Monday, July 3, 2017

Lesson in Socializing Feral Cats

white cat feral cat need outdoor connection

As a cat rescuer and one who has worked with all ranges of feral kittens and cats, I was reminded of an important lesson recently, not all cats are the same when socializing them. Going from strictly outdoors to indoors does not always work. Transition is key.

 Living in the city and as witness to the dangers, risks and tragedies for cats to live or have access to the outdoors, we encourage cat owners to keep their cats strictly indoors if possible. Along the same lines, when we bring in a feral cat or kitten, socializing is key so the cat has a chance of getting adopted. However, socializing a feral cat strictly indoors does not always work. Often times, life is not perfect and we have to follow their cues.

One day while jogging by my supermarket I saw a small black kitten. I immediately raced home and drove back with my catmobile. (Ok it's just a regular car with my cat rescue supplies in the trunk). I set the trap and went inside the supermarket to do my grocery shopping. Upon checking the trap after my grocery purchase, inside was a stunning, all white older kitten, a teenager, most likely 9-10 months old.
TNR feral cat white cat Miami cat
Zsa Zsa dropped off to get spayed

Well, I thought she's still young where there is a chance to socialize her so I decided to keep her indoors and not release her. Next day she was spayed and I kept her in my master shower (like a large closet) to recuperate. The master shower is also known as the cat intake room.  It's a lovely shower with glass wall and door so I can see through to observe their behavior, temperament, sleeping pattern, and energy levels. Plenty of room to move around and have a large litter box.

But after several days of tasty cat food, cat milk, water, luxurious soft bedding inside the carrier, me sitting in corner talking softly and leaving more delicious food, Zsa Zsa was not the slightest at ease or warming up.  She still hissed and tried to scratch me when my hand got near so she could sniff it. However, when any one of my cats walked in to peer through the glass walls, she cried. She wanted to be with them. My heart was breaking.  The shower was a sterile, cold jail cell for her.  Zsa Zsa was increasingly unhappy.

I was going to release her outdoors but in sharing the update with a new volunteer, Deborah mentioned she had great success in socializing cats.  What did she do differently?  At first Deborah kept Zsa Zsa inside a catio playpen indoors. But that bared no different results than my attempt. Zsa Zsa yearned to be with other cats, or free like them and was still feral. There was only one solution left.  Release her in the backyard with the other feral cats. 

white cat shade protection safe
Zsa Zsa finds comfort in the shade of the bushes

With nothing to lose, only to gain, Deborah let Zsa Zsa loose in her gated backyard.  We held our breath for hours, expecting the worst. Yet it turned out brilliantly. Better than we could have hoped for. You see Deborah has a home with backyard and a cat window. Instead of a doggy door, she has a cat window. Cats come in and out.  For several days Zsa Zsa remained in the yard, thankfully, and still came to eat and drink at the designated bowls set outside.  She seemed relieved. It did not take long for her to use the cat window.  Soon Zsa Zsa was nestling on the sofa, in a box and finally to crown it all--Deborah could pet her!

Zsa Zsa loves the outdoors

Of course finding an adopter with a similar set up would be very challenging. But Deborah fell in love with her foster kitty.  Zsa Zsa is stunning and that test of love and patience has created a bond that is unbearable to break.

feral cat becomes friendly comfortable indoors
Zsa Zsa lounging indoor as her guardian plays with her using feather wand

The lesson: Like people, and other living creatures, cats also, depending on their personality and surroundings, have their own way to transition and adapt to a new environment. Don't give up so easily. There is always a solution if you are willing to be patient and diligently find it.


  1. Such a terrific story, bravo! We just socialized 2 ferals who were about 6 months old. They are now part of our family and enjoying the indoor life.

  2. What a great rescue story. Zsa Zsa is gorgeous and we're glad you and Deborah figured out what worked best for her.

  3. Such important lessons - how wonderful that Deborah helped you go the extra mile for this beautiful kitty! Purrs from Deb and the Zee/Zoey gang!