Mother with her feral kittens

Can feral felines ever come home? That’s the question I constantly ask myself when confronted with yet another snarling cat freaking out in the back of one of those have-a-heart cat-friendly traps I keep in my backyard shed.

They’re all teeth and claws at the outset — almost uniformly. It’s enough to make you want to do a spay/neuter, and release them back where they came from.

Why so harsh? These are not your average house cats. They are no cuddlesome balls of fur. And hell hath no fury like a properly motivated feline — hence the desire to release them as soon as possible.

But sometimes we don’t — because sometimes we can’t.

One Vet, One Bathroom — and Six Feral Cats

Consider the case of the feral cat whose fractured leg or fan belt injury requires longer-term incarceration than the standard TNR (trap-neuter-release) candidate.

Or ponder this scenario: A tiny, 8-month-old, black female kitten had been left at my place one Saturday by one of my TNR partners in crime (a very sweet but deeply destitute client) with the expectation that the cat would get spayed on Monday.

Unfortunately, this spitfire queen from hell made it impossible for me to remove her from her trap, so she could enjoy a more comfortable spot on a cushy blankie while she awaited her procedure. (Just so you know, I sustained a bloody scratch as part of this futile process.) Instead, the most that I could do was toss in some food and water a couple of times a day — and hope for the best.

Come Monday morning, it became evident that any hope I might have harbored for an expedient end to our relationship via ovariohysterectomy was not to be. She had birthed five, all white kittens, with teensy gray markings atop their heads. And — get this — they’re all boys!

This is why I’ve had a feral kitty living in my home for the past five weeks, with all those adorable kittens in tow.

So how exactly have I managed to keep a wild animal in my son’s bathroom? With great trepidation, and not without significant effort!

The Feral Cat Way of Life

Feral cats can often be brought into the fold of general human companionship and even close conviviality.

According to the dictionary definition of “feral” as applied to cats, it means reverting to an untamed state from one of domestication. In other words, these are felines who, having lost contact with humans for whatever reason, took up with their own and formed social communities devoid of direct human contact.

But what we call feral cats in suburban enclaves like mine — highly populated South Florida — typically don’t fall under that definition. Not exactly. That’s because most of them depend, to a large extent, on the humans who feed them, thereby taking vital social cues from this positive interaction.

As a result, some feral cats seem relatively tame, while those who are more removed from human company will act more like wild animals than house cats.

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.

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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