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?
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.