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23 October 2010


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Christie Keith

Evelyn, I think the point of this research is that some cats are truly unsocialized and will not be happy in a "pet" situation, but will thrive in a feral colony, barn or other outdoor/non-pet living environment. But socialized cats will do best living with people as pets.

My personal experience has been that there are cats who can do both, who move back and forth between cat-colony and back porch, or even in and out of the house. I'm not sure how that "gray area" is being handled in this research, or if my observations are even correct.

Can you evaluate if this cat seems social and like someone's stray or abandoned pet, or if she seems "wild" or "feral"? Can you pet her? Does she try to come inside?

If she seems like she could come inside happily (not always possible to judge, but often, it is), then I'd be thinking about helping her get into a home before the winter.

If she seems truly unsocialized (again, not always possible to judge), then just provide her with some food and shelter. And just one time, rent or borrow a humane trap and take her in to be spayed or neutered, and get her ear notched. Do you have any feral cat programs in your area? They can help you with this.


This is a great project! Thank you for posting.

Cats are territorial animals rather than being "pack" animals like dogs. (Think North African/Middle Eastern Wild Cat vs. a wolf pack.) This is why you don't see "purse cats" or cats on leashes sitting outside Starbucks with their owners. Even the lovingest pet kitty might freak and turn skittish/defensive if in a strange place full of loud noises and bad smells. They might appear feral but they aren't - they're just out of their familiar territory and scared witless. (And lost kitties outside tend to hunker down and hide, often in people's garages - they're often not going to be friendly and go to someone calling "here kitty kitty.") So I think this program is a GREAT idea and I agree with YesBiscuit that it needs to be applied practically by shelters. So yay, and next step is outreach and implementation.

Christie Keith

@YesBiscuit!, I've read both the links I gave in the post, and yes, I'd say this project involves a comprehensive approach to knowing WHAT the guidelines are, and what to do with the findings -- and it's being invariably framed as "helping select the best living situation for the cats" rather than "how to know which ones to kill."

I was actually reading this post on the A's blog when I saw a link to a comment on the sick puppy posts of yesterday, and I got so steamed over it that I blogged the other one first. But before my head exploded, I was actually really impressed with how this research was being presented (as a tool to save ALL cats lives, socialized or not). And I still am impressed with it.

There has been a tremendous amount of activism in the last two years on the part of feral/community cat advocates, reaching out very strongly to the major players in animal welfare and demanding that being unsocialized stop being considered an "untreatable" condition.

Alley Cat Allies always says, "Feral cats aren't homeless. They have a home; it's outdoors." At least two communities I know of have stopped admitting ferals to their shelters, simply routing them through a TNR program.

And this is why it's so important, in my mind, for research like this to be done, because right now, some pet cats are so scared and freaked out they're "reading" as feral/unsocialized to shelter and veterinary staff and volunteers, and getting shunted into TNR (or, frequently, death) instead of being made available for adoption, or treated and then made available for adoption, depending on their needs.

And some truly feral/unsocialized cats are being traumatized by being placed in stray hold (in fact, in some places, EVERY cat who comes in is placed in stray hold), or in adoption kennels, or put through processes designed for socialized pet cats, causing them enormous suffering, even if they're NOT being routinely killed.

I think this research is very valuable, and I think the way it's being presented is also valuable.


Making this research available is great. But in order to put it into practice, there must be outreach to and education for shelters. Hopefully the ASPCA would not send the same rep out to a shelter to instruct them how to perform multiple evaluations on cats as they did to provide puppy isolation/cleaning protocols (killing) from your last post.


Well, I am making my own personal observation to the feral cat that comes every day for breakfast, supper, and whatever.

I have a conflict of whether to bring him to a shelter or let him live outside, even in the cold. Adoption right now is impossible because my husband is dead set against it. He would be mine in a minute otherwise. My spouse is sick, though, and I dare not upset him that much because I already have 2 cats that I fought to adopt. (He likes them, now).

Some say to let the stray roam free, some say to take him to "Cat Rescue", a no-kill shelter.

I would be so interested in the finding of this study so maybe it will help me resolve this problem. However, I never could put him in a cage, myself. He is so loving and cute, how could I take away his freedom!


Thanks, Christie, for your advice on the feral cat that appears for his meals. I will do the best I can in evaluating the situation. Then I will try to find a solution, if I can.


Christie, after your comment I am now enlightened that cats can move back and forth from a feral colony to a domestic place.

I was confused trying to figure out my black cat visitor but knowing about the "gray area" helps a lot. It just doesn't have to be one way or the other, I now know!

Susan Fox

Evelyn, for what it's worth, we have a tamed feral cat who is now five years old. She was about six months old when we got her. She's an indoor/outdoor cat, sleeps on the bed, jumps on my lap, loves skritches and pets and sometimes even comes when I call her. But...I make a constant low level effort to keep her socialized and bonded to us.

She gets along well with the other two cats and also the collie.

If we went away for a long time, say more than the 2-3 weeks we've been gone a few times, I have no doubt that she could and probably would "revert" and not let other humans near her.

So she's kind of in the "grey area", too, but weighted towards wanting to be with her humans. I think she left the dead baby gopher outside the bedroom french doors for us this morning. Such a sweetie!

David S. Greene

Nothing proclaims I love you like dead baby gophers, I always say.


Thanks, Susan. And David, I guess I should "go for" a baby gopher! :)


And don't forget the gifts of birds and mice! And the occasional lizard. (Even if it was released alive in my living room and blended in with the rug and scared the bejeesus out of me until I figured out what it was.)

Pure feline love, baby!

Christie Keith

Gosh, David... how does your wife feel about that?


A baby gopher! How sweet!

I never convinced my mom that, if you get a cat hoping that, along with being an affectionate pet, she'll also be a good mouser, it is INAPPROPRIATE behavior to scream when she brings you one. :)

Poor Miss Kitty. She kept trying, with bigger and bigger gifts, culminating in a live pigeon brought home with the help of a neighbor cat. After that, she only brought her prey gifts to me, and ignored my mother.

H. Houlahan

Was the baby gopher *decapitated?*

It isn't true love unless they leave you wondering "Where's the other part?"

Susan Fox

I was momentarily tempted earlier this year to keep a young black rat that we found perched on the back of a dining table chair, being stared at by two highly focused cats, since I've always liked rats, but decided he/she really needed to be an outside critter. I believe I was forgiven by the next day.

But back to the topic at hand, I was the only volunteer allowed into the "feral room" at the shelter. It was impossible to tell just by a first look who was feral and who was simply freaked-out. I'd come in for my regular Wed. evening stint and there would be a cat who could only be handled with heavy gloves the previous week now sitting in adoptables happy as a clam.

The pattern with the true ferals seemed to be one of two extremes: absolutely glued to the back of the cage, unwilling to move, or active aggression. They'd have a go at anyone who came close to their cage and it took two staffers to safely change out their litter box, food and water. A warning card was (carefully) hung on the door to remind people not to get too close. N

David S. Greene

Gosh, David… how does your wife feel about that?

-Comment by Christie Keith

She's surprisingly tolerant.


True affection is half a squirrel dropped on you in bed at night. (By a cat who was born to a feral colony but pulled out hissing at 4 weeks.)


Hi Christie. I just posted this on Patty Khuly's blog and hope you don't mind me cutting and pasting. Need advice on trying to make a super friendly feral into a NYC house cat...

We had three kittens born in 2008 in my family's suburban home. One has since vanished. Two are left. A colony of true ferals have since also showed up and kinda intimidate the boys. One of the two kittens (now adult, I guess) is super friendly; he follows us around in the yard; now-and-then lets us pet him as he eats ... and even allows himself to be picked up. I also even recently got him to step into the den by pulling in the bowl of food at the door inside to the carpet and laid there in his face as he ate. He's also very vocal with us when we're about to feed him, just like any old housecat at 7 in the morning! It's been three years since my 18yo cat died this Thanksgiving. And I really want to bring this one inside to my small apartment in NYC. I don't feel as bad about the brother cat since the two really don't hang out anymore. Better to save one is my feeling. Would be a big change tho for the boy. But seems unlike any feral I've read described in posting after posting on different sites. Am still worried about how to manage him early on if I do this. He was TNR'd last summer, by the way. And even de-flea'd over the summer. Any advice? Words of encouragement? Discouragement? Should he be crated at first? Should I bring him to the vet before I bring him into my apartment. Any suggestions/advice would be greatly appreciated...


p.s. he's never hissed, or menaced us. so friendly, angelic. has known us since he was born and unlike all the other cats in the yard, has always made eye contact -- in a good way. i wanna just go on faith that this is the right thing to do. but faith and some smart, practical advice is even better.


I was "this close" to taking a semi-feral to the shelter (knowing it would be killed as untreatable) when a rescue acquaintance encouraged me to try longer. I let him out of the carrier to run free in my bedroom (he had been vicious in a cage - I couldn't safely change his litter pan or water bowl). I had fears of a wildcat running around the walls of my home for weeks or months until I caught him again, but he hid under the bed and then started coming out when I brought food. After just a few days, I brought in a new flavor (salmon) and found him rolling on his back and almost doing tricks to get the new food. I'm still walking quieter around him than my always-socialized cats, but he hops on the bed for scritches also like Susan's cat. I don't know if I can get him to be adoptable, but it's a major improvement from a "caged snarling cat with claws". I have several semi-feral or born-feral cats, and they all use the litter box. They even go out in the backyard to nibble grass and come back in (scared by noises usually)on their own. Two were born outdoors to a feral mama, but fed by my family while growing up, and several were "indoor ferals" - born in a home, but unsocialized due to health problems in the family - they saw people put food down, but they had no physical interactions with them for 6 months or so. I'll be very interested in seeing the "differences" this research finds because I wonder just how feral most of the ferals really are...


I volunteer with a rescue organization. We pull cats and kittens out of kill shelters as well as strays outdoors, and owner surrenders. I've reach the conclusion that some cats, no matter how tame, do not tolerate being in a cage. At times we'll have a cat that has been in one of our foster homes and is very well adjusted and loving. The minute we take them to Petsmart and put them in a cage, their whole demeanor changes. They cower, growl, and hiss even at their foster parent. We do not give up on them though it takes alot of work to get them to put their best foot forward in order for them to find their forever home.


I adopted a domestic/ ferral cat 2 yrs ago. she is still mainly hidding and does not come out when i am home awake. Need advice on getting her to come out. Also, recnetly adopted a very friendly male cat (a bit dominating) both are fixed. thank you

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