Of the cats in the Sanctuary, perhaps 70% have feral origins – the others are mostly behaviour- or health-related surrenders. Popular wisdom says that in order to have a tame cat, you need to make sure that the kitten is handled and familiarized with humans from four to twelve weeks, and that after that it’s unlikely to become truly tame.
Feral kittens or kittens born to a feral mother will frequently hiss and attack, or cower in fear; the feral instinct can be strong. Our wonderful RAPS foster-parents, and the staff at the City Shelter do much to diminish that fear, and most of our kittens go happily to new homes.
Pancake was one of the exceptions; his feral mama was Autumn, who remained an angry feral for some years; Pancake’s brothers and sisters all tamed and were adopted, but Pancake was so shy that no adoption was possible, and he ended up returning to us. Three years later, he is fairly comfortable around humans (especially with tidbits) but backs off from much physical contact – he’d rather have the company of his cat buddies.
Like him, many of our feral cats never make the breakthrough to allowing themselves any degree of trust in humans. So it’s an enormous triumph when someone reports an easing of tension in a scaredy-cat.
Keira KnightStreet was named for the place under the bridge where she was found about 5-6 years ago. She’s a slightly tubby little black cat with a thin tail who easily fades into the crowd of indeterminate black cats.
Initially she hid under the drapes round the entrance to the DoubleWide, but in the last few years she’s made herself more at home in the laundry room area, and can be found as part of the crowd at mealtimes. Usually she shies away from being touched, but recently the cringing has reduced to a faint tension as she realizes that the sensation of being petted is actually pleasant.
Boop came in with Plum, both of them victims of Manx syndrome. Plum was initially shy, but has settled well into DoubleWide life; Boop hated everybody, bit the med staff who cared for him, and when released, vanished into the same hidey-hole Keira had once used. Once settled there, he started to explore further afield, disappearing into the garden foliage, which was frustrating for the med staff who needed to make sure his bottom was being kept clean. More recently Boop has been venturing out into the open in the morning and the evening. When I was petting Albi last week – Albi loves to roll over for belly-petting – Boop ventured closer and closer and finally allowed me to give him some gentle touches.
Donni is another little black feral who has spent much of his time hiding away. He was one of many cats brought in to us by Donni Derr, and was frequently confused with another little black long-hair, Matt, now at the Rainbow Bridge. Both loved the tuna handouts brought by Donni-human, and Donni-cat adores chicken when it’s offered, crying out for his share. He used to stay safely behind netting or hidden behind drapes on his shelf, but more recently he’s found sitting hopefully in the courtyard, and though he’s not quite sure about being petted, he’s not shy about gnawing with a toothless mouth on a chicken-flavoured human finger.
We certainly have a large number of semi-ferals who are quite easy with being handled, though they’re not usually good adoption prospects for fear of what might happen if they escaped. But it is so satisfactory to allow a formerly terrified cat take their time to learn that there can be safety in human touch here at the Sanctuary.