat helps when their yearly check-ups are due.) At this stage, the cats trusted me and were ready to explore the rest of my home. One of my TNR cats now lays on his back to be petted under the chin. The other sleeps on my bed next to me, getting rubs on the chin as we fall asleep.
I rescued my two cats from under a bridge in 2021. Presently, there are eight cats left, all fixed. I hope this year to rescue another one. I wish I could rescue them all.
— Bryn, Tulsa, Oklahoma
Kudos to you for your work so far in helping these feral cats. I think rubbing a play wand on their backs is a wonderful way to provide feral/community cats with some long-distance affection, even if they never adjust to people – and, sadly, some never will.
Feral/community cats are impacted by their experiences and duration of living on the street. So, some cats will be more or less feral and afraid of people than others. People trying to tame/transition feral cats into a home environment need to know these efforts won't work for every cat – and may not work for most cats.
Sometimes feral cats, used to the outdoors, can become enormously stressed by confinement and freak out. If that happens, don't make them stay. Sometimes, we have to be content feeding them, looking after them, and accepting them for who they are. But I am glad your process worked for these two cats and am sharing your letter in case these suggestions might help others.
(Cathy M. Rosenthal is a longtime animal advocate, author, columnist and pet expert who has more than 25 years in the animal welfare field. Send your pet questions, stories and tips to email@example.com. Please include your name, city, and state. You can follow her @cathymrosenthal.)