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The Truth About Ferals

post #1 of 3
Thread Starter 
I have been trying to help a new member gain the trust of a new feral that has appeared in her shed. As I wrote this out to Tara this morning in email, it occurred to me that it might help someone else, so I am printing it out in the hopes that it does, right here.

Let me try and explain to you about feral cats. Most of the time, they have been seriously hurt, sometimes maimed, abused, even tortured by humans. They may even remember a time when they were warm, and cared for, then unceremoniously taken to a strange location and dumped out in the middle of nowhere. Now they are on their own, and their comfort station (if they ever even had one is now gone) They are cold, scared, hungry, without a regular means of food so now their survival mode kicks in and they begin to hunt for small mice, bugs, they eat grass, dead critters, small birds, whatever they can find. Everytime they hear a human voice, they flinch, they run, they hide, or they attack. This is how they live and it is a very hard life. Kids find them and throw rocks at them, adults see them and shout at them or throw things at them, or sic the family pet on them. Then cat stumbles onto a place that he can stay and not be threatened. He smells others of his kind (your Persian) even if Persian is an inside kitty, the scents are strong and they linger on the grounds. He finds a place to get out of the weather, (the shed) someone notices him, doesn't chase him and gives him food! He is now in a dilemma, however long he has been on the earth, he has to reprogram his survival mode and trust a human again. It isn't easy for some ferals to do this. Many people see ferals in a light they shouldn't really be viewed in. They see them as a wonderful furry lap creature, and they figure that because they feed kitty one time, kitty will automatically love them and jump into their laps and become "super puurer." They tend to forget that this cat, however old or young it may be, has had to fight for every scrap of food and every place of shelter it could find. A feral is a wild cat, and until it can be sure it can trust you, it will not. It is attacking you when you bring food in, because it has "finally" found a safe place to hang, and it is bound and determined that no one will take that from him again.

What you need to do is limit your expectations here and try to understand his world for a minute or two. He is absolutly certain in his suspicious mind right now that he will once again be hurt. You mentioned his face is caved in so he's probably been kicked, or even glanced off a car, or beaten with a stick, so he could also be brain damaged to some extent. All the more reason for him to cling to this safe haven and get all the food he can, and chances are if you are feeding him dry food, he is burying the pellets somewhere to eat later in case they vanish on him.

If you want him to like you, and he will IN TIME, but it takes time, it is not a miracle where suddenly you appear and he leaps on your lap. It will come at a moment you are least expecting it to, and all it will be is a first tentative contact, a nudge of your fingers, or a quick swipe of your legs with his body and he will be gone. But let me tell you, when that day comes, your body will feel warm and there will be a smile as big as the River Thames.

Ok, here is what I would do. I would provide kitty with a nice soft blanket or two, or rags, or towels whatever you have for warmth. But make sure it is a big enough pile that he won't even feel the cold of the floor. I would find a big cardboard box similiar to one that had a microwave oven or appliance in it. Flip the box over, cut a hole in one of the sides, big enough for kitty to get into and feel "safe" Line the floor with the blankets, flip the box over the blankets and weight the top down some way to keep it in one place as he is bound to jump on top of it, and set it in the shed. Now, take an old sweatshirt of yours that you could care less what happens to it, and put it on right next to your skin and do the workout of your life. Get this shirt so sweaty with your scent that you have to wring it out. Take it off, and put it in the box with the blankets. What does this accomplish? This allows Mink to get used to your scent on his terms. Though it smells like a human, it doesn't reach out and slap, kick or beat him, and he can settle down into it and be comforted.

I would also leave a small radio playing very softly, classical music. I have one Bach CD I have worn out almost, because I put it in my CD player, leave in on endless play barely audible (cats have a keen sense of hearing) and it soothes the ferals down. I would also visit him without food in hand, (but wear many layers of clothes) and I would walk in without fear (because they can smell it) and I would just sit down on the floor and NOT look at him or look for him. I would just sit and read a book out loud, softly for just a few minutes, then turn around and leave.

Tara, I am not there to access the situation. I can't see if this feral is truly hostile or just scared. I am going on scared and not diseased, though he probably does have worms, ear mites, fleas and other things going on. Ok, maybe not fleas not when it is snowing outside. But if he is aggressively attacking you or your husband, making contact, then it is up to you to decide if you want to continue this. A cat scratch from a feral is nothing to be taken lightly, and I have had the misfortune of getting cat scratch fever and almost lost the use of my arm many years ago. Now, anytime I am scratched by my colony (and yes, I get scratched almost daily) I just grit my teeth and pour bleach on the scratch. But if you are wounded, you need to wash the scratch out immediately, apply an antispectic wash and antibiotic cream and watch that small red lines don't start appearing around the scratch site (blood poisoning) and if that happens RUN don't walk to the nearest hospitall!

As far as your other cat goes, I would isolate them until the day Mink has decided to trust you and you can get him neutered and vetted. Once he has been neutered, his behaviour will improve and his aggression will abate (more than likely) I would give Mink different kinds of food to eat, mix baby food (chicken or turkey) with dry food, give him canned food, buy a small bottle of cod liver oil and dribble it over his dry, make sure he has plenty of water and a warm place to sleep, and let time go on and see if he trusts me. Then introducing him to your other cat will be another challenge, but please deal with only one challenge at a time.

I had a Mink once in my life, and I called her the Queen Mother,(sorry no disrepect intended to your country) she was a feral, an older calico who used to not allow anyone near her. She would even lay on our stairs (she had climbed up a tree and through an open window one night to our second floor) I know you are English, but this cat was so angry and possessed, the Queen Mother fit her to a tee. She would actually lay on our stairs and not allow us access to the second floor. She would rush and attack us and drive us back like a professional border collie does a herd of sheep, except hers was hostile intent only. I ended up using a cardboard shield against her. I found a box that a freezer had been shipped in, cut off one entire side, using duct tape, I made a handle of sorts for my hand and as I walked up the stairs and she charged me, I lowered my shield and she bounced right off it. It was effective, because she was able to charge me in her aggression, I was protected and the cardboard did not hurt her, it just startled her and she backed off. It was 2 months before she decided we could all (cats included) come upstairs, but it was a long and frustrating challenge to face for all. One night, I went upstairs, there was a hole in our screen and she was gone. I do not know where she went or what happened to her, but she was here for 8 months and moved on.

So Tara, I am sorry this got so long, but I hope I have helped you and if you have any questions, you know where to find me.

I am really proud of your efforts. Do you realize that you are the first human this cat has been able to trust? Do you know how many others would of either hurt him, chased him off, given up or killed him by now? No, it will not be easy to gain Mink's trust, but when it comes, something happens to you inside, and you will never be the same person again. Just ask Lotsofcats, and Debra Meyers or Donna about the trust of ferals and they will tell you, it will change your life. Best of luck!

In giving advice seek to help, not to please, your friend. ~Solon
post #2 of 3
M.A. This actually brought a tear to my eye when I read it. It is sound and good advice and I am printing it off and putting it on the refrig to read over again when I get frustrated with Goldie. I have been caring for her for a year now, and am closer that ever in gaining her trust. I look at her sometimes and marvel at her abilities to be such a good mother and loving to her kits she has had. I know that Tara will make out fine with Minky. She has to - she has a good heart! I am looking at little Scooter now, all ensconced on hubbys ratty old chair, purring softly and kneading her paws into the fabric. It is a good day! Ripley and Smudgie are wonderful additions to our family, so curious and eager to please. They are 8 months old now. I cannot imagine my little cat house without them. I feel comforted sometimes just knowing that Goldie is outside my home - watching and feeling safe here. I wonder what her story was before coming here and I just know in my heart that someday she will tell me!
post #3 of 3
This is very worthwhile information and I am copying it into the feral forum.
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