My first encounter with a semi-feral cat was a long-haired beauty I adopted from a local animal shelter. Taj had grown up in a 90-cat household, had never been touched, and was fearful of humans. He taught me how to gain his trust, and many of the lessons I learned from him became the basis for adopting my first truly feral cat.
Experts will tell you that feral cats cannot be tamed. They’re wrong.
I fed Cascade outside for two years before trapping him in the fall. I didn’t know if I could tame him, but I refused to let him spend another winter outside.
I put him into a dog crate big enough for a Lab, designating the back of the crate his and the front of the crate our shared area. The back contained his bed; the front had his litter box on one side, his food and water on the other.
It took months before Cascade asked me to touch him. And I knew from my experience with Taj that he had to ask me. I couldn’t make the first move.
I read aloud to Cascade, wanting him to get used to having me near without being threatening. He began turning on his back in response to hearing my voice. He played with the toys I put in his crate.
And he came out into the house, ready for the next step, when I eventually opened the crate door.
Cats need a small space in which to feel secure, an environment to know and master. The crate provided that. I provided the rest–the love, the growing understanding that ferals want what every cat wants–companionship, play time, food, and the ability to sleep with both eyes closed, safe.
Cascade died a few months later, of an enlarged heart. In that short time inside, he was the happiest cat I have ever known, rocketing around the house with his tail in the air.
In Cascade’s memory, it became my mission to tame feral cats. When Darcy came around almost too easily, I trapped Banichi in my back yard. With a baby face that belied his years, Banichi was determined not to be socialized.
He taught me that patience and love weren’t always enough, that feral cats still had to call the shots. When I released him from the crate, he still didn’t want me touching him, but he learned how to relax near us, how to play, and how to make slow closing eyes at us, telling us that he was happy to be inside now.
Six years later, he has become the heart of my cat household. He keeps the peace, even with ten cats in residence, six of them feral.
I don’t need a cat in my lap, or even touching me, to know that my ferals much prefer this life to the one they led outside. Feral cats have shown me that what’s important isn’t how we love, only that we love.
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