Feral cats can be tricky. Especially when they start bonding to you. As they bond with their caregivers the cats often lose some of their hesitations, allowing the caregivers to approach within touching distance, sometimes even allowing the caregivers to touch them. Sometimes the cats start acting like house pets, rubbing on legs, talking at dinner time, and even showing an interest in coming inside. Working at an animal shelter I have seen and heard plenty of people and cats who have gotten stuck because of this change in behavior.
A well-meaning caregiver allows the cats inside in winter, or because the cat is suddenly friendly and the caregiver doesn’t want the cat on the street anymore. The cat gets inside, maybe even enjoys it inside, but hides when people are around. Or, even worse, the cat is admitted to a shelter or adopted to a new person and completely reverts to feral behavior around people other than the caretaker he has bonded to. Eventually the person with the cat realizes the cat is not happy, and that she is not happy either with such an unhappy animal in her house. But what to do with the cat? If she tries admitting him to a no-kill shelter, chances are they won’t accept him, based on personality, and any open admission shelters will most likely be forced to euthanize the cat. Put him back outside? Possibly the best option, but this depends on how long the cat has been inside, if he still has his hunting skills, a safe environment to be released to–would the neighbors object? what about other cats in the area, would they accept him?–and several other things. Taking feral cats inside is not a matter to be taken lightly, as it often ends in nothing but frustration and heartache as you end up in an impossible situation.
Yet, I have been considering doing just that, taking in one of my feral cats. It has been a heart wrenching process, trying to decide what is best for her. Because I realize just how difficult taking her in will be, not only trying to work with her but also getting her and my current indoor cats acquainted with each other, I have not rushed into anything. Over the past few months Fluffy Butt has started hanging around all day. She has become very attached to us and is slowly getting friendlier.
Hardly a day goes by when she cannot be found sleeping on our patio furniture or in the neighbor’s yard. She is trained to the sound of certain doors that signal someone is outside, so she can charm food out of us. She comes when she is called, with as much frequency as any cat comes when he is called. Fluffy talks to me, sniffs my fingers when I feed her and follows me down the sidewalk to see where I am going. Yet despite all this, despite the sniffing and following and talking, she refuses to let me touch her, constantly staying just out of reach. But she has shown an interest in the house, constantly looking in the windows and the doors, even sniffing in the doorway one day when the door was left slightly ajar.
When she first started spending her days in the yards was when I first started to think about bringing her inside. She is a beautiful cat, sweet as can be and appears to be a bit of a loner. The other two girls, her family, don’t appear to be very fond of her. Mommy tolerates Fluffy’s enthusiastic attentions, but is clearly not amused by them. Fluffy and Little Black have an uneasy peace while food is around, but are otherwise generally smacking and growling at each other.
I have always vowed that she will have to come in the house on her own will, I won’t force her to come and I won’t force her to stay. So it has been extra frustrating lately. There have been some bad storms the past few weeks and without fail she would show up during the brief pauses in rain to sit on the deck, bedraggled and mewing pitifully at me, looking very eager to come inside, yet not actually setting foot in the door, even when I back away and let her have her space.
One week I was feeling particularly stressed about this, worrying what will happen to her, especially when I eventually move. Despite my best efforts I have fallen in love with her, and as such have started to worry about her as if she were one of my pet cats. Which is bad. She is wild and needs to be treated as such, as she will most likely have a short life and meet a hard end on the streets. I want to bring her inside where she is safe, where I can protect her and keep her from such a cruel fate. Such are the good intentions that start so many cat related dramas.
More than protecting her though, I want to her to be happy. She reminded me one night just how happy she was. I was sitting on my front steps talking with my boyfriend when my little fluffy ninja crept up from the back yard. She slithered around the front lawn, darting in and out of bushes, getting within touching distance but being careful to avoid us. When she was bored with spying on us from behind the leave of a flower, she found something to bat at in the air. Her attention fully captivated by this object invisible to human eyes, she danced across the front lawn, a beautifully choreographed display of feline beauty as she crouched, pounced, lept, swatted and sprinted. She raced up and down the block, running into one yard and reappearing down the street in front of someone else’s house. She jumped several inches in the air, planting herself onto tree trunks, looking for all the world like one of those Garfield window clingers that were so popular in the 80’s.
With her crazy ninja stunts Fluffy Butt reminded me that night just how good she has it, and the words of a friend and fellow rescuer came to mind that night. She has good meals on a regular schedule, a safe place to sleep, no hormones or kittens to deal with, decent enough shelter with what I provide and she can find, and the world is hers for exploring. She is free in a way I can only dream of. It just wouldn’t be fair to keep such a wild spirit locked up.