Q: I brought a 14-week-old kitten into my house from a feral litter. How can I get her used to us? I can't even get her out from under my bed to bring her to a vet. She hasn't eaten, drank, or eliminated in three days. When I reach for her she hisses at me. Someone from a rescue shelter told me to wrap her in a blanket and pet her until she gets used to me, and another told me to wait it out. She'll come out at some point. I tried to take a picture but couldn't even get close enough. -- Nancy Twomey, West Islip
A: If a cat has come to a conclusion that its life is in danger of a particular situation then there is no way in the world that you can persuade it that it is wrong. Only the cat can decide that it was mistaken about its first impressions and that the situation is not as dire as it had originally thought.
The two suggestions that you were given may have worked for some people but they never worked for me. If I just leave nervous cats that are in fear for their lives under the bed then they are happy to just live under the bed for the rest of their lives. If I embrace a cat that thinks that I am going to hurt it then it just cowers in my embrace waiting for me to hurt it no matter how much I coo at it and comfort it until I finally release it and then it hurtles back under the bed. However, if the cat can see with its own eyes that living in your home is not a threat and that only good things happen to it when it is in contact with humans, then it can come to its own conclusions that all is well and thus decide that being a house cat is not so bad after all.
The best way to do this is to get a large dog crate and outfit it with a litter box and a cat bed and put it up on a table so that the cat is not down on the ground cowering. Keep the cat in that cage rather than letting it hide under the bed where it cannot see you or learn anything about you.
The cat most likely will just hunker down in the bed or litter box doing its best to not draw attention to itself but now it is looking at the household and watching everyone interact and it sees that there is no drama going on and nothing to worry about.
Everyone in the house must stop by the cat's cage throughout the day and offer it a bit of food or a kind word or a caress -- if the cat will accept it without freaking out -- and so little by little the cat will come to the conclusion that its new environment is a nice place and it will no longer be afraid. At that point, you can then let the cat out of the cage.
How long this takes I cannot say as it depends on the age of the cat and its past experiences with humans. But I have never had this method fail in rehabilitating a feral cat.
Q: Last year I noticed small holes appearing on my vinyl siding. There were four in total and they grew progressively larger. I realized that sparrows were making the holes and that they were setting up house underneath the siding. I wasn't overly concerned because my house was in dire need of a new roof and siding anyway. Fast forward to early September of this year. Three or four weeks ago, I had everything on my house replaced from top to bottom. There is a new roof, new vinyl siding, and new rain gutters with leaf guards. I assumed my sparrow problem was gone forever. About a week or so ago, I noticed that the sparrows had come back. I don't know if it is the same group of birds that nested here before or a different group. There are at least 20 of them appearing on my roof and around my house every morning, apparently trying to find a way in again. They are not easily scared when I try to chase them away. How can I scare them away permanently and/or prevent them from pecking holes in my brand-new siding? -- Lisa Rochford, Smithtown
A: English sparrows are opportunists. The reason why they are so successful and have taken over North America is because they investigate every little potential nesting site that may be of use to them and then do their best to exploit the situation so that their friends and relatives can partake in the bounty.
However, they are not woodpeckers and they cannot actually start a nesting cavity themselves. They can enlarge a hole that they find, as you saw, but if the surface of your siding is smooth and unblemished then there is no way that they can open it up.
Although they are clever birds their brains are only the size of a lentil. So they have no idea what happened to their condominiums that they were using all year and are sitting around your house waiting for the holes to miraculously start to open again. After a few more weeks of waiting they will give up the whole situation, abandon their vigil and move on to a better piece of real estate.