No cat lover can stand to see a thin, timid little kitty stuck outdoors, without its own warm home, overflowing food bowl, and devoted humans to lavish it with love and attention. The problem is that many of the “wild” cats we encounter are either someone’s indoor-outdoor cats and they already have a home, or they’ve been left at the mercy of the elements so long that they’ve become feral and distrustful of even the kindest hands. Still, feline friendly people can’t rest until they open their arms, and homes, to these skittish creatures.
Which is Which?
The last thing you want to do is kitnap a fur baby who already has a home. Any cat owner worth his or her weight in catnip will search day and night for a lost kitty, and they probably won’t take kindly to someone taking it upon themselves to rehome their little angel. Any cat you see roaming residential or highly human-trafficked areas that are well-fed (especially the chunky ones), super friendly and lovable, and seem unafraid of any noises or movement, is almost certainly not a stray. 9 times out of 10, these cats belong to a home very nearby; they’re just out for their daily stroll or playdate. Not every cat without a collar is homeless, so never assume based on a lack of a neck accessory.
A feline that is a bit too thin, jumps at certain, or all, loud sounds, or sudden movements, shies away from human hands, or lashes out, even at the hand trying to feed it, is probably a stray, and fair game… for any human brave enough to keep trying to help it, that is!
While these poor cats are no less deserving of love and care than sweet, affectionate felines, they don’t always make it easy to love them, or obvious that they need our assistance. Sometimes, they’ve been wild too long to live happily in captivity. We want to give them a chance at a healthy, safe life, though, and here are a few ways to do just that, no matter how nervous our new friend may be!
Feed a Stray…
We all know that saying! If you’ve tried spoon feeding saucers of tuna and milk to a feral kitty and they just won’t take the bait, wait until the neglected sweetheart approaches your house. Trust us, when it believes no one is watching, it will, especially if it gets a whiff of something similar to food.
As soon as you see the little guy (or gal), slip a bowl of food, tuna, or milk, or whatever you have handy that would be appetizing to them, outside. They should find it quickly on their own; the key is to not let them see you anywhere near the offering. They’ll gobble up the gift and scurry away again, and that’s ok. Do not rush this process! Repeat this act every day. Soon, you’ll notice they come searching at about the same time every day. Cats love routine, and once they’ve squeezed a visit to your house into theirs, you’re a step closer to befriending the wild little angel!
Get a Whiff of This
After about a week of regular visits for food from your skittish kitty, add a toy to your daily present. Not just any toy, however! Take five minutes, some catnip, and an old sock that has your scent all over it. The catnip combined with your smell will help them associate happiness and playfulness with you, and make it easier to approach them in the coming days. As with the food, repeat the catnip/old cloth routine for a few days. If you’re feeling confident, begin moving the food and toys a little closer to your house each day. If the cat follows without hesitation, you’re ready to begin the meet-and -greet!
I Come in Peace!
Once the cat has made an everyday habit of visiting you for food, gradually allow yourself to be seen. By now, the cat has familiarized itself with your smell, and as long as you observe from a distance at first, it shouldn’t bolt at the sight of you. This is a very delicate part of the process, because it’s so tempting to rush the poor animal and hug him and squeeze him and cuddle him to pieces. PLEASE resist the urge! Let him see you moving about, as if you have no interest in him, for a day or so.
Meanwhile, reduce the rations you give kitty. Remove about ¼ of the food you normally offer, and continue to meander outside during chow time. Sit as close as the animal will allow as it’s eating, and hold your breath! If the cat feels comfortable enough with you at this point, he will approach you, vocalizing its knowledge of the shrinking rations. At this point, GENTLY reach your hand, palm down, in kitty’s direction. If he moves closer and sniffs, you’re golden! Within another day or two, you’ll have the cat comfortable enough to either follow you inside your house, or allow you to carry him in yourself. Either outcome is good, but be sure you let the baby guide YOU at this point, and from here on out!
Proceed with Caution
If all has gone well up to this point, then you have a brand-new pet kitty to care for and worship (if you’re still moving slowly through the feeding and scent-adjusting phase, don’t worry! Your prospective pet has either been on its own longer, or has more reason to distrust humans. It’ll come around soon, too)! However, the next few days are critical for both you and your new baby!
By now the cat trusts you, but it hasn’t forgotten how safe it managed to make outside life. One thing you must watch is how the feline behaves inside. If it waltzes in and makes itself right at home, perfect! The only things left to do are to get your new friend spayed/neutered and his or her shots updated ASAP. If, however, the poor thing meows all night, tries to literally climb your walls, refuses to leave the door and runs outside every time you open it, or becomes even jumpier and aggressive than before, it’s not ready to live indoors. That doesn’t mean that you have to give up on the little darling! However, it does mean that he or she must go back outside, for now at least.
If you must rerelease your furry friend, here are some things you can do to help them, until they are ready to try the home life again:
- Give them a cardboard box with blankets/towels that smell like you. Put it under your porch or house, or anywhere it will stay dry.
- Only put food outside for it during times when you can make sure the cat is the one who eats it, not some other wild animal or neighbor’s nosey pet.
- Make/but interactive toys, and spend a few minutes a few times a week engaging in one-on-one play.
- Offer table scraps OCCASIONALLY, in addition to the normal food you offer.
- Leave plenty of water, especially in the warmer months. In the winter, check water bowls to make sure they don’t freeze solid and leave the cat without anything to drink.
It could take several weeks, but eventually, your new pet project (pun intended) will at least take to being an inside-outside kitty, and you can rest assured knowing that you saved the life of an animal that no one else trusted, and wouldn’t have survived 48 hours at a shelter! We heart people like you!