An opinionated feline in Edmonton, Canada who lived with a retired cat behaviourist, Greyce provided behavioral advice to cats in need until her death in July 2014. Because her entries are useful even today, the blog remains posted.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Can Stray or Feral Cat Be Adopted?

Dear Greyce,

It's Chocho again. As you know, I am a rescued cat (just past being a kitten really because I'm, at most, one year old). Because of my injury I was rescued and had my leg amputated. And I'm now in an apartment with an older cat (Shushi) who doesn't like me at all. And I know you have already written about how to get Shushi used to me (in your blog entry just prior to this one), so I won't bother you with that.

My question for you is:

What are the chances of me becoming comfortable living in a household? My purrson read that it is impossible to tame a feral cat (unless a very, very young kitten) and so she is worried. She wonders if I should stay in an apartment with her or she should find me a home with a yard or some other arrangement.

Like cats in the wild, I tend to be up at night (and sleep during the day) and I'm quite private and hide a lot. At first I wouldn't let Herself near me but now I tolerate having my back stroked. I'm still jumpy if there is sudden movement, though. And I love to play with toys and am interested in exploring the apartment beyond my room (but only a bit at a time).

So Greyce, what are my chances?



Dear Chocho,

Congratulations on being rescued by a purrson who obviously cares deeply about your welfare.

I haven't had much experience with feral cats though I have had purrsonal experience with being a stray. I was left on the streets and was on my own for about a month one November. And where I live November is very cold. In fact, I was found lying down on a sheet of ice! Fortunately that is all in the past.

I did have prior homes and was used to people. So I immediately came to Herself when she said, "Hello," and then walked up her stairs into her house and refused to leave. And I've been there ever since. (Yes they did try to trace my former purrson without success, in case readers are worried that I was snatched.)

In order to answer your question properly, I did research. I've looked at some reputable websites run by organizations with a great deal of experience in this area:
- Alley Cat Allies (which has been instrumental in the Trap-Neuter-Release program centred on feral cat colonies) has excellent information sheets that can be downloaded from 
- American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) at
- Urban Cat League at

And then to add a purrsonal touch, I contacted my Aunt Susan, a Reiki Master who works solely with animals (mostly cats and dogs). She lives in an area where there are a lot of roaming cats, many of whom are only partly looked after (by their so-called caregivers) or are abandoned. And she runs an informal sanctuary from the yard in her home, along with directly caring for almost a dozen cats. She has had experience with a wide range of stray cats (from very young kittens to truly feral adults).

She recounted the case of a truly feral cat who made it clear he wanted nothing to do with human beings. For his sake, she placed him with a good caregiver who had a farm and needed a barn cat to catch mice. From all accounts he thrived because he didn't really have to deal with people (but was assured safe shelter, good food and care as needed).

She also told me of many other cases (from very young kittens to considerably older cats); she has worked to socialize them and place them in homes. And in her home are many former strays. For example, at the head of the household is Christmas Blessing who had been on his own for about 4 years and was dying; he is now in his teens. At the opposite end is a newly-arrived young kitten, Billie, born feral and placed in an unsuitable home. There is much remedial work to be done.

By consulting her and reading the materials in the websites I searched, I have come to the following conclusions:

Yes it is true that feral cats cannot be tamed and are thus best left to live in a supervised, outdoor cat colony rather than in a confined or human-centred area. This is because cats learn to trust humans; they are not born with a trust of humans. And like all creatures, we learn easiest when we are young. At a certain point, it is difficult (some would say, impossible) to establish that trust and thus the cat is not suited for life as a pet.

HOWEVER and this is a big however, in many cases it depends on the purrsonality of the cat and the knowledge and patience of the purrson. Your purrsonality is something that is a product of your experience and most importantly of your parents; and since we know nothing of that I cannot comment. Indeed, you may not even be a true feral (that is, born in the wild with no human contact ever before).

You show some very good signs of being a cat who can adapt to life as a pet, in particular circumstances. I am basing this on the chart comparing feral and stray cats, provided by Alley Cat Allies:
- You are vocal and like to talk. A true feral cat does not do this.
- When you were found, you were disheveled. A true feral cat tends to have a well-groomed coat.
- You are starting to accept some touch (yes, a little, but definitely some). A true feral cat cannot be touched at all, ever.
- You are starting to show interest in exploring the rest of the apartment. A true feral cat would show no such interest and would remain tense at all times.
- You are interested in playing with toys. This is a great sign that your are household-worthy.

Obviously you are taking your time to adapt to your new circumstances but I doubt you are going to be the kind of cat who will spend the next year of your life under the bed all the time, refusing to be touched.

So my dear, I believe the prognosis is favourable in your case, with some important conditions:

1. The trust you develop with your purrson is the most important thing. You may only be able to develop that level of trust with one purrson. This would make it difficult for you to leave your current home. But if your purrson (and Shushi) are willing to allow you to stay, this should not be a problem. If that is not possible, please let me know and we can discuss it further.

2. You need to take each step on the road to becoming more social s-l-o-w-l-y and one at a time, otherwise you will be overwhelmed. The Alley Cat Allies brochure Faux Ferals - How to Soothe A Scared Stray to Increase Hers Chances of Adoption has  tips for how Herself can help you adjust to living in a home.

3. If for any reason you need to be placed in another home, that purrson should be experienced in dealing with cats like you. He or she must have great patience AND knowledge of how to handle a somewhat skittish feline. Most importantly, that purrson should be prepared to invest the time in establishing a relationship with you and be consistent with your routine and in the way he or she relates to you. It would be best that it be a quiet household without children.

Chocho, I hope this helps you sort our where you should live. If you have further questions, you know how to contact me.