More than half of our Sanctuary cats have come in as ferals.
Feral cats are those born wild, or living wild from a very early age. They run the range from the cats that take one look at you and turn to hide (or to hiss angrily at a human interloper) to the cats who have decided that there is no better life than sitting in a human’s lap. Ferals and strays are not the same thing; a stray knows what human contact is, and though scared, may more easily revert to tame behaviour.
For many years the Sanctuary has been a refuge for ferals, as well as for owner-surrenders and health-problem cats. When we’ve had a particularly friendly cat, we have sometimes transferred it to the Shelter at 5 Road, so that it can have its chance at finding a new home. And because for many of those years, the Sanctuary was Richmond’s best-kept secret, that was very often the only way those cats might make a new start, if they weren’t adopted by one of our volunteers
What we call the semi-ferals are those cats who have adapted well to life with humans at the Sanctuary; they are often among the welcoming committee at the gate, and come looking for petting and attention. But just because they seek attention doesn’t always mean that they are adoptable – experiences with cats like Esme and Jenny led to a general no-feral-adoptions rule. A cat that appears happy to be handled at the Sanctuary may freak out when taken out of its familiar turf and put into a new home.
Many of us, of course, have ferals or former ferals at home. My own little Kissa, who passed last year, would hide when anyone except me or her favourite cat-sitter entered the house. It took her more than two years of living with me before she allowed herself to lap-sit. I have friends who care for neighbourhood ferals, who have adopted them as their humans, and who come and go from their home with great comfort.
But at RAPS we feel a strong responsibility to the cats who we allow to leave in someone’s care. A cat that escapes from a new home may never return if it’s on unfamiliar territory. When you adopt a cat from the RAPS City Shelter, you will complete a questionnaire intended to ensure that you will provide a safe home for your new friend. If you adopt from the Sanctuary, you can expect, in addition, to be grilled by our Manager and/or med staff. Will this be an only cat? What is the potential access to outdoors? Do you have a room that can be a sanctuary for its first days or weeks? What’s your experience with ferals?
Some of our former ferals we will never adopt out – cats like Simone and Latte have lived with us for years, and we would not want to have a relocation make them unhappy. For them, the compromise is sponsorship – the knowledge that you are contributing to their welfare and to a continued happy life with us. But others have become contented outgoing members of the welcoming committee, and when the right person comes along an adoption may be possible. The impetus has to come from the cat; when a visitor appears weekly and the cat makes a bee-line for them every time, discussions can take place. Sadly, many of those bonds happen with people whose situation may not allow for an adoption, and they become among our most faithful visitors in order to have time with “their” cat.
The majority of adoptions from the Sanctuary are actually owner-surrender cats who may have been too stressed at the Shelter to show well, but who blossom in our hands. Tiger, Terra, Suki (now Cassie – first blogged here by her new owner), Mookie and several others are doing very well in new homes – but the Sanctuary was never really home for them. Cats like Cricket or Silky in the front courtyard, and Willow or Hillie in the back are all a very different affair – they are all cats who have known the wild life as youngsters, and they are all used to a life without boundaries (other than the Sanctuary walls). We would need to be very sure that they had bonded with a human they had chosen, and that the potential owner understood that giving a home to a feral may be a much longer process than with a tame cat. Cricket, in particular, is outgoing and sociable with visitors (as both Jenny and Esme were), but that is no guarantee that she would be a good candidate for adoption.
We do have feral adoption success stories – especially from among our volunteers, who establish a relationship of trust with one cat or another. But even with a feral-savvy adopter, it can take much patience, waiting for the cat to decide that it can trust again after relocation – Watson’s human tells me that it took more than three months for him to come out of hiding.
Many of our ferals, friendly and shy alike, will need to live out their lives in our care, confident that with us they are in a place of safety.