In an earlier “Adoptable? – or not?” blog, we were reminded that most of the cats at the Sanctuary are here for life – because it is just that: a sanctuary. We all know that there are too many cats out there, and that there are municipalities in which they would get brought in and “euthanized” immediately if not deemed adoptable. Because of the vision and determination of Carol Reichert and the Board of RAPS, a no-kill shelter and sanctuary are a blessing for the city of Richmond, and for the animals they serve. Feral cats, cats with feline AIDS or leukemia, cats with behaviour problems – all get to live out their lives in well-tended and well-loved peace.
The fourth category, that of “semi-feral” is a hard one to define, though. Experts tell us that there is a window in the life of a kitten during which it is usually possible to socialize them and get them used to human handling, and if you don’t hit that window correctly, the kitten won’t tame. For that reason, during “kitten season”, the litters that come in, go to volunteers for home fostering and intensive hands-on care.
Even within a group there will sometimes be one who never really tames, and who, rather than going to Number 5 Road for possible adoption, will end up coming directly to the Sanctuary to join the other ferals.
Sandy and Pebble came to us at the age of about 6 months. Staff and volunteers spent considerable time with them, but to no avail – they continued their feral behaviour and are much happier out in the back pens.
My own little girl, Kissa, is technically a feral – she came to me (privately, not through a shelter) as a very young mum with four kittens; the kittens all got adopted out, and I was left with this skittish teenager on my hands. She has to be nearly 15 now, and with me she’s very affectionate; but when anyone else comes in the house she goes into hiding. It takes a special person with a lot of patience to get to know her.
That patience applies to many of the Sanctuary semi-ferals.
Gilbert is a prime example of that – from being a terrified feral hiding on a shelf, he now allows himself to be a lap-cat (with a little help from tasty treats!). But our experience with Esme and Jenny has taught us that a semi-feral reverts very quickly when in unfamiliar territory. If there is a strong bond with the adopter (most frequently a volunteer who interacts with the cat on a regular basis), the hurdle may be overcome, but for the most part we’re reluctant to remove a scared cat from an area it knows, and from a community of cats with which it is familiar.
And in some cases, the cat in question is a valuable member of the community. When we lost our dearly beloved Mario to cancer, it was not just the volunteers and staff who grieved, but also Mario’s “harem” of boyfriends and girlfriends. It was Salty that stepped into the breach and took on something of Mario’s mantle as the comforter and the cuddler; brought in as a feral kitten, Salty belongs on the double-wide couch with his snugglers.
There are many other cats like this. They accept human attention (especially where food is concerned), they seem to be tame – but when under stress, they revert to the wild things they were when they arrived. The stories about Jenny and Esme are warnings for us all, that being comfortable in their environment is vital for these cats, and an adoption can be more traumatic that we know – and even tragic, if a former-feral takes the opportunity to escape.
However, let’s differentiate between former ferals and strays – with the latter there is hope.
(See the last in the Adoptable? or not? series – upcoming….)