Yesterday, 16 October, was National Feral Cat Day. I would never have known this if not for some cat interactions around our own house some time ago.
It all really started over 20 years ago now, when we rescued two kittens from a rather dismal shelter. My husband called it “taking them off death row,” and it was the truth. They were filthy and parasite-infested, but they went on to follow us around the world and finally retired with us at the end of our military careers (their longevity was a little bit to our surprise).
Then one day, Hubby was working out in our basement gym when he suddenly called out, “Quick! Hobbes has gotten outside!” I turned and looked at Hobbes, dozing on the sofa. By the time I went to a window, the impostor had fled.
After that, we would occasionally see a gray blur streak off into the woods upon arriving home, or upon stepping outside. Then he became a regular visitor to our back sliding door, where he would flop over on his side, stretching his little paws toward our cats, who silently but very attentively watched. There were no hostilities. Not wanting to waste a lot of effort naming a stray, we started referring to our little vagrant as Mr. Gray. Mr. Gray was curious, but too fearful to step inside, and no way were we letting our doddering old cats outside; but sometimes we would open the door just a couple of inches, and they would tentatively poke at each other through the gap.
Then I discovered “Trap-Neuter-Return.” You obtain an animal trap/cage and coordinate with your shelter or a cat-advocacy group like Alley Cat Allies, trap the cat, and bring him in on his appointment date. You get him back the next day, neutered, vaccinated, and with his left ear tip clipped to show that he has been through the program. On his return, I arranged with my horse-owning neighbor to “employ” Mr. Gray in her barn, but he wasn’t interested and after a few days, he completely disappeared for a couple of weeks. Then he turned up back at our place.
Winter came, and it was a snowy one. I fashioned an insulated box out of a Rubbermaid tub and old cushions, cut a hole in the side for access, and put it under our porch. It didn’t take long for Mr. Gray to find it and move in. By this time, I was feeding him and putting out water as well, and slowly he began to trust me.
Then Hobbes passed away at a ripe old age, and a month later, we brought home two more shelter cats. All things considered, they integrated pretty easily with our remaining elderly cat, but the biggest change was that their youthful romping on the screen porch brought Mr. Gray up the porch steps for the first time. Eventually, he came inside the porch and made friends. And some weeks after that, with the weather still cold and miserable, he very cautiously ventured into the house.
They say that feral cats will never be suitable pets, and maybe that’s usually true, but once Mr. Gray discovered the joys of sleeping on a warm sofa, his feral cat days were over. It was not instantaneous by any means; he didn’t even know how to play with string at first (he thought we were attacking him, and would run off). It took him some time to get used to us and to all the oddities of the indoors, but he has learned all he needs to know by observing our other cats. Somewhere along the way, he crossed out of “feral cat” territory and became a real pet. Strange and nervous, but a pet nonetheless, and a pretty good mouser to boot! Now he comes up on the bed and head-bumps us, begs to be brushed, and he is even the ONLY cat I have ever known who just loves to have his ears cleaned.
Cats aren’t for everyone, and certainly trying to take in a feral cat is a dubious proposition, but Mr. Gray seems to know just how good he’s got it here. We’re glad he’s here, too.