Originally Posted by Nano
Just on the stray vs. feral question...
A feral cat is completely wild -- so the cat in question is not anywhere near that. What you describe is most likely a stray who would quickly re-acclimate to being a happy housecat if someone were to rescue her off the streets. Maybe she would be a touch shy at first.
By contrast, Nano was definitely semi-feral when I rescued her off the streets. She will always exhibit significant aspects of wildness. I had to completely re-train her to use a litter box. I am still the only one who can touch her. She has warmed to receiving petting from me but is barely tolerant of any real handling I need to do. I could go on and on...but I'd say 98%+ of cat owners wouldn't want Nano in their household. That's what a semi-feral cat is like. She has significant positive qualities (in my opinion), but many other pet owners would not see things the same way.
The distinction really is even more muddled than that (and yet in other ways, even more clear-cut - how's that for crazy?). Feral is really defined in terms of the cat's socialization with humans, particularly its presence or absence in the first few weeks of life, and much less in terms of how the cat responds to interaction from humans.
A cat who cowers in a corner when you try to touch him is just as feral as the cat who runs frantically around the room trying to get away. It's just that they are demonstrating their fear in a different way. A more practical example is with feral kittens. Some 8-week-olds come at you tooth and nail, biting and scratching with every ounce of strength they have. Others will cower in a corner and hiss and when picked up, will curl up in a ball and try to hide in the crook of your arm. Both kittens are equally feral, but the first kitten will be very difficult (and probably impractical) to tame sufficiently to make him a candidate for adoption because he simply cannot be handled safely. The second kitten, in contrast, will be relatively easy to tame because he is easily handled and therefore can be socialized.
The difference between feral and tame is really the presence or absence of the element of "wildness". Feral cats are wild animals, regardless of how they interact with humans. Tame cats are not wild and while those who have lived outdoors for a long time have developed the wariness that is part of the "street smarts" required for survival, it's not the same as feral behavior. Essentially, a feral cat will always regard humans as foreign. They may learn to trust the person who feeds them, and they may even form a very strong bond with one or more persons, but the cat does not identify with humans as a species. The tame cat, in contrast, due to his socialization with humans from a very early age, identifies completely with humans and does not regard them as foreign entities.
This distinction is even obvious when you see cats who were brought in from the outdoors even as early as 6 weeks of age. The only circumstances under which I have seen even a kitten lose pretty much all feral tendencies is when they are living in an office where there are a dozen or so people around all day every day and giving them almost constant attention, plus the normal organized chaos of other people constantly coming and going, delivery people bringing big boxes, etc. And even when this happens, it takes months - and it doesn't happen for every kitten.
Though the average feral-born kitten retains vestiges of his feral roots throughout life, tamed feral kittens still make great companions. In fact, their increased tendency to bond very strongly to one person is considered by many to be a positive trait. A feral-born cat may always run and hide when the doorbell rings, but he'll also probably love his human more than anything else in the world.
And then, of course, there are the cats usually described as "semi-feral". I personally don't like the term because I don't think it's really accurate (semi-feral cats are pretty much feral cats who know the human brings his dinner), but at the same time it's useful because it does communicate a lot about the cat's temperament (basically, that the cat is not really socialized with humans but also won't freak out just from having you around). These cats do form bonds with humans, but it's important that the human understands and respects their true nature and doesn't go out every day with the intention of evaluating their behavior for signs that they have "tamed up" and are therefore ready to be adopted. Rubbing against the caregiver's legs, allowing himself to be stroked, maybe even purring and letting himself be picked up - these are all signs that the person and the cat have formed a real bond, and it is a great thing. But it doesn't mean that cat would be remotely happy to be taken home and expected to live as an indoor-only pet.