So the good news is Cali and her brood were indoors safe and sound. This was my first experience with ferals, but fortunately the good folks at Tomball AAR and another rescue group, Tomball Save Our Strays, (TSOS), were invaluable with sound advice. The most important was to try to socialize everyone for potential adoption. Isolating them from the rest of our cats, (who surprisingly showed little interest beyond cursory sniffs at the door to the guest room then sauntering off in disinterest), was the first step. Next was getting Cali spayed. All of our other cats had been spayed and neutered, so there wasn't any danger of her having another litter. However, spaying does have benefits with a cat's behavior such as making them calmer and there are many health benefits.
This did mean removing Cali from her kittens. Since they were about twelve weeks old and weaned, they were old enough to be on their own. So I took her to the workout room, and set it up so she'd be comfortable. I did feel bad, because she had been starting to trust us, then all of a sudden was trapped in the crate, then a couple days later taken away from her babies. But she had to be isolated since she was still producing milk, and couldn't be spayed until her supply dried up. That would take a week, during which we spent as much time with her as possible. After a while she started showing more affection, so the trust was starting to come back.
In the meantime, we bought a tall kitty condo for the kittens. They sniffed around it, then quickly started climbing all over. The black and white one was the most active, and soon lead the others in high dives from the top of the condo to the bed in the guest room. I swear I heard him going, "Banzai!" several times. As for socializing the kittens, I was told the best way was to spend time with them, but don't approach them. When they were ready, they would approach. So I would sit against a wall watching them watching me. I would hold a hand out, which would get tentative sniffs, but they still stayed out of reach.
What broke the ice were shoelaces. We had determined we had three males and one female. The female was the first to be curious about my shoelaces. Finally, she grabbed the end of one in her mouth and started tugging. After a couple days, the others also thought this was great fun. At one point I had a kitten pulling on each shoelace end in different directions. While they were doing this, I would hold pieces of tuna out, which after some wary sniffs, they started accepting. From there, they started accepting head scratches, and within a week started purring while starting to rub up against us.
In the meantime, Cali was spayed, and after a few days to recover, we decided to introduce her to the other cats in the household. This was done by simply leaving the door to the workout room open. Still the older cats pretty much ignored her, with one exception. Merlin, who had been a stray himself, sauntered in. It was interesting watching the interaction between him and Cali. Despite being a mom, Cali rolled over in a submissive position, while Merlin would growl and hiss. That actually established their relationship, and afterward the two became inseparable. It was something seeing them together because of the size difference. Cali is a petite eight pounder, while Merlin is a hulking twenty-five pounds at least.
Poor Merlin had been pretty much ignored by the other cats, so it was heartwarming he finally had a companion. So at least things were going well with Cali, and the decision was made to keep her.
As for the kittens, the hope was still to foster them for adoption, but Fate had something else in mind.
To be continued...