Twelve years ago, we went to adopt a cat after the death of our KitKat, our dear cat who had survived for many years following brain tumor surgery. KitKat was a black and white cat so we decided we’d love to adopt another “tuxedo” cat.
Our nearby shelter had a six-month-old black and white cat for adoption but warned us that he was a feral cat and being adopted as a “barn cat.” When we saw him, he was still under anesthesia after being neutered. He looked perfect to us, and we adopted him, naming him Felix, and said we’d be back to pick him up as soon as he was ready.
Feral cats, as the name implies, are born wild, unlike a stray cat that may have been a pet then somehow came to live on its own. A feral cat is generally born to a feral mother and raised without human interaction. Unsocialized, feral cats have an instinctive fear of people. At the present time, there’s no accurate count of the number of feral cats in the US but it is definitely in the millions. Many live in colonies, some cared for by TNR (trap-neuter-release) groups; others, like our Felix, are caught and taken to shelters. Most feral cats never leave the shelter alive.
Other feral cats are lucky enough to be adopted out as “barn cats,” the shelter’s plan for this kitten. Well, we have a barn but we didn’t want a barn cat; we wanted a cat to live exclusively indoors like our other cats. We’ve had numerous cats through the years, each a special member of our family. How much different could a feral cat be?
We soon found out.
Felix’s introduction to our home was a quick one; he came out of the fog of anesthesia, hissed, slapped, and quickly relocated himself to the back of an open closet. He stayed there for a week. We gave him food and water in the closet along with a small litter box and, during the daylight hours, there was no sign of Felix. At night, we knew that Felix would come out and explore the room (our other cat was kept in the rest of the house, away from Felix) because the treats we left out in the center of the room were gone every morning.
Little by little, we began moving Felix’s food and water closer to the closet door then finally out into the room itself. We did our best to watch Felix only from the corner of our eye, giving him the space and the time that he needed to become accustomed to his new home. Our other cat, tiny Elaine, was somewhat shy around people herself but quickly took to Felix.
About six weeks after Felix came into our home, we decided he needed an outgoing buddy. We headed back to the shelter to look for a sociable friend. We adopted Linus, a six-week-old bundle of energy that seemed to know no fear. He loved people and literally hit the ground running in our home. Linus instantly took to our home and to our other cats.
Soon we saw Felix watching Linus playing with us, enjoying toys and treats, and sitting in our laps. Little by little, Felix edged closer and closer to us as he saw his new little brother safely interacting with humans.
One day, Felix let us touch him. After a few months, we were allowed to pet him. Then, one day, Felix decided that maybe humans weren’t so bad after all.
Today Felix still shows signs of shyness around anyone outside of our family, hiding if a guest comes in the house. Otherwise, though, he’s just like our other cats, except that he has taught us some very important lessons about feral cats.
Adopting and taming a feral cat is a slow process, one that takes time, patience, treats, and, if you’re lucky, another very social cat to lead the way. We’ve taught Felix that all humans aren’t scary and that living indoors is nice and comfortable—but he has taught us far more.