The majority of the cats we have at the Sanctuary are ferals, coming to us from having been living wild, or born of a feral mother. The “tame” cats that call the Sanctuary home are usually here because of behaviour problems: pooping or peeing in the wrong places, or occasionally for biting.
The number of ferals surprises visitors, who see the welcoming committee on Sunday afternoon, and can’t believe that these cats aren’t all dying to find their own homes. Our experience, however, is that semi-ferals are easily spooked by a change in surroundings (see Esme’s story). They’re happy to accept pats and treats and occasionally a good cuddle – but the Sanctuary is home and unknown territory is scary stuff! That being said, there are degrees of feral – and one of the joys of working with the cats comes when a previously scared, angry cat seeks a volunteer out for head-rubs and stroking.
Bossanova was a pretty scary cat when he first came to us. His cage in the double-wide was to be approached with caution; offering food took a certain amount of nerve; angry growls and hissing welcomed any intruder. And then gradually he realized that we weren’t going to harm him; he progressed from allowing scratches with a back-scratcher to pats from a hand, and eventually to head-rubs. He now hangs out on the single-wide deck, where he recognizes the voices of his favourite people and comes looking for attention. He’s still wary, and a stranger will send him back to his high-up corner, but a familiar hand will bring him down the ramp, drooling in delight as his head is rubbed.
Sarah hung out for a long time in the feral area of the front courtyard. A delicate little grey cat, she hovered on the edge, fascinated by action, but not willing to join in. Sarah’s tipping point was that she’s a chickaholic – when chicken was offered, she wanted in on the action, and increasing exposure to humans handing it out has convinced her that we’re not so bad – she’s become brave enough to be a lap-cat on occasion.
Claire also reported on ginger Gilbert who was first coaxed by Ann into becoming much more sociable and is now positively assertive when food is being offered. He stands his ground with some of the pushier cats, and will occasionally come for a cuddle for the people he counts as friends when things are quiet.
Orlean is one of our little ginger females in the double-wide. Claire’s blogs have noted her progress from a scared and hissing feral to an attention seeker that enjoys (with the right person) being carried over the shoulder, and who, like Josie, seeks bottom-slapping attention with great delight.
In the back courtyard, sweet Georgina, who used to run away from everyone now waits in the mornings to get petted by Phaedra – and is coming to accept that other people may have gentle hands as well.
OJ, in one of the feral pens at the back, now comes towards the gate to greet a visitor instead of hiding and swatting.
And our greatest success-story, in the pen opposite, is our beloved Dell, who was once impossible to handle and now waits anxiously at the gate for his friends to pay attention to him.
There are still many ferals in the RAPS Sanctuary population – and some of them may never accept that the humans only want to help them. But it is one of the great joys of working here, to gain the trust – even if for only a few moments – of a formerly scared and suspicious cat.