Someone asked me to start a discussion on taming ferals. I will start by saying I am by no means an expert at this. I do have a bit of experience in doing this but as with anything there are always things that I can learn.
Over the years I have managed to tame and re home both adult and kitten ferals. One of the first things is knowing that there are many types of what people consider "feral" Some are truly feral and some are just unfortunate house cats who have been thrown out or escaped and ended up living outside.
Before I describe the different types I want to first say that if you are interested in taking in Any cat from outside there are some very important rules to follow. These are not only for your safety but the cats as well.
Very Very Important. Never ever handle a Feral without first having it seen by a vet. They can and sometimes do carry many different illnesses and rabies that can be passed on to your animals or yourself. Make sure they are tested and have had their rabies vaccine before trying to handle at all even if them seem nice. Once you have trapped it put it in a garage or covered area out of the elements, cover it, call your vet or the local cat rescue in your area. Now a days with the Internet it is very easy to find a local rescue in your area. I am lucky I have a mobile vet who comes out and does a quick check up and gives them their shots. I just recently found her and she has made my life so much easier with this.
You can and sometimes will be bitten and attacked. Please be careful. They are only doing what is natural to them. They are protecting themselves. Imagine your were in their position you would claw, bite and attack to save yourself if you had to wouldn't you?
I have been all of the above, numerous times. Sometimes the strike was so fast I did not even notice it until I had blood running down my hands and arms. This is why having them vaccinated before trying to handle them is so important. You do not want to have to go for a rabies series they are long and painful. Better to be safe from the start than sorry later. Make sure you have antibiotic cream and wash your wounds well if you do manage to get bitten or scratched they can become infected very easily. I made the mistake once of getting bit and just washed it up and let it go. Within a couple of days I had a major infection in my hand and it was quite painful. I needed to see a doctor and get some powerful antibiotics. Please Please watch the wound if you get scratched or bitten. I know I sound like a broken record but safety first.
Patience is a virtue and if you want to do this type of work, you must have patience. Sometimes your patience is rewarded 10 fold. Sometimes you just have to step back and take a look at the situation and realize that sometimes they are just meant to be free and let them go into a safe environment.
With that these are the way I describe different feral cats. I know it is not text book definitions. These are just the terms I use myself.
The Stray Cat- Many people assume because a cat is living outside that they are "feral" this is not true. These cats are unfortunate results of someone who has abandoned the cat or let it live outside on it's own. These guys are usually what people call a friendly feral. These guys at some point in their lives have had human contact and usually show no or minimal fear of humans. They are usually easily trapped and adapt to living in a house well. Most shelters will take them when they have space. If you believe you have a stray and cannot care for it and need to contact a shelter to take it. Please use the word Stray do not tell them you have a feral cat. Most shelters and rescues will not take a true feral cat, they just don't have the time or resources to tame and work with them when they are so many friendly cats in the shelter. Most times if they do accept a feral they will put it down. It is an awful truth but most times that is what happens.
The Semi Feral- I use this term to describe a sociable feral. This is one who at some point most likely has had human contact in their lives or have minimal fear of humans. They may at some point been an owned cat and became wild over time or were born to a stray that is human friendly and has not learned to be completely fearful of humans. Very few of these are true full blown wild ferals. There are some but in my experience I have found somewhere along the lines there has been some human interaction in their lives. You can approach them and most times they will not run. They may side step you a bit but seem to have a curiosity about you that gets the best of them. They will usually eat around you and in some instances may allow you to touch them slowly but you can not pick up or handle this type in my experience.
I find I have a lot of success working with these guys. They are pretty easy to read as you get to know them. But remember they are still wild and can be very dangerous.
The Full Fledge Wild Feral- These are the toughies. These are the ones that will come to eat but only once you have moved faaaar away.They are the shadows you see around. These are the ones you do not want to approach as if they let you get close it is most likely they will attack you. Not because they are mean but they are defending themselves. Never ever try to corner or handle one of these without a plan and a trap. You will get hurt and most likely pretty badly. Ask me how I know :) They are usually born wild to other feral parents. They learn their distrust of humans from their mother or other colony mates.
These are by far the toughest to tame but also the most rewarding if you do. That moment when you see that wild wide eyed cat actually relax and make that first move towards you in trust is one of the most rewarding feelings ever! This gang is also the ones I find I need let go the most. More often than not after their spay or neuter they need to be released. Once in awhile you will find that diamond in the rough. The one that always watches you from afar and you can just tell they want to be friends but they are scared. With a lot of time, and I mean a lot of time and patience they can be tamed and make wonderful house cats. Again knowing how to read them is very important. Also the understanding that not all will be happy being house cats. Some are just born to be wild. You have to be able to know when to let them be free and happy.
An important thing to note when taming a feral cat is. You must be ready to take on the responsibility to care for any cat you tame. Some will only bond with the person taming them, therefore while yes they have graduated to house kitty status Yay them! They are not re homing material. I currently have 2 that are happy, loving, comfortable in the house never ask to go outside kitties, but I am the only person they will allow close to them. No matter how much work we have put into socializing with other people they have picked me as their human and want no part of anyone else. They will sit with me, allow me to pick them up but if anyone else approaches they run and hide. I have one who has been in the house for over 8 years and I am still the only person he will allow to pet him or pick up. So please be ready to give that kitty a forever home if you are going to tame it.
Well this is getting pretty long. In another thread in this post I will go over how I trap, use containment rooms and work on socializing. If anyone has anything to add please do. The more we can educate people the better the cats will be taken care of.