Cats: Feral or Not? A Tale of Perry

So what’s a feral cat? According to Alley Cat Allies, the wonderful charitable organization that helps feral cats, “Millions of cats share our homes, but not all cats are suited to living inside. For many community cats (also known as feral cats), indoor homes are not an option because they have not been socialized to live with humans. They would be scared and unhappy indoors. Their home is the outdoors—just like squirrels, chipmunks, and birds. They are well suited to their outdoor home.”

Sounds simple, right?

But it isn’t. I suspect that a lot of cats that are assumed to be feral are merely strays. Feral cats are terrified of humans and view them as a real threat. But many cats when they are frightened may act the same way: cowering or running away, speechless (no mewing), or thrashing wildly if confined.

The gardener and I have been supporting the efforts of Alley Cat Allies for years as they try to promote TNR: trap-neuter-return. That keeps a feral colony from having more kittens, but doesn’t confine cats that can’t live inside.

But how many cats end up in feral colonies or merely dead because they are assumed to be feral, but are actually not feral at all?

Nobody knows.

Why am I bringing this up? Because of Prince Perry Winkle. Remember when we first trapped him? We got him neutered at a clinic and brought him to the shelter where he proceeded to act like a feral cat.

I told them that the clinic vet had said he wasn’t feral, but nobody believed me. They thought the vet lied, that I lied, or that the vet made a mistake. A big one.

For about a month I went to the shelter almost every day and read to Perry. It was the only time he got any positive attention because he hid in a cave and had staff persuaded he was a difficult and possibly dangerous (to them) feral cat.

The only hint anybody had that he wasn’t feral was that when I read to Perry he would blink at me. If you have a cat you know that blinking means I love you or I trust you. It’s a way of talking, communicating with a human. I would blink back at him so he knew I understood and trusted him, too.

If you read any of my bazillion posts here about Perry you know that he gradually warmed up to me, but it was really slow at first. When he learned the trick of “give me your paw,” it seemed huge. I didn’t know if we would get any further than that.

Well, now Perry is the biggest cuddle bug ever. I have never seen a cat as adorably cuddly. He curls up in my arms. rubs against me, kisses me, licks me, and demands I pet him by pushing his head up inside the palm of my hand. If I say, “Give me a kiss,” he kisses me immediately. This cat is not only not feral, he’s TRAINABLE. Like a dog.

And the other day I started letting him out to explore the house and meet the other cats, for less than an hour each day. Kana is shut up in a bedroom that Perry doesn’t know about. She will be the last hurdle. The other cats are fine, and so is Perry. Felix, friendly when approached. Pear, ignores him. Tiger, gives warning hisses to stay away, and so far so good. Sloopy Anne hides under the drape and peeks out through a gap she creates at the floor haha.

Watching TV with Mom

I found a mobile vet here in town who charges very reasonably and she came here (so as not to stress out Mr. Scaredy Cat) and clipped his nails (whew!!!!) and examined him. He’s healthy and about the age I thought (1.5 years) and definitely not feral at all. The vet told me that people dump domesticated cats at feral cat colonies all the time. IMAGINE A BIG SAD FACE HERE.

What if we had left Perry to fend for himself, assuming he was a feral cat and should just stay outside? He would have died for sure.

The only negative thing about his checkup is that this guy who was 9 pounds the day we trapped him is now 12.25 pounds, and he’s too fat. I take all the blame! I kept feeding him the same amount after the worms were gone that I did before. So now he has to lose a little weight. Like his mama.

He loves his hairbrush

To calm Perry for the exam, the vet put a little mask on him. I’ve seen those things before, and they work quite well. They are along the same lines as putting blinders on a horse or a cover over a bird cage. Or a blindfold on me for an MRI (no, I am not kidding). But the vet had to use a different mask than usual for cats because Perry has this cute little pointed rat face. (I love pet rats, so watch it). Very pointy all the way to his little pink nose. It’s hard to take a pic of so you can’t usually notice it in his photos.

I laughed about it and mentioned my comparison to a little rat face, and the vet told me it’s very likely that Perry is part Siamese. And as soon as she said it, I thought, YES, THAT EXPLAINS IT. It explains his chattiness. He’s always trilling and chirping to me. It explains his big smarts and trainability. And it explains his puppy-like behavior–the excitement and licking and all that.

It makes me sad when I think of how Perry was almost overlooked because it’s so darn hard to tell the difference between a feral cat and a scared cat. In a shelter or veterinary clinic, many cats are scared cats. If I hadn’t paid attention to his blinking and felt that it meant something, I might never have brought him home and learned the truth about him.

Lesson learned: I’ve learned quite a few from him, but the biggie is to watch for small, subtle signs of communication. That takes patience and time–something in short supply in busy shelters and clinics with overworked staff and volunteers.

If you sign up to read to cats at a shelter, you can be the eyes watching the cats for signs of communication!

For a little visit with Theo, here is a video of him learning his new activity. His mom found a free treadmill on the Next Door app (love that app!):

Hugs and prayers for all those affected by Hurricane Harvey. The devastation and flooding is horrific. My heart goes out to all those people and the animals, as well.


Filed under Cats and Other Animals, Essay, Nonfiction, Writing

66 responses to “Cats: Feral or Not? A Tale of Perry

  1. Well done. I didn’t know about the blinking

    • Now that the dust has settled I can see that the blinking was a dead giveaway that he wasn’t really feral. No feral cat would be telling me so clearly that he trusted me.

  2. Perry is now comfy and safe 😀

  3. Lucky Perry…sad to think of the unlucky ones, though… We’ve had mamas cats have litters in our gardens at two different houses, and know how hard it is to find a safe place for those families. Fortunately for us, both times a neighborhood hero swooped in to the rescue. Alley Cat Allies sounds like a great endeavor to support!

  4. We both take pride in having rescued our feral cats, Luanne. Oddly I’ve found that it’s best not to mention that word to the vets. Even if we got the cat as a small kitten or have had it for many years — because a lot of vets refuse to take them on. I was amazed to hear that more than once…
    Hugs on the wing to you and Perry.

    • Teagan, great point! Yes, many vets won’t treat them. That is how the shelter was, too–once they get in their heads a cat is feral, that’s it. It’s such a shame!! Hugs back atcha! xo

  5. “Now Perry is the biggest cuddle bug ever.” Aw…I loved this line, Luanne. I think I’ve told you before, you are the cat whisperer. xo

    • Hehe, I love it too because there is nothing I love better than to go to Perry and say KISS. He comes flying at me with a big smooch and then cuddles as if he never got any cuddling before (because I guess he didn’t!).

  6. It is believed that my Hazel was part of a feral litter. She was rescued (?) around 3 to 4 months old but was caged with her sister and 10 other cats rather than socialized. After I adopted her she spent 2 weeks under the bed in a bedroom blocked off to the other cats. She only came out to eat when I wasn’t there. I started to let Mollie go in (she’s a motherly cat who had a litter prior to coming to my home) for a couple of hours and that helped. It took months but she is good today. She’s not a cuddle cat although one in a while she’ll jump up next to me. Our vet was very good about it all. I expect a full grown unneutered cat could be pretty wild to handle but Hazel never was an aggressive cat. She was more of a scaredy cat. She never had trouble with other cats. I credit our other two cats at the time with “socializing” her enough so I could handle her. It is so wonderful what you have done with Perry. Is it a foster or are you keeping?

    • It’s such a shame that when cats are rescued they can’t be immediately socialized so that they don’t age before the process is begun. Poor Hazel. I’m so happy that you were the one who got her! I agree with you about other cats helping. Is he a foster or am I keeping? hahahaha technically he’s still a foster, but when I sign the papers he’s going to be my permanent baby boy (I told him I call him baby because his constant meowing sounds like crying and that crybabies are called babies–didn’t faze him of course).

  7. I love this, Luanne. Thank you for the update.
    I know I’ve told you how one of our cats was called “Demon Cat” at the shelter, and he is so sweet. But never at the vets’. 🙂

    • Isn’t that such a shame?!!!! Some cats just don’t show their true nature until they are in a safe environment. Sloopy Anne had been banned from PetSmart for her behavior because she was so scared, but she’s the cat everybody who meets her now says is the sweetest cat!

  8. look at that lovely belly!
    Two black kitties showed up a week ago at our place. At first I thought they were feral, but now I’m convinced they were dumped. They are simply cautious when they retreat when we bring out the food. But the distance of retreat is getting smaller and smaller. And the one blinked at me!
    Thank you for taking such great care of Perry and all of the other kitties, too.

    • Yes, he’s got a beautiful belly! Your black kitties are so adorably cute, Maggie! And BLINKING yeah!!! That is so great! Thank you for taking care of the new babies!!!!

  9. I’m so happy to hear that Perry is doing so well and that he’s responding to your love. He is one lucky cat. I may have said that before.

  10. Perry definitely sounds like he’s in the right hands. Wonderful to hear how far he’s come.

    • I am so happy for him!!! Yay! Now we have some other cats at the shelter who are similar who are in urgent need of fostering in the Phoenix area!!! I should have put that in this post.

  11. Wow, that’s a real feather in your cap, to see how Perry has thrived living with you! Beautiful. Okay, so he’s a tad chubby. Aren’t we all?! 😀 Time for a little cutback in the goodies and exercise and he’ll be svelte in no time. You hope. 😉 Anyway: well done Luanne!!!

    • LOL, yes, speaking for myself, “we” are all a tad chubby! Now that he’s starting to come out into the house he’s getting more exercise, but now the roofers showed up today to work and I can’t let Perry out of his room. I hope they make quick work of the roof work! Thank you so much, Ellie!

  12. What a good cat mumma you are! Perry is beautiful and making such good progress. All we need is a safe place to be and a little love, yes? I once saved a kitten from certain death as a feral – well, I didn’t really ‘save’ her, she elected me to be her passport to freedom and I complied and spent the ensuing 14 years with a drama queen who loved only me. I cried me a river when she went on. My Orlando warbles and harrumphs and gurgles. His purr is so loud and fullsome that he often ends up choking himself and splutters everywhere while continuing to purr. He comes when whistled and used to go for walks by the sea when I lived there. He is also part dog, though he is a Maine Coon. Your lovely story about Perry has reminded me I must write a post about Orlando soon. He was unwell and now he isn’t.

    • Pauline, I’d love to read a post about Orlando. That must have been scary. I love your description of him. It makes him so vivid for me! His noises–tht is like Perry. So noisy all the time–meowing that sounds like crying, attention seeking or maybe thrilled to be so happy.

  13. It’s been a joy to see the way Perry has blossomed with your help and care Luanne.

    • First his feet blossomed. His little paw pads were so blistered and then they healed and he got plump pink paw pads again. Now his whole personality has blossomed! He’s such a treat to have around.

  14. I love this! I’m so glad that you and Perry found each other. From the beginning, I thought you were quite right. Congratulations!

    • I hope that this helps somebody who doesn’t know about the blinking or even if they do see that this is a real sign that a cat is not feral. Thanks, Robyn!

  15. I”m so glad Perry found you! I thought the blinking was my cats winking at me – I tried to get them to do it on command, but, alas, no luck with that! I was surprised at how trainable cats are. Two of mine fetch and retrieve. Moxie has a particular felt ball that she is quite insistent about having thrown for her – I had to take a video of it so my out-of-state doubting family members would believe me!

    • I’m glad he found me, too! Hah re the winking. No, it means they LOVE you. Or at least trust you. Isn’t it funny about the training? Some more than others! Tiger loves to play “mouse” with her hooman dad. That was a trained game. Perry’s training is far better than any of my other’s though. I can say KISS from across the room and he comes sailing at me and plants a kiss on my lips! None of my others can do anything like that haha.

  16. My comment disappeared when I hit submit – didn’t know if I lost it or they are reviewed before posting.

    • I just had that happen over on Wuthering Bites. I know I’ve been approved over there and 3 comments disappeared. I actually did 2 and 3 for fun, just to see them disappear.

  17. Wonderful post. So much of it reminds me of teaching. How you know when something’s not quite right, how you study them and care for them waiting to discover what it is they need. It’s a powerful testament to what true TLC is. This leap of faith has worked out well for you both. I hope in time, he develops amicable relationships with all the other cats, but for now, having you, having that trust, it’s just wonderful to see.

    • That is true. Maybe it’s related to kind of jumping into being a mom in the middle of things. It might be similar for people who take on a foster child or adopt an older child. I think he will be ok with the other cats as long as he doesn’t bug Kana. He was very docile with the other cats, lying down to show he wasn’t taller (he is bigger than all my cats haha), except for my dominant cat Kana. He didn’t “bend the knee” haha to her. He stood his ground. I found that interesting. Maybe he know how to make friends with everyone differently.

  18. It makes me so angry that people get a pet, decide they don’t want it and rather do the responsible thing and find a good home for it, they dump it. I couldn’t imagine doing that. No wonder cats don’t trust humans. I am glad Perry has found his new home, in a house full of love.

  19. I adopted Logan when he was super tiny (I don’t remember exactly how old but they said he probably wasn’t old enough to have left his mother) The shelter said he was feral. I asked what that meant and they just said that he was found on the street. They didn’t treat him any different as far as I could tell, but they did give me special instructions on how to socialize him. He may have been a feral cat but he definitely never acted like one. He is super shy until he gets to know you and then he transforms in a super cuddly fluff ball.

    • Oh, sweet Logan. So glad you did!!! That’s exactly what bugs me the most: that shelters and vets too say these cats on the streets are feral when they are not! It tends to give a death sentence to the cats, and it’s so unfair. I am starting to suspect that the numbers of feral cats is far less than what has been reported. That most of them are strays! and maybe moving toward being wild from lack of care, in some cases.

  20. What a wonderful story, so heart warming to read how dear sweet Perry Winkle has made it – and how lovely that he gives you all that loving after all your tireless efforts to help him… makes me feel good just thinking about the whole saga… wonderful you !!!!

    • He is such a sweetie pie! It makes me sad to think of how he could have fallen through the cracks and how many do! But he makes me so happy because he’s so affectionate and so cute in the way he acts. He runs up to the other cats like a big puppy, “Let’s play.” They, all being older cats, look at him like he’s dotty! 😉

  21. So excited to hear the next step in this continuing journey with Perry! And it was a lovely bonus to tangentially meet your other feline family members, Luanne! I really enjoyed hearing both how Perry is interacting with you now, as well as the helpful information about feral/non-feral cats, and about cat communication. My favorite combination: a story AND new knowledge. Thanks! and Kudos!

    • Hehe, these guys are all worth writing about! I so wish that when organizations and people write about ferals that they would be more clear about how often strays are mistaken for ferals! Thanks so much, Theresa! Hope your weekend is a lovely one!

  22. Fascinating. You have really worked a miracle with Perry.

  23. HI Luanne! I just posted a little reflection involving cats, and I’ve dedicated it to some of the cats that my fellow bloggers write about. Perry’s included! – along with your other cats mentioned in this post. Here is the link, if interested: Hope you had a great holiday!

  24. Blinking? I’m going to try it on my new barn cat! Love this story. I’m going to tweet it. 🙂

    • Thanks, Adrienne. He is such a love. You should see him with the other cats. What a hoot. He’s a big goofy galumphing puppy (rather than a cat haha) and wants to play with them and won’t take no for an answer. But they are all old and want to just sleep.

  25. So happy to read about Perry and that you have a new buddy who is not feral. My cats are all from a dairy and I also believe if their parents were ferals they have a little feral inside them but it only comes out when they feel threatened. Thanks for reminding me I need to put one of my cats on a diet too. He is stealing food from others and is way too big. Can happen so fast. Thanks for keeping us updated on Perry Luanne.

    • He’s such a lovebug! He loves to spoon :). Unfortunately because he’s so demonstrative and is bigger than even my largest older cat, he throws himself at them and they can’t stand it. :/ Oh well, he will learn some manners pretty soon! I just noticed you haven’t posted in two months. Are you still not back on track or are you too busy? xo

      • Hi Luanne Im not sure why Im not blogging its like I feel like I have nothing new to say, so Im not pushing it, Im working hard on art for galleries, picture book and markets so I guess that takes up my time….along with new job. Hoping something will come to me soon. just not feeling the vibe to write may be a bloggers block. I feel blogging is not as interesting to me anymore. Thanks for noticing xxxxx.

  26. Hi dear Luanne.
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