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Advice needed re. rehabilitating Feral cats

post #1 of 10
Thread Starter 
Hi all

I'm hoping some of you may be able to offer me some advice please... I'll give you all the background so that you have the full picture.

I homed a rescued feral cat who they estimated was about 8 weeks when found in the wild, she was then in a rescue centre for 4-5 months as she was too wild to rehome and then she went to a foster home for a month where the fosterer had her on a harness and lead and tried to get her used to contact on a daily basis. At about 9 months old, I homed her. I already had a 9yo cat and was confident that the personality match would work - and it did, within 3 days they were playing together and cuddling up. They get on really well!

I have now had the feral (Rina) for 8 months and she has got to the stage where occasionally she will let me stroke her and she no longer scratches and freaks out when you pick up her (although you do have to back her into a corner before she'll sit still).

Anyway....we recently moved to a property with a garden (previously no outside space) as I really wanted my two cats to be able to go outside. I had planned to keep them in for two weeks to get them used to the new place then slowly introduce them to the garden, however, after just one week, Rina got out through an open window and didn't come back. I was devastated but also my other cat (Maud) appeared at a complete loss too.

After 2 weeks a neighbour phoned to say Rina was in her garden but she couldn't catch her. After a further week, we caught Rina with a trap and now I finally have her home again and she seems happy, but I would really like at some point for her to use the garden - without running away!!

At this point, I would just like to say that it has very much been on my mind that possibly Rina is happier outside in the wild and maybe I should just let her go, but all the rescue centres advise that although she would survive, they don't encourage strays and she would be much healthier if she could be kept warm, fed and inoculated. Also, Rina does seem very happy with us - particularly playing and cuddling with Maud - so please don't crash down on me for keeping her; I already have a huge battle of conscience about that.

Ideally, what I'd like to achieve is letting Rina into the garden so she can roam at free will but convincing her to come home for dinner! Does anyone have any experience of this or can anyone offer advice as to how to train her to come home for food? Unfortunately, just calling her name and rattling a box of biscuits hasn't proven successful to date. (BTW - She is now about 18 months old and has a trainable nature but it takes a lot of time and trust).

Thanks very much...
post #2 of 10
Welcome Natalie! I think maybe if you haven't already, check out the Strays and Ferals thread. I don't have any advice to get them coming home because I never let mine out, but I'm sure others will be along to chime in.
post #3 of 10
Hi, Natalie, welcome! Let's move your thread to our Strays and Ferals Forum to be sure it is seen by our experts in this field.
post #4 of 10
hmm I have a indoor/outdoor cat, but he was never a wild cat as far as I know. I think there are a few things that could be done, from what I've read others post. You could put up a outdoor incloser, take him out on a leash. Personally, when I let Mai Sai out at first, I went with him. I had him in for 3 weeks and then took him out twice on a lead and walked him around his "yard" (I've heard dog owners will do with this dogs, only also have them pee and mark this area, and it keeps them in more). After that I went in the back with him, set out a blanket and read while he played, after three times he was going in and out on his own. With you I would do alot like this, only let your other cat out at the same time, since they seem so close.
post #5 of 10
I was taught (and I do not know this to be so) that 'some' former ferals once allowed back outside will revert back to those feral instincts. Not all do this and I don't know the truth in the statement. Many that get accustomed to the area will do fine. It may take much longer for some than others. Maybe just depends on the individual cat. Changes sometimes cause set backs for former ferals.

With the recent move being a natural stress for cats, she might need to be indoor only for a longer time until she gets used to the new home. I hear stories about cats going out at the new home and try to find a way back to the old home.

Another option to transition would be an outdoor enclosure so she could get used to all the scents in the area before being allowed out alone.

Hope some of that made sense! Just give her time.
post #6 of 10
Hi and welcome!

I definitely would not release her into the wild, cats have a very short life span outside, and she's spent too long being pampered

In general, it's safer to keep a cat indoors only - there's poisons, traffic, other animals carrying diseases, people who don't like cats, and all sorts of other hazards outside.

If you really want to let them out though, just make sure they have no food available to them when they're outside, and preferably feed them in the morning, and let them out in the afternoon so they come in for dinner.

It may be a good idea to keep them in for a couple of months, especially Rina, until they are completely used to their new surroundings, and feel safe. Rina may have freaked out a bit at being in a new place which is why she wanted to escape.

I'm guessing that since she's hard to hold, she wouldn't take to wearing a harness? "Cat walking jackets" keep the kitty a little more safe and secure than a regular harness, and you have a bit more control. Here's some links:

You could try spending a few week of getting the cat used to the jacket inside, then start walking them outside on the leash so they get used to the area under supervision to get used to the area, and learn where home is, then decide if you want them outside loose, or supervised on the leash.

Good luck
post #7 of 10
Thread Starter 
Hi everyone

Thanks so much for your welcomes and kind responses! I really appreciate your suggestions.

I am a little torn between keeping Rina in for a longer period so that she 1) settles in the new home and 2) becomes accustomed to its smells etc, but in my old property (with no outside space) she was showing signs of boredom and I'm concerned that this will quickly return, so I don't wish to keep her in for too long. I guess I need to play that one by ear and see how she goes...

As for the harness idea - she has worn a harness in the past (her foster mum kept her in one at all times), so its possible but unfortunately the stress of catching her and putting her in it may negate the benefits of using one

The idea I really love is having an enclosed outside area - I would like ideally to somehow enclose my whole garden (its about 17 foot by 8 foot), so both cats could have the whole run of it but not escape. Then eventually once I had got Rina into a routine of coming in for food, I could remove the enclosure. Does anyone know anywhere or anyone that might be able to help with that idea? I'm aware it could be very costly and I have no idea as to who would do that sort of thing, but I would love to find out details to explore the option...!

Thanks again for your support and ideas - and all further ideas are very welcome!

Natalie x
post #8 of 10
there are a variety of fencing options that are meant to keep cats in the yard:

i have learned that it's up to us humans to mitigate between making cats as happy as possible while still exercising best judgment over them. if you can find a way to make sure they won't get out, allowing them into the garden should be fine, though i would try to supervise.

Rina probably should acclimate to the new house for a while longer before you try letting her out, during this time you should really work with her so she understands you have all the food, skritches, etc. so she doesn't want to stay away.
post #9 of 10
Originally Posted by namford View Post
although she would survive,

Im not at all sure she would survive. She was taken as a young kitten, 8 weeks. So she has hardly learned everything of the trade from her mother.
Since then she was kept indoor.

As now, she is essentially like an indoor cat who get loose. May survive, especially in summer, her getting SOME lesson from mother a plus, but dangers and difficulties are great - its more then 50% risk she will NOT survive on her own.

But if you had her feral mother - yes, the mother would probably manage OK... Especielly with some friendly help.

So, proceed with what you are doing. Work on her with help of your resident, make them an outside enclosure. It will be more then enough.

Good luck!

ps: Kittens taken as 8 weeks are usually not difficult to foster. But she apparently never got a proper, correct fostering before she come to you. I suspect she was more like kept then fostered.
Thus, you did got this half semiferal, half tame cat first when almost grown up....

Believe me, you are doing great, and it will be better and better still!

Her curve of development thinking about her circumstances is perfectly normal.
post #10 of 10
Thread Starter 
Dear all

Thanks jimmylegs for that link - I've learned some really good things from that site, thank you! And to StefanZ and everyone for your kind advice and support.

I'm pleased to say that in the 8 days Rina has been home, she seems so much more comfortable than before - she is even allowing me to stroke her fully (head to tail), which has never previously happened. Part of me wonders (hopes) that she may even be appreciating being home again and realising how nice it is compared to the outside! Fingers crossed &

I'm slowly getting her to associate key words with feeding time so that hopefully I can call her with the trigger words and she'll know to come for food, but I think we need to continue practising this for some time before I'm prepared to test it!

I really appreciated your help and reassurance, so thanks again.

All the best
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