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Taking Feral Indoors

post #1 of 12
Thread Starter 

For the past three years I have been taking care of a feral outdoors -- including building a shelter to get him through the winters.   He first arrived at my back door with his family -- three kittens, and a mother cat that disappeared abruptly.  From day one I took the opportunity to calm and socialize them.  The three kittens showed great promise and ultimately -- even after TNR -- they were all adopted in very good homes (one kitten went to my mother who is thrilled to have the best cat she ever had in her life).  Through the past 30 years in the same home I have placed several other cats, born or arriving in my garden, with good results.  In fact the wonderful cat I had for the past 15 years was a feral kitten from my garden, but he died this past February. He turned out to be the most affectionate, loyal and well adjusted cat anyone could ever hope for. (But I hardly saw him in my house for the first three months!)


I would have taken in DaddyBoy when he was younger (he's about 4 or 5 now); but my cat would never have any part of sharing his house with another feline and with his state of failing health I didn't want to stress him out.


The good news is that DaddyBoy loves me, comes in to the house for feedings, and on rare occasions will spend the greater part of an evening (getting me up at 3 AM with his howling) but only when it is extremely cold, snowy or wet/windy. He ignores the litter box, but never had an accident indoors. He's healthy, playful, surprisingly affectionate (given his past) and stays within a three garden radius of my property. I have always had 100% indoor cats and I feel guilty that I want to transform this cat in the same manner.  I wonder if he will cooperate.  I know the weather isn't cooperating -- it's been unusually warm so far this year and there hasn't been any incentive for him to come in permanently.  I have not placed his insulated house outdoors yet because I want to see if he will eventually give in to his loving abductor (me!).  If he is indoors, going to the vet on a regular basis will be easier, he won't be drinking filthy water out of garden fountains and he will be generally safer from the ills of my urban environment that is not free of raccoons, skunks, aggressive un-neutered ferals and car anti-freeze.  He, however, exhibits no problem with any of this.  He is a great hunter (can I save a few migratory birds please?) and climbs very high trees and gets out of them quite easily.


So OK I'm ready for your take on this. Do I lock the door and hope for the best?  How long should such an experiment go on for?  Has anyone else done this with an adult cat? Please take into account that I may move overseas within the next three years and I would fully expect to take him with me -- but that means having a fully documented healthy cat.  Otherwise, there would be no one to take care of him and abandoning him -- not an option for me -- would take its toll on both of us.


I took care of nearly this whole challenge that began three years ago.  The last part is DaddyBoy and the moment of reckoning is upon us. 





post #2 of 12
While all of my cats were born feral, I only have 1 at the present time that lived outside for a few years before I was able to tempt him into the house. He first stepped inside my house when he was about 18 months old. Over the years he has come in more and more and since his buddy Bob died last year from cancer (Bob was an indoor/outdoor cat), he prefers to stay inside for the most part. Although he's fine with the litter box, he still follows the dogs outside when they have to go and he likes to do his business there then come back inside. I've not tried to force the issue to keep him inside all the time. I'm out in a semi-rural area and we don't have much car traffic out here.

What helped me with the transition is that Lucky Pierre really LOVES other cats. He was lost after Bob died and it took a while for the other cats to embrace him, but now his best friends live inside, so his preference is to stay there. He spends most of his days in a cat pile with Spanky and Pinky. These cats have also taught him that jumping up on the sofa and laying down next to me for scritches is about the best thing there is (next to the cat pile), and Lucky has been doing this steadily for the last 6 months or so. Lucky turned 8 this year, so he didn't really make the transition to mostly indoor cat until he was 7.

You can simply lock the door and not let him out again, but I suspect that he will start peeing all over your house. I tried that with Bob one time and Bob took to jumping into bed with me at night and peeing on me, but only when I was awake and looking at him. Those were the days before products like Cat Attract litter, which would have helped me with Bob's defiance. If you do this, seriously look at Cat Attract litter - it has an earthy smell (sort of like wet dirt) and cats are really drawn to it. You need to be prepared for behavior issues while the transition occurs and expect that transition to take months, not days or weeks. Eventually they realize that they aren't going out, and they accept it. Enrich the environment with tall cat trees and natural materials that you find outside (I kept a tree branch inside the house for a while). Find his sweet spots (whether that is scritching, treats, etc) and give them to him. I found that Lucky absolutely LOVES to be brushed and have his stomach scratched. Go figure. He gets that from me as a reward every single time he jumps up next to me.
post #3 of 12

It really depends upon the personality of the cat.  In late January 2011 "Buckley" was trapped and moved into my friends cattery, along with two, and then two more, cats from the same feral cat colony, most of whom had at one time been owned by an (in)human.  Buckley  had the most laid-back, docile attitude upon being released into the cattery, but grew use to being inside, although was always somewhat aloof.  Fast forward to October when we were getting ready to put him into a cat carrier to go to a Forever Home.  He freaked out, somehow escaped the house, made it back to the colony 2 miles away, was retrapped about two weeks ago (to keep one of the cats in the cattery company), went back to the same place in the house where he escaped, stayed in the eaves for around 10 hours, and is now back in the cattery.  Given a chance, we think he would try to escape again.  That said, he is different this time around--more affectionate, seeks attention. 

Good idea about bringing inside some of what he is use to on the outside, like dirt.  Install window perches so that DaddyBoy can see outside (a window sill is of course idea); make sure the screens are sturdy with no holes.

Keep us updated.  Thanks.

post #4 of 12
Awww..... heartpump.gif Bless you for (properly) caring for these cats! hugs.gif

I'd normally caution that cats that have lived outdoors for most of the time have trouble adjusting to being indoors 100% of the time, and in some instances it's just kind of cruel. As the others have pointed out, it really depends on the personality of the cat.

But in this intstance, it seems to me you really have to try, given that you may have to move overseas. I realize its three years from now, but you'll need the time for him to be able to travel and adjust if you are going to make that move overseas. agree.gif

What I haven't seen mentioned yet is what I think you're going to need to give you and DaddyBoy the best chance at making this work, and that's a safe room. If he's going to bonk out and shred, scratch, and spray when he realizes he can't get out... you might want to consider containing it to just one room for that first few weeks (or more?).

I'd buy a Feliway plug-in and plug it in for two days before you ... lock him in there. I second the suggestion of using Cat Attract litter, and definitely provide at least two boxes for him (he's not used to peeing and pooping in the same place).

If you have a tall cat tree, put it in there. If you have a bird feeder, put it out the window so he's got "cat TV." I know he's not used to toys... you might want to start introducing some wand toys so he knows what they are and they don't just freak him out, because he's going to need play interaction. agree.gif I LOVE the idea of a stump or sturdy branch for him to scratch.

Sorry for the length, but maybe something in here will help you decide how to proceed. smile.gif

Now... all of that said... we have 8 cats, all feral rescues. One was a year old when we brought him inside full time in 2003 (Tuxedo) (but he'd known us since he was 4 or 5 weeks old), one was about 2 when we brought him inside in 2008 (Billy) (and he'd only known us for the summer and part of the fall); the last one was either 3 or 4 and we didn't know him at all when we brought him inside (Chumley, last year).

We live in an RV. We have no way to separate cats for socialization or proper introductions.

Tuxedo. We already had three of his siblings inside full time as pets, and one adopted out. He was unadoptable. Mean to us, TERRIBLE with other cats (sent two to the hospital needing stitches). His switch flipped that first winter, he headbumped my husband, and that was that. But we couldn't risk him with the other cats, so outside he stayed. The temps fell to sub zero (actual, not windchill) late that February. My husband couldn't take it. Tuxie wasn't using any of the shelters we put out for him. We found a (new) empty boarding facility willing to take him (for shelter only). Inside he went. We visited him frequently, he adjusted. dontknow.gif He also developed a UTI, went to the hospital, stopped eating... and the vet told us we had to take him home, he was just dying there. So we did. And poor little guy was so weak, he had no fight in him, and moving in full time went without hitch. rub.gif

Billy. He and his brother were born feral, we know this from the neighbor in the RV park that was caring for him and his brother (feeding them). They were just ... "raised" around friendly people. We got them TNRd, and the guy that was taking care of them left. frown.gif We couldn't foster, but we tried to find them a home together. We found a wonderful home for one of them (HATED to split them up), and it was BREAKING OUR HEARTS to have Billy out there alone. We simply couldn't take it. But Tuxedo (different story) has a compromised immune system. So we could not bring Billy inside without being quarantined at the vet to make sure he wasn't bringing anything in here with him. Turns out he had giardia (no wonder we couldn't get him to bulk up for winter). He was terrified at the vet for two weeks. But when we released him into our bedroom... well, our theory is that he was just SO RELIEVED to be out of the vet boarding, that he simply accepted our home. heartpump.gif Obviously he'd learned to use the litter box at the vet... so we just had no issues with him.

Chumley. He was so food aggressive when he turned up here, all the other ferals disappeared. He was also so food aggressive, he didn't run from us. We didn't know what to do with him, but we couldn't release him back outside after trapping him for his neuter. So we rented a trailer, parked it in the site next to us, and released him there. We figured we'd give it a shot at fostering him, and get him in the foster network and up for adoption. He did not know what the litter box was. When he first peed, we soaked up his pee and put the paper towels in one box. When he first pooped, we used paper towels to put it in the other box. That was that, he used the boxes from there on out. Chum's story was different than your boy's. Chum had a formerly broken leg that healed on its own, he was very beat up, parasite-ridden, had obviously been very hungry, had an abscess on his foot, and thus it shouldn't have been a real surprise to find out he was FIV+, and he was in bad shape. Horrible diarrhea, allergies, lots of immune-related problems. So as it turns out, he was just grateful to be safe and have food. He lived in the trailer on his own (obviously we spent a lot of time over there) while we socialized him. After two months we began slow introductions to our gang in the RV... that's a different story. But he moved over herefull time in August (after being released into the trailer in May).

Your boy is more akin to Billy than Tuxie or Chumley. The difference is that Billy had never been indoors before. We fully believe what made his transition ... "easy" ... was that he spent two weeks at the vet. I think that was so terrifying that almost ANY alternative was better than that. Now... as DaddyBoy is not ill, if you want to consider the "shock" approach to moving him indoors, you could consider boarding him at the vet for a week or something. He may be so much happier in a safe room, and so grateful for "being rescued" from the vet, that he transitions much more easily than he would otherwise. It seems a harsh (and expensive) way to go about it. BUT... it may also help the transition go that much more quickly. So yes, far more traumatic in the short run... but potentially worth it in the long run. dontknow.gif We had no choice because of the other cats. But it did produce unexpected results. So just putting it out there.

Vibes and hugs to you on your journey with DaddyBoy! hugs.gifhugs.gifhugs.gifvibes.gifvibes.gifvibes.gif
post #5 of 12
Excellent helpful tips from all of the above biggthumpup.gif I will second the boarding of the cat for a few nights that Laurie mentions. agree.gif Over that past year's, I have TNRd quite a few barn feral's where I boarded my horse. On two separate occasions, upon moving my horse to a new barn, I had to trap a couple of cat's for TNR and relocate them with me to the new barn. One of the barn's was closing and another barn didn't want this cat on the property anymore due to his fighting the other barn cat's. On each of these occasions until I had my horse settled into the new barn and discussing cat's with the barn owner, the cat's needed to be boarded for a number of day's before I could go and pick them up. I decided to bring them home - after the boarding - instead of relocating to the new barn - not because the barn owner's said no, but I felt these cat's might have a chance at a better life. And if it didn't work out, then I could easily take them to the barn, keep them confined for awhile so they knew to stick around where it was safe and where there would be a constant food source availalbe. But, I wanted to see if there was a chance to successfully socialize them. Again, this was two different cat's from two different barn's and two different time periods. But it worked biggrin.gifclap.gifclap.gifclap.gif These cat's were estimated to be anywhere from about 1 1/2 years to 3 years. Each of these cat's - both males - although different personalities - successfully turned the corner from feral to friendly in a matter of three month's time, one a tiny bit longer.. Each of them found super new homes through the TNR organization I work with. I really DO think the boarding after their TNR for a few day's makes a huge difference in how grateful, relieved they are just to get out of that terrible cage and environment and into a nice cozy, comfortable room with all of their necessities. A deep trust had been established from me since I picked them up and brought them into this "safe" new place. It seemed that after that boarding trauma, they forgot about the outddor life. Sound's odd - but it seemed quite true to me. It is like they just don't know what happened to their "other" life and it just does not exist anymore. dontknow.gif It is traumatic for them, as Laurie said, agree.gif, but it really can work fairly well for SOME adult feral cat's. There are those that will NEVER socialize or adjust to indoor life or living in close proximity to human's and it is more cruel to force the issue than to just let them live out their life outdoors, free and wild.

You already have a solid, trusting relationship going with DaddyBoy clap.gif, that in itself it a HUGE step in the right direction of making him a comfortable, happy and trusting indoor kitty!!! Best of luck to you and please keep us posted biggrin.gifvibes.gifvibes.gifvibes.gifvibes.gifvibes.gifvibes.gifvibes.gifvibes.gifvibes.gifvibes.gifvibes.gifvibes.gifvibes.gifvibes.gifvibes.gifvibes.gifvibes.gif
post #6 of 12

We brought in 3 a year ago October 2010 - but, we did have the help of the Daddy of the family - he was a stray - and was able to show the mommy and her two kittens things - like humans petting, etc. was not only okay, but felt good, too.  Now when I am grooming Gray,  mommy (Gigi) comes running and says something like, "Me too!".  


Ours are inside full time - hubby built an outside enclosure with a cat door for them to go outside when they want - but, they mostly like it inside.  


They've been a joy to watch as they develop into happy inside cats.  I say happy because they aren't rushing the door to try and get out.  They did at first, but now they seem to enjoy the safety of the house.


We did have to put up a barrier (a rubbermaid shelving unit shelf) to protect the screen when they first came in and wanted back out. 


It's been a slow process, and one of the feral kittens still doesn't want to be touched.  She was a loner when she was outside, too so ???  She was also the last one I could trap to get spayed, and the last one to come inside when I closed the door for the last time.  I, too, started feeding them inside to help them become familiar with living with humans.  We found that soft talking and slow movement was a key in the beginning - they didn't run to hide as quickly.  We did provide plenty of hiding places, too.


It's a lot of work and sometimes I am very weary - but the rewards pay big dividends.  Bless you and all you've been doing throughout the years.  


post #7 of 12
I agree with the points raised by a couple of folks about every cat being different and therefore you can't always predict their behavior inside. In Gloria's case, she had a loner that didn't use another cat as an example for socializing inside.

It has always helped me in the past when a cat I bring inside had socialized friends. They pick up the behavior you would like from them from the other cats. Having what I call an ambassador cat is great. Cats learn best from each other.
post #8 of 12
Unfortunately, CatWhispers doesn't have any cats to lead the way. frown.gif Her beloved baby died last February. rbheart.gif (Which is what is enabling her to be able to consider how best to transition DaddbyBoy to being inside full time). heartpump.gif
post #9 of 12
You seem to have had great success with bringing other cats inside, I am sure with a little time and patience all things will work out. I do agree if you are planning to move overseas, that the sooner you can bring him, the better for both of you.
post #10 of 12
Thread Starter 

All your posts have been incredibly helpful.  I'll need to make some decisions soon about a full-blown abduction or a gradually intorducing him to being homebound.  He may have a few thoughts about this as well.  Right now it is relatively warm in Boston -- most unusual since I haven't yet had a frost!  He sleeps close by now and comes in for feedings and occasional sleep overs (6 hours a few nights ago!).  I am hoping some cold wintery weather will increase his desire to become domestic.  So far, he's happy and healthy and I've made great progress with this sociability level.  I will keep you informed.  Thank you all once again for your concern and wisdom!!!!  

post #11 of 12
I don't know what's been going on up there, but we had unseasonably warm weather down northern NJ way - until ... yesterday? Friday? It's getting very cold out at night now. agree.gif Hope your boy makes it easy and decides he just wants to be inside. laughing02.gif

Please do keep us posted!
post #12 of 12
Such progess YAY clap.gifclap.gifclap.gif. We are also going to have warmer temps this next week!!! But I am sure we will pay for that agree.giflaughing02.gif Much luck to you and your sweet boy heartpump.gifwavey.gif
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