Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Is There A Wild Cat in Your Neighborhood?

You’ve seen them in your neighborhood or at your workplace—the elusive wild cat that disappears from your sight faster than you can say “boo.”  Whether you just see one cat or group of them, feral and stray cats have been known to live and thrive in every landscape from the bustling city to the quiet farm life.   

Beloved as mother and protector,
Bastet is classically portrayed here in feline form.
Cats have been living alongside human for thousands of years.  It has been about 4000 years ago when the first cats were domesticated. The Ancient Egyptians used cats to control vermin and other pests to protect stores of food. Their cats were revered as hunters and worshiped as gods and goddesses. The ancient Egyptians even imposed the death penalty for killing cats and cats were the most mummified animal in human history. 

Over the years, cats have developed into three categories:  feral, stray or semi-feral, and pet.  It is important to understand the difference between the three categories, so let’s look at the feral first:  A feral cat is one that has had little or no contact with people, and that has lived all or most of her life, wild. Stray or semi-feral cats has had some contact with people (perhaps when very young),  that she may approach you for food or even allow herself to be touched.  And of course the pet is the domesticated cat that allows us to pet, play, and live with her.

Often times, we are asked if we know how to “tame a feral.”  Feral cats are essentially wild cats that, for the most part, cannot be tamed--much like a wild bobcat or cougar.  Now a stray that was handled by humans as a kitten, may be tamed—but it takes a lot of time and patience working with the animal.   

If you cannot tell the difference between a feral and a stray, then perhaps you should not try and handle the cat until you are absolutely certain. 

True feral cats will not allow you to pick them up without a fight and they WILL bite or scratch if you do manage to catch and briefly hold onto one. The wild animal's instinct is to bite you VERY hard [blog writer can definitely attest to this fact] to make you let go.    Please make sure you're careful when handling any unfamiliar cat. Wild or stray cats may carry diseases that can be transferred by the smallest scratch or bite.  Seek medical attention for all bites, and watch scratches carefully. 

The best thing to do is to gently, slowly allow them to come to you.  Feral and stray cats may be small, but they can put up one heck of a fight if you try to force them to accept you!

As mentioned before, feral cats are not socialized to people—and can’t be adopted out from pet shelters--sadly going to a pet shelter is a death sentence for a feral. With some time and attention, however, you can work with young feral kittens to help them become affectionate and loving companions. It’s not a transformation that happens overnight—socializing kittens is a big commitment—but it’s a very rewarding experience.  Here are a few tips on handling feral or stray kittens:

  • Speak in a calming, low and soothing voice.
  • Try not to look at the cats directly before they are fully comfortable with you. To a cat, eye contact and watching is aggressive and will cause them to be nervous of you and the situation. While you sit with them, read a book or do something else quiet, but don't watch them. If you do look at them, try to keep your eyes toward their hind end and avoid eye contact as much as possible.
  • To a feral or stray kitten, your fingers tend to look like HUGE claws.  If you try and reach for the kitten, she may panic.  Try to curl your fingers, keeping your hands relaxed when reaching for the kitten, so as not to scare her.
  • To accustom a cat to being petted, try a back scratcher or a large feather to keep your hand safely out of reach. Note: If this frightens the cat (perhaps because she has been hit or poked with a stick), give up immediately.  No sense in making the situation worse!
  • To encourage the cat to relax, try lying down on the floor. You will seem much less scary.       Act like the cat is not even in the room—ignoring the cat may help relax the animal, invoking her curiosity of you.
  • Cats' claws can be very dangerous. Use extreme caution while handling a feral cat. Do not attempt to handle a particularly aggressive feral unless you are a trained or experienced cat handler.
  • Adult semi-ferals can be tamed using the same methods as kittens. But it will proceed much more slowly--over a period of years, and the cat may never become accustomed to being touched or picked up.  The best you may achieve is mutual acceptance.
  • Make an extra effort to tame long-haired cats and kittens; their fur tends to matte when they are released into the wild. Long feline fur is not natural, it is a man-made mutation. The mats shrink when wet and pull tight, tearing the skin and inviting infections and insect infestations. Seeds, nettles and burdock can cause pain and infection.  You may have to take the cat to the vet for a professional grooming session since grappling a wet angry cat or kitten could potentially be a horrible experience for you both!
  • Gloves can help protect your hands, but some cats are afraid of gloves, perhaps associating them with your vet. Oh, and beware!  Most gloves can be bitten through, so use with caution.
  • When picking up a cat and you are not certain how it will react, hold it down and well away from your face.
  • Don't bother the cat. Give it attention but do not annoy him or her.  Spitting, hissing, and hiding are all expressions of fear; do not mistake these signs for aggression. 
  • Try initially feeding the kitten from your hand, then eventually (days later) lead her towards your lap to eat. As long as they are associating you with food, you will be home-free. Slowly initiate contact with some gentle petting/scratching behind the ears while the kitten is distracted.
  • Provide you cat with a “den” where she can feel safe, comfortable, and non-threatened.  The den should contain soft bedding, food/water dishes and a litter box and placed away from heavy family traffic. 
  • There may be an occasion where you will have to scruff the kitten by the back of her  neck to gain control. Learn how to safely scruff a kitten as shown in the photo. Use your entire hand and gently but firmly grasp the fur on back of neck without pinching, pull the cat up, and immediately support her hind legs.
  • And of course it goes without saying--have the name and phone number of a trusted veterinarian readily available, just in case!
We received quite a few requests on Wobble's health condition.  We are pleased to report that Wobbles has been "seizure-free" for several weeks now! Wobbles is a lucky kitten as she has lots of people "socializing" her--no chance of her ever going feral!  We think we may have created....

...a Monster Kitty!

We hope you found this blog posting helpful!  Remember, if you are having problems with feral cats in your neighborhood or workplace, please contact your local feral cat coalition or group first before calling Animal Control.  Often times, feral colonies can be moved to a new location where the cats can live and thrive!  One such success story took place last year in Garland, Texas.

One of our volunteers was taking care of about eight semi-ferals at work. He was  told Animal Control was going to start trapping and removing them from his workplace.  If they went to Animal Control, the animals would surely be put to death.  So our volunteer immediately reached out to various organizations to trap and find new homes before Animal Control showed up. He was able to take home two youngsters that were a bit more socialized, but he couldn't take home the adults.

Thankfully, all the cats were rehomed, including one particular cutie that was adopted by Andrea, our animal keeper.

Have you ever "worked" with a feral or stray before in hopes of taming the wild cat?  Want to share your story with our readers?  Well, all you have to do is fill out the comment box below.  We want to hear from you today!

Don't forget to let us know your reaction to this posting by clicking on one of the reaction buttons below--and share this blog posting with others please!  You never know, it just may save a life of a feral!


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