Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Taking The Crazy Path

We're going down a path we probably shouldn't go down, but we can't stop ourselves. It's just the way the problem presented itself and our crazy desire to do something about it. 

We had neighbors. They sold their house earlier this year. We didn't really know them except that we had talked a few times because our yards shared a boundary. They had dogs. They also had a few feral cats that they let eat, sleep, and breed in their barn. They moved and left the cats. Nice, right? For the past several months we've noticed this black cat prowling around under the bird feeder and hiding in different places outside our fenced yard. It runs whenever it sees us. It's cute, it has a bit of a bobbed tail. We don't want it hunting our yard, especially since we spend a lot of time trying to attract and feed the birds. Mmmm… what to do? 

We already have a cat. Bonsai doesn't go outside the fenced yard, and he's not a hunter. He's old and really doesn't have much energy to do anything. He gets special kibble for his chronic constipation. Everyday, for a treat, I give him a half of a small can of Fancy Feast Sliced Beef in gravy. Oh, he just loves the gravy. I add warm water to it so there's even more gravy, and it's more delicious. He laps it all up and leaves the beef, which I throw away everyday. But just the other day Roger said to me, "Why don't you give the feral cat that food?" And so, the idea was hatched to feed the feral cat in the hopes that he'll get enough to eat so he won't have to hunt the birds and lizards. Lions don't chase the zebras when they're full. Makes sense. Right?

So, for the past few mornings, I've been taking the leftovers out and putting them in a plastic dish on the compost pile. The black cat must keep an eye out for that, because s/he shows up right away to eat it. Roger set up a motion sensor camera in the compost bin, so we see exactly who's eating the catfood and when. It's always all gone before nightfall.

Our goal is to domesticate this feral creature and find it a home. We have also considered getting a large "have a heart" trap, trapping it and finding someone who wants to rehabilitate and socialize it as a pet. Are we totally crazy?  

OTOH, we did see this fox walking right in front of the house on Tuesday. It could take care of the feral kitty cat problem in one delicious meal. Life in the country is pretty wild.

What would you do?


  1. I would continue to try and socialize the cat. He is clearly worth the trouble. I hope the fox doesn't get him.

  2. I admire your efforts and the feelings behind them, so I hesitate to mention that both of my well-fed cats are avid hunters who, unfortunately, occasionally kill and eat a songbird rather than a garden or house pest such as mole, vole, mouse.

    Bonsai's feeding routine is bringing back fond memories of our original cat, Patches. Patches loved the gravy. He also liked to perch on the shoulder of any male human in the house and lick his hair.

    I think your feral kitty has incredibly beautiful eyes. I hope you find a good home for him. Tsk, tsk on barns full of fertile cats...

  3. Yes, you're crazy. That notwithstanding, you have an interesting dilemma. I encourage you to keep trying to reacquaint the feral cat with civilization and, one day, someone who will look out for him.

  4. Not an easy answer, but I'd probably go with what John has written! This is one of those times I'm glad I live in the city and in an apartment complex!! No worries like this and it would be a worry for me as well!!

  5. Having experience with feral cats, they can be taught to love, many want to love. The bigger issue, should you fall in love with him/her will be dirt box which might or might not be something it takes to and Bonsai's reaction. I feel for all animals; so I'd opt on trying it if I was you

  6. One of my dear friends on the mountain has two "feral" cats, going on six years now. They were born under their shed, eventually the mother and the other three disappeared and Callie and Pokey stayed around. After six years, they rely 100% on Barbara for cat food and they don't hunt the birds at their feeder but they do still mouse. They will occasionally approach Barb for a petting and they like to walk around the yard with her when she is out. They have essentially no desire to be in the house-none. In the winter they come in the garage, jump up on a tool bench and then to a higher shelve built for them, where they sleep in their own milk crates with blankets. During nice weather they have a cat door on a small shed where they also have milk crates up on shelves. I feed them whenever they are away, about two dozen times in two years for a few days each. They hear me opening the shed door and shoot out their cat door and sit about 10 yards away watching me. No amount of cajoling will get the to come to me for petting or affection.

    So thats my experience with feral cats. Barb loves them and she did get them trapped once long enough to get them to the vet to be spayed but that's it. They aren't really pets but they lead a nice life and are well cared for to the extent possible with so little contact. Oh- and I think Barb does manage to get Frontline on them once a month by sitting in the yard for a longish spell until they approach for a minute or two.

    Good luck whatever you do and I love your efforts, Robin. I doubt this lovely kitty will turn into a housepet and it doesn't seem like a good plan to get him/her close to Bonsai but you could develop a relationship of sorts, I bet.

  7. Feral cats are the best kind to have. You can feed them all you want and know they can still take care of themselves if they want or need too. You gave yours a taste of beef though so I would watch out for the
    occasional nearby cow turning up missing.

  8. well, it's a good way to dispose of Bonsai's leftovers....

    I would opt for trapping and giving to local SPCA to see if it can be rehabbed and socialized. If it can, then it may have a loving home in it's future.

    Feral cats are prey for other animals, and I would worry about its survival over the winter. Best to get it into a home situation before the snows come. (says your very own SPCA volunteer)

  9. Our two cat brothers used to share the chunky cat food, one liked the gravy, the other liked the chunks...
    Aw, any time you can help out a cat, I say go for it. My mother tamed a feral cat, insofar as getting it to live with them.
    Animals have been so fucked over by humans.

  10. It's clear that you'll be ruled by your heart rather than your head in this matter. Keep doing what you're doing.

  11. There's a lot in your post, and folks have touched on some of the points. Having owned many cats over my lifetime, I can say that some cats have preferences for what they hunt. If they enjoy hunting birds, then they'll hunt birds instead of rodents. My current cat specializes in mammals, with very few birds thrown into the mix. But zilla is right--well-fed cats will still be avid hunters.
    Feral cats can be socialized. Your success will depend on the cat's temperament, the cat's age, your skill at rehab, etc. Be careful about bringing a stray cat into your house! Diseases in cats are extremely contagious and lethal, and the stray could bring something with it that will kill Bonsai.
    I'd really recommend seeing if you can find an area cat rescue. A cat-specific rescue will be more committed to rehabbing the cat; and should have a quaratine set-up so that the stray doesn't pass anything on to their other kitties (e.g. feline leukemia or distemper).

  12. Thanks to everyone for such good and enlightening comments. We appreciate it immensely. I'll keep you posted on any interesting developments.

  13. I would do the same as you. There are valid arguments to support whatever path you take so you just take the one that seems right to you.

  14. We socialized a feral cat in our business office (it used to sleep on people's desks), but it died of feline leukemia after a relatively short time. Keep the cat away from Bonsai!

    Our office feral cat got plenty to eat, but frequented our bird blind when it was outside nonetheless. It's not a matter of food, it's the instinct.

    I can't imagine that you don't have coyotes in your neighborhood. When coyotes moved into our natural area preserve about four years ago, every single feral cat (and there were quite a few of them) disappeared within a matter of weeks.

    Good luck; you're on the horns of a dilemma.

  15. These are serious problems. When we lived on the Vermont farm we had encounters with a huge woodchuck we named Henry. Henry lived under the wood barn and didn't come out very often in the daytime, but when he did I could catch glimpses of him from the mowing tractor as he darted from the marsh or woods as he made his way back to the nest. Turns out, that Henry as actually Henrietta, who gave birth to 6 babies. What to do? Well, We lived on one side of the Waloomsac River and Bennington College with its vast park on the other. So, we used 'have A Heart' traps to capture them and dump them on the College grounds. Over the years we repeated that business and could see them in the meadow where they settled when ever traveling to the College. We liked to think they were studying modern dance and French literature.

  16. I was thinking more of letting nature take its course. I'm not confident that the cat can be domesticated, and you like birds too much to let him deny you that intimacy.

    On the other hand, if they tangle, you might have a dead coyote on your hands.

  17. Feral cats are devastating our bird and small critter populations. New research shows it is even worse than many of us thought.
    The best socially acceptable thing for this unfortunate cat is the havahart approach and a possible caring home.

    Otherwise, I'm rooting for the coyote.

  18. you know i have a soft heart for cats; but whether this kitty can become domesticated really does depend on the kitty. too much danger of disease to let it near bonsai, though.

    i think the suggestion of looking into a local cat rescue organization is a good one. rough life for outdoor cats.

    my husband saw a coyote behind the house this morning. we have not seen this fluffy neighborhood cat hanging around the last few days -- the cat likes [liked?] the territory behind our yard, and to visit our back yard. sigh. (only one of our cats ever goes out, and she only goes in front for a little bit. back is hillside; front is suburban street.)

  19. about FC's point -- we've rarely had cats go after birds, even the former ferals. not every cat is a mouser, either. depends on the cat. they all have that hunt/chase instinct -- which is why it is so funny to play with a housecat -- but actual hunting is not so important if they have more reliable food sources.

    also, cats are not any better than squirrels at getting to bird feeders. we know roger is an expert at squirrel-proofing the feeders....

  20. I am afraid FC is right about cats (not just feral, either) killing pretty much anything they can whether they are fed or not. Not all do but the ones that do continue frequently. I doubt that the fox will kill the cat. I researched that and apparently foxes do not often prey on cats. Coyotes on the other hand do. But it was my impression that coyotes and foxes don't often share a range.

  21. Most eager to discover what is happening with the kitty! The one street cat I adopted socialised very easily, probably because he seemed desperately keen to have a home and always radiated an sense of gratitude, which was really nice and made me, in turn, grateful that we'd connected. He was a surprisingly fussy eater, considering -- but maybe that's how he survived his street time. May there be many purrs.

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  23. so many good comments, no point in my adding to them, but when it comes to cats, I can't help myself. I will say that one of my very well-fed cats, the smallest but fiercest, is an AVID huntress. her specialty is birds, and it kills me, especially the songbirds, but it's who she is. (I think she might be a Mau; they are known for their hunting prowess).
    however, I had another cat who was much more of a mouser. your feral might be one of those. or, it might be like my tuxedo cat, and eschew hunting altogether. each cat is individual.
    best of luck and DO post updates.