TWO THIN, frightened stray cats from the West Virginia woods have found loving owners and are proving that near-wild cats can become tame and affectionate pets.
These two are possibly living in the first houses they have ever been in.
During a walk in those woods last October, Ron and Rose Marie Merservey discovered a thin, shy and frightened solid black cat with her even more frightened kitten.
Instead of a weekend with their friends, most of their time was spent in the woods feeding, luring and eventually catching the two.
''Ron first spotted the mother near a shack. She was so hungry she was attracted to us but was afraid to get close. Under the shack porch we saw the kitten, who was brown tiger-striped with a white face, about 4 months old.'' They believe the mother is about 2 years old.
''We brought scraps to the area then went to a local grocer for some dry cat food. People who cleaned the cabins and restrooms in the woods said the cats had been there at least a month. We knew the camp would close soon, and then the cats wouldn't have campers to throw food as we suspected they had been depending upon,'' she said.
The couple say they have owned cats all their lives. Ron Merservey is a government employee and Rose Marie works with the Howard County Sexual Assault Center. They own an old cat named Fluffy, ''who kind of wandered in one day about 13 years ago when we were living in South Carolina, and we own Pedro, a small dog we found and have had for 11 years.''
At the resort that Sunday, the couple was to leave by noon but were, instead, near the shack in the woods with a plan to take the cats with them.
''Food had conquered the mother, who had begun to let us touch her. She was wary but would purr and love it. The kitten would not come near us.
''As we stood there, I said a prayer 'if only we could get close enough to them' and as I said it my husband saw the mother cat lie down under the shack and begin to nurse the kitten. I got flat on my stomach and crawled slowly toward them as quietly as I could. Then in a flash I reached out and grabbed the kitten by the back of his neck. He didn't fight, he just curled in a ball. I gave him to my husband and quickly grabbed the mother, who scratched me a bit. My heart was about to pound out.
''We put them in the van, and as we did I felt a conflict within me saying 'What have we gotten ourselves in for?' We couldn't keep both, but we could foresee what was in the future for them there.
''In the van, the two hid and howled. You have never heard such howling and carrying on in your life. And it went on for the more than two-hour trip home,'' she says.
At home, they took the cats in and ''I'm sure they had never been in a house. And, although they were frightened and hid under the couch, they did come out to use the cat box,'' she says.
Within a month, peace reigned as the cats learned to run and play and get along with the other animals. Both were wormed and the mother, now named Marva for Maryland and Virginia, was spayed. Just before Christmas the kitten went to Selina Gupte from Ellicott City, a young college student who lives with her family and who knew a friend of the Merserveys. The kitten has been neutered and is comfortable and happy in his new home. Merservey says, ''It is a very good home and we hear about him often.
''After he left, the mother seemed to shed her responsibilities and is now one to jump on my lap and enjoy being special. She's getting fat.''
On Feb. 5, in the Volunteer column and the following day in Pausing With Pets, John Collins, who is with the American Legion support group for families of service members in Operation Desert Storm, was featured. Collins is assigned to help service members find temporary homes for their pets. In each column, Collins requested volunteers who were willing to keep pets while their owners were overseas. To date he has been contacted by 200 volunteers, includingtwo owners of farms who will board horses, exercise and feed them free for a service member; a reptile owner who will keep snakes and lizards; and a person with an aviary of exotic birds who will keep birds. Collins says he will no longer take the names of volunteers but asks that anyone who wants to help should contact his nearest animal shelter and offer to act as a liaison to keep any service member's pets until Collins can be contacted. John Collins' number is 788-6149.
A pair of nearly wild cats come in from the cold