HAVE YOU EVER TRIED DOMESTICATING A FERAL CAT?

Your cantankerous cat lady has received a couple of questions about taming and domesticating a feral cat, so I will tell you what I know. My knowledge is based on first-hand experience, as I “trapped” two feral kittens and took them to my Alaskan homestead on Spruce Island.

Where I Found the Cats

A construction crew resided in a compound of trailers provided by the village of Ouzinkie for workers. The wife of the project foreman fed a feral cat and three kittens for about three months that summer. She and I became friends, and I visited several times during their stay.

“I don’t know what will become of the cats when we leave this fall,” worried the woman. I told her that I hoped I could catch two of the kittens and take them home with me. I’d never seen cats that looked quite like them. They had the markings and the coat of a seal point Siamese, except they both had four white feet and a white chin. As it turned out, they were both female.

How I Captured the Kittens

A couple of weeks after the crew left, I went to the site armed with cat food and a cardboard box with a tight lid. The kittens were then about four months old, and had long since been weaned from their mother. At least they weren’t totally freaked by the arrival of a new human on the scene, as they had been fed by the foreman’s wife all summer. She had never tried to touch them, though, so they were still pretty skittish.

I am sure I was meant to have those two, because when I went

The many ways cats show love to their humans

Lou, the shy one

behind the trailers to look for them, I couldn’t find the mother cat and her black kitten, but the two Siamese hid near the building and watched me. After all, their regular meal ticket had been gone for two weeks, and they must have been very hungry. Perhaps they had the idea that I had come to feed them.

I set the box down, making a big production of putting the cat food inside. Then I backed off and watched. Their hunger finally conquered their fear. The bravest of the two jumped in the box and began devouring the food. Soon the second kitten followed. While they were occupied with the food, I quickly shut the box lid and headed back home with my two captives.

Did They Adapt Successfully?

If you want to adopt a feral kitten, you’d have the best luck with one that had just been weaned. My two, at approximately four months, were a little old for domesticating. They never did quite get over their skittishness, even with me. When I came home after an absence, long or short, as soon as I came in the house, they would both run and hide. Then, finally they’d venture out and come to greet me. They never lost that bit of reflex action — hide if you feel threatened and don’t come out until you are sure it is okay.

Thank you, Uncle Sam

The usual routine when you bring a new animal into your home is to keep it in a separate room, away from your other pets, until it gets used to the smell and sounds of another animal. It did not work with these two. My cabin only had one room. Fortunately, I had Sam Cat.

For the first couple of days, he did make sure they knew he was in charge, and that they were in his territory. One he had established that fact, he adopted the two of them, much as he had done with my dog, Teddy Pup. His behavior prompted me and my beach visitors to call the cat “Uncle Sam.”

Sam Establishes Rules

Sam took his job seriously. He watched over those kittens from their first day at Banjo Beach, my homestead. He taught them a couple of rules, both of which applied for the first year they were with us.

Rule #1: Do not go to the beach without me

The kittens loved to play on the beach, but somehow Uncle Sam knew about big winged creatures that could

two Siamese having play battle on beach

Mock battle

swoop down from the sky and snatch up a small cat. If the kittens went to the beach without Sam, he would go down after them and chase them back to the house.

Rule #2: No hikes with Mom, Teddy, and me until I say it is okay

Sam, Teddy, and I loved to walk in the woods, and did so often. For the first year after the kittens moved in, Sam would not let them accompany us. They wanted to go, and tried to follow. However, Sam would chase them back under the house. By the following summer, he must have decided they were mature enough, so he let them join us.

What should I Name Them?

When I lived in Kodiak, I’d had two male black cats from the same litter. Due to their personalities, they were named Uptight Cat and Loose Cat. I shortened those names when I talked to the cats or called them. Their nicknames were Poo and Lou. Now I gave this second set of twins those names. For the second time, I had cats called Poo and Lou.

Now What Do We Do? The Kittens Come Into Heat

It wasn’t all that long after Poo and Lou moved in with me that they came into heat for the first time, one after the other. Sam had no interest in their lascivious moves, so they looked for other possible paramours. They began making the trek to Danny’s house, a quarter mile away. He, too, had a male neutered cat and, one after the other, the females tried to seduce him. He wanted nothing to do with them.

After both Poo and Lou had traipsed over the Danny’s house through a couple of heats, he came to my house one day and said, “Either you get those cats spayed or I will do it myself!” So, into Kodiak I took them. It was just as well, before they found all the male cats in Ouzinkie.

How They Adjusted

cat peering into small backpack

Curious Poo checks out my backback

I believe my two adjusted faster at my house than they might have because of “Uncle Sam” and because we lived a relatively quiet life, out in the woods. It took a while for them to get used to being petted, but they did demonstrate to me that they had a purr.

When you first bring a feral cat home, move slowly and try not to startle it. Don’t touch it at first, and when you do, make the first contact brief. Keep a treat handy to remind them that you are not the enemy. Play with them with a string that has something small tied to it — perhaps a feather. The play will help them relax. Brush them with a soft brush, as that reminds them of their mother’s care. Eventually you will be able to cuddle them and handle them freely.

Their Lives Develop

Both of my kittens slept with me at first, once they discovered the comfort of the bed. Then Sam and Lou fell in love, and she slept curled up with him every night in his special round bed.

I felt a little sorry for Poo, because once a relationship order had been established, Sam would pick on Poo, I believe just because it was so easy to get a reaction from her. They got along well, but she was low cat on the totem pole. One of his favorite games was to chase her up the huge tree that grew right next to the kitchen.

Sam and Poo usually got along well

He’d back her out onto a long branch, batting at her with one paw, never touching her, but slowly backing her further along the branch. Poor little Poo would be yelling so loud you’d think she had blood pouring from multiple wounds, though Sam never touched her. More than once I had to go outside and yell at Sam, who would race down the tree and disappear.

We Were All a Family Unit

My little twins lived with me on Spruce Island for their entire lives, and we became a tight-knit family unit. My life on Banjo Beach could have been very lonely, but because I had my fine, four-legged family, I felt adequately blessed with loving companionship. The four of us lived happily together.


10 Responses to HAVE YOU EVER TRIED DOMESTICATING A FERAL CAT?

  1. Vanna Denham says:

    Wonderful story about Lou and Poo and Uncle Sam and you! I’m happy for you that you found so much joy with them as companions. Thank you for sharing your experience.

    V. Pearl

    Please remember to encourage someone today!

    • Fran Kelso says:

      Vanna, I thank you, and glad you enjoyed reading about my sweet family. I also like your advice…I will start by encouraging you to be the best you can be. I believe you are trying to do so, and I applaud your efforts.

  2. Vivi says:

    This story is so sweet! Your Sam cat really sounds like a smart one! 

    I am a dog person, but I do respect and appreciate cats a lot. I’ve never adopted one because because of my dogs, they are not so social with other animals, even other dogs. 

    Near my house are lots of feral cats. I’ve never tried to adopt one, they don’t want to be domesticated. They do come sometimes to get some food and then they leave. I respect that! 

    • Fran Kelso says:

      Yep, Sam Cat was truly a smart beastie.  He raised the other animals well.  We all became a very close-knit family.  Too bad your dogs wouldn’t tolerate one, but smarter of you not to try.  You might have a bit of mayhem at your house.  

      You might enjoy my one dog story.  I had a sweet, wonderful dog on Banjo Beach (my homestead.)  He was given to me when he was maybe six weeks old.  Sam Cat took over his training immediately, and they became the best of friends.  If you’d like to check out that story, go to https://celebratingcat.com/the-cat-raised-the-dog-on-my-alaskan-homestead.  And thanks much for your comment.

  3. Richard says:

    You are obviously a cat lover and this post shows how much you care and love animals. My story is almost similar. As much as I love animals I find it a huge responsibility, its like looking  after another child. I live in rural part of Ireland where there a lots of wild cats living in fields. 

    They provide a free service  by  keeping  the mice away. There were lots of wild cats where I lived and some times I would buy cat food and leave it outside the kitchen door. 

    One kitten decided to adopt me as his mother was either killed or had abandoned her. She was a black kitten with silky  fur. I swear she would give us the most beautiful smile. 

    The love my wife and I got from my kitten was unbelievable. She radiated such joy and peace – I assure you I am not nuts. She stayed with us for two years until she grew into a beautiful cat with the most amazing green eyes. She must have sensed we were going to move house. Two days before we moved she disappeared and was no where to be found. It was heart breaking. I can understand why pet owners are heartbroken when a pet dies.

    • Fran Kelso says:

      Yes, it is almost like adding a child to the family, though I think they are a tad less trouble, most of the time.  How cool that you have wild cats nearby, and that you feed them now and then.  I do not believe you are nuts…so many times my animals have given me love and caring, and I do understand that the kitten could be sending you peaceful and joyful messages.  It may have been her way of expressing gratitude for your care.  

      And, yes, it is heartbreaking when a pet dies.  My Carlos cat, a lovely tuxedo cat, lived with me for 12 years of his life.  I got him from a shelter in Kodiak, Alaska.  He was my only companion during that time, and for the last 6 years of his life, I did not work, so was home with him a great deal of the time.  We grew to be incredibly close. 

       I grieved so after his death that I wrote a book to help me through the grieving and to help me remember all the funny and sweet things he did.  The longest chapter was written as if the cat wrote it…that was really fun, to try to interpret things as a cat would.  If you get a chance, go back to my site and check out this post:  https://celebratingcats.com/have-you-found-your-purrfect-pet-companion.  I think you would enjoy it.

  4. Ngonidzashe Manzwangani says:

    At least it was easy for you to capture the feral cat because most times, its not easy as that. In some instances, even if you manage to bring a feral cat  home,  they can ran away. May be they created friendship with uncle Sam quickly and they felt at home. Great article, thank you so much for sharing  

    • Fran Kelso says:

      Yes, I am sure I was lucky.  If they had not been so hungry, I don’t know that I could have caught them.  I think the reason they didn’t run away was because I had the food and Sam Cat watched over them. Thanks for your comments!

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