Can Feral Cats Ever Truly Be Tamed?

The broad spectrum of affinity for humans among so-called feral cats is partly what led to the term “community cats,” or felines who live among humans in the community, regardless of their degree of connection.

Then there’s the term “free-roaming.” This is a less fraught designation, seeing as it’s not only less biologically specific, but it includes perfectly tame house cats who may be living outside only part of their lives.

I know all the pesky definitions are troublesome, but I really do have a point here. My argument is that one person’s incorrigible feral community cat is another human’s free-roaming candidate who has the potential to be a perfectly companionable indoor kitty. It all depends on how close to humans the particular feline might be.

Taming them, however, is a tricky process that requires much patience and the willingness to accept that not all of them can be cajoled into enjoying a loving forever home in the company of humans.

That’s what I tell my clients. But it's really no primer, so I send them to the Feral Cat Spay/Neuter Project for more information.

My Feral Mama Kitty

Luckily, Mama Kitty (as I tend to call all my unnamed “teenage moms”) is an amazing mother who is so motivated to feed and protect her kittens that she finally allows me to come near her. This cat’s not dumb. She knows how crucial I am to her survival as a bringer of food.

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Mother cat and Her Babies

Dr. Patty Khuly's feral mama kitty and her kittens.

But our relationship isn’t all food-based. Mama Kitty has also come to grudgingly accept some human affection. At first, she was all hiss and swat, even as I hastily shoved food and water her way. (I’ve never had so many claw marks on my hands as I did those first three weeks!) Now she’ll let me pet her when I feed her. And I anticipate some leg-rubbing action soon.

Still, I’ve got to ask myself: Will she ever be tame enough to home? Hmmm . . . .

The problem is that, knowing her as well as I do now, I don’t think that I could bear to send her back into the suburban wilds. Call it the curse of the feral connection, but something about bringing an animal back into the fold of human companionship is so challenging, so revealing and so touching that I’ll never rest until I can bring Mama Kitty fully around and find her a loving forever home. I know she has it in her.

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