Semi-Feral Cats

Many area shelters share the same philosophy regarding euthanasia, and are no-kill shelters. MetroWest Humane Society takes this philosophy even further in that we have always felt that semi-feral cats also deserve a second chance, and if TNR (trap-neuter-return) is not an option, then we have been willing to house, socialize, and hopefully find homes for the many semi-feral cats we have living at our shelter.

MWHS has a number of cats that would be called semi-feral. These cats are generally born outside, and not having human contact, are very shy initially. With lots of love and patience, a semi-feral cat can become a loyal, devoted pet. The semi-feral cats at the shelter have been socialized to varying degrees. Some will take baby food (meat variety) treats from your finger; others will let you pet them; some you cannot touch because they have not yet learned to trust. They are not aggressive, just frightened. Semi-feral cats generally love the company of other cats, and therefore, make great companion animals. Please keep in mind that semi-feral cats do not make good pets for households with young children, as they are easily frightened. Please visit the MWHS shelter during adoption hours to learn about these “forgotten” cats.

Unfortunately, finding them homes isn’t always that easy. It seems most people that come to our shelter have never had exposure to a semi-feral cat and are understandably looking to adopt an animal that does not need the patience, understanding and TLC that a semi-feral cat requires. The result is that many of our semi-feral cats live at the shelter for what can be years.

Our shelter creates what we believe to be a relaxing, non-stressful atmosphere for them. One entire floor (called our Sunshine Room), is separated into five rooms allowing for free roam in each area. There are many windows, skylights, plenty of cat beds and cat trees. A visit to our shelter will confirm our commitment to these special cats.

Socializing Feral Cats

Socializing a feral animal can be a difficult but very rewarding experience, and the outcome will have a lot to do with how old the animal is, how fearful they are, and your own personality and patience level. The hardest cat to socialize is an older, totally feral animal. This type of animal has spent a long time in the wild and will be very wary of ever accepting human contact. However, if you can socialize a totally feral cat, they will likely develop a deeply devoted bond with you.

Tips for Socializing Feral Cats

Once the cat is in your home, keep the cat in a very small area, because too large of an area will stress and frighten the cat. Make sure that this room is quiet and calm and that there are no other animals or small children in this room.

First, only visit the cat to take care of his/her personal needs such as food, water, and the litter box. Again, food is a very big motivator for feral animals, so get the cat used to the fact that you are the one taking care of his/her needs. While you are taking care of the cat, feel free to talk to the cat very slowly and softly, as this will get the cat used to you and your voice. And always move slowly around the cat.

Once the cat seems comfortable with your presence, try sitting with the cat for a few hours a day. Don’t try to touch the cat yet – just sit near him/her and talk to the cat. Or perhaps read aloud. Each time you visit, you can also try to sit closer and closer to the cat, being sure to pay attention to his signs. Remember that anytime the cat gives you a signal to go away, do so. Never push. Let things go at the pace the cat chooses.

Once the cat seems comfortable with you near, you can try to touch the cat. You may want to wear a long shirt or gloves just in case you get scratched. When you start, always move your hand slowly towards the cat and let the cat smell your hand before you touch him/her. If the cat seems calm enough you can try to pet the cat gently. Again, don’t push it. Start slowly, pet the cat for a minute or two the first day, and work your way up to more time. At any time, if the cat seems to be angry or scared, stop. And remember, most cats strongly dislike their paws and backsides/tails to be touched, so try to stay away from those areas at first.

If the cat is resisting touch, you can try a few tricks: try to give the cat a little tuna or shrimp before touching to coax the cat into trusting you, or tie a sock or a piece of clothing of yours (with your smell on it) around a stick and pet the cat with it from a distance. This contact is a big step, so be patient.

Once he/she can sustain long contacts and seems comfortable with your touch, you can try to hold the cat. You can start off by holding the cat for short periods of time and working your way up to longer hugs and putting the cat on your lap.

If he/she allows this, and seems comfortable with you and the room, you may want to then try to show the cat other parts of the house or other animals. You may also want to try to get the cat to play.