Tuesday, 22 January 2019

Living With A Feral Cat

Can a Feral Cat Become a Pet Cat?

Can a feral cat become a pet cat? Do feral cats ever adapt to a new life as a domesticated animal companion for a human? I had never asked these questions but am in the process of finding out. It all started about 18 months ago when a she-cat who was clearly feral turned up in the garden of the house I rent the ground floor of, and brought with her four kittens. This is why I ended up calling her “Mum!”

First of all she put the kittens behind some Physalis bushes and then moved them behind a large clump of Agapanthus in the front garden. One day she decided another move was needed and they all followed her to the back of the house, where she settled on putting them behind some large gas bottles in the barbecue area. This became their home for weeks from which they would venture forth, but if anything threatened, such as a human like me approached, they would all disappear behind the canisters under a large shelf built on to a back wall.
I already had two cats: Cuddly a neutered tom tuxedo cat that I had adopted when a girl living in a maisonette at the back started leaving him out when he was a kitten and because her puppy kept attacking him, and Bianca an abandoned grey tabby she-cat who turned up in heat with a gang of toms after her. I got her spayed with the help of the Bianca Animal Shelter, hence her name. To take on another five cats was out of the question, and illegal here. I told my landlord and he thought the kittens would end up “wandering away” when they were older. I was sure he was right but thought that that would be a recipe for future problems because they would end up fathering or giving birth to more unwanted kittens. It turned out there were two boys and two girl kittens.
By this time, I had started to feed Mum and as the kittens grew bigger I fed them too. They were all very wary of me and ran whenever I went out the back. Everyone I told about the situation said that I must get the kittens used to interacting with humans, or otherwise no one will want them. This was worrying. I began feeding them all on a table outside the kitchen window and after weeks, Mum let me touch her gently on the back and I could do this with the kittens.
She was a fantastic mother and it was a real delight watching her each day as she looked after them. As they got older they would all play chase and fighting games. They began going in the front garden and I got worried they would be in danger of cars in the road. Fortunately they all stayed safe, although one day, one of them went missing for many hours, which distressed the mother a lot, and she kept looking for him and calling out. He eventually turned up with his fur all wet and some dirt in it. To this day I have no idea where he had been but was relieved he was OK. I think maybe he went in a neighbour’s garden and had fallen in a pool or maybe someone had squirted him to drive him away. The road I live in is on the outskirts of a large town. There are very many detached houses and a similar road runs parallel behind it, and over the road from it is woodland and scrub.
The pure joy of watching the kittens grow was tempered by my very real worry about where they were going to go and could I get them friendly to humans in time. I posted lots of photos on my Facebook wall and there were loads of people saying how cute they were and how they would love to take one.
Unfortunately everyone who wanted a kitten lived in America or the UK. After daily efforts I made at playing with them, trying to pet them and touching their mother as much as she would let me, the kittens were losing their fear and I could pick two of them up with no trouble. But they couldn’t stay living here and were making attempts to come in. I had to do something and after problems with waiting for one person who failed to arrive and failed to rehome them, as she had promised, the kittens all ended up going to the Bianca shelter. I was really sad about them going but it really was impossible for me to keep them here.
Mum was upset for a day or so and kept calling out for them and wandering about looking for them but then she settled. By now she was coming inside on a regular basis. I knew I had to get her spayed and tried a local vet based with the Pet Planet store. I was told they had to do a physical examination before an appointment for the spaying could be arranged. With the help of a friend I took Mum to the clinic but she freaked out as soon as the vet got her out of the carrier. She jumped up on some high shelves, hid under benches and nearly knocked a PC monitor over when the vet and her assistant tried to catch her. After chasing her around eventually Mum was back in the carrier and the vet gave up on the examination. I thought this was very unprofessional, but could understand their point of view. I am sure they don’t get many customers bringing in feral animals for treatment.
Eventually I got help from Animais De Rua, a Portuguese animal welfare group, and it was explained to me that they would be taking her away for three days and that I would have to pay for petrol costs for Artur their driver. I agreed to this, and after a lot of difficulty catching her she was taken away and brought back days later. It had been decided that I was going to be keeping her in my bedroom for a week, and I had been told I was to try and ensure she didn’t jump about. This failed because the first thing Mum did after being let out of the carrying box was run up my curtains and leap onto a wardrobe. You can but try!
After her period of being confined to the house was through, she became a new member of the family here and went in and out just like Cuddly and Bianca. A new problem was about to begin though because Mum took a dislike to Bianca and attacked her on a daily basis. This really wasn’t fair because it had been Bianca’s home before Mum, and she was a smaller and gentler cat. Mum would run at her and scream or pounce on her. After several weeks it hadn’t got any better and one night Bianca went out early evening and never came back. Bianca had sometimes stayed out all night before but always came back for her breakfast but not this time. I know she was getting food elsewhere in the neighbourhood because on one occasion she had returned late and been sick. She vomited fish and I had not fed her this. Also before I had taken Bianca on she had been a stray. I was left wondering and am still wondering whether she had found a new home because she couldn’t stand any more attacks from Mum?
Cuddly and Mum squabbled a lot too but they were a fairer match being around the same size. Cuddly, at first was getting chased around, but then he turned and started to attack back.
The months have flown by since then and Mum has become a normal pet cat in many ways. She likes to play games with toys, she loves being petted, likes to curl up on my lap and sleeps in or on my bed. She is really affectionate and purrs loudly. BUT this is only when it comes to me. Other humans she remains scared of and will run away if anyone else comes here.  I have had to leave house-sitters to look after Mum and Cuddly on several occasions when I have had to go to the UK for a week or 10 days. Every time, I get told that Mum stays outside or out of the way when I am not here and does not let my house-sitter touch her. One managed to stroke her fur after a week of trying to make friends. Another friend of mine who helped me by looking after my place and cats, called Mum “the Wild Cat.” In keeping with this title, Mum is an excellent hunter and often catches geckos, lizards, Egyptian locusts, mice and sparrows. Many I rescue in time but others I am too late to save. She eats the birds and mice, though leaves the heads of birds. Cuddly is a hunter too and will sometimes try and steal what Mum has caught. As an animal lover I wish cats wouldn’t kill so many wildlife but I know it is instinctive behaviour. I think it would be cruel to stop my two going out because both had spent a lot of time outside before they came my way, Mum especially.
A lady I was talking to from Animais De Rua told me she had a she-cat that was formerly feral and that this cat didn’t like other humans too. I can only hope that one day Mum will accept other people, though I suppose it keeps her safe from anyone who might harm her, and sadly there are cruel people out there.
To conclude, I would say that in my experience a feral cat can become your friend and live like a normal domestic cat, but that there can be a lot of problems with them as well. Is it worth it? I would answer, yes!

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