Q: I have read about — and occasionally heard of — domestic cats who became feral and then returned to domestic life. Do you think it can happen to Sweetie Pie and if so, what is my next step?
Sweetie Pie, the feral, has made a new step in domesticity. He actually learned to let me pet him about three months ago, and last night, for the first time, let me comb him out with a flea comb.
He has started to try to poke his head into my house. All my other cats would probably welcome him, except Alfred. Alfred does not even like my other four cats and will occasionally try to fight with them to assert dominance.
Starting in winter two years ago, I put up a cardboard shelter box with holes on all sides — one side open — and a rug in it. Sweetie Pie started sleeping in it, or using it as a wind break, every night. Now he sleeps against my glass patio door with the light on above him.
He was in a terrible fight about a year ago, probably with a raccoon or a coyote. He was badly injured and I was not sure he would survive. He came to my door for help but wouldn’t let me touch him.
I gave him some oral medication I had from my other cats and vitamins, and he recovered. It touched me that he came to me when he was injured and in pain.
About a year ago he started taking treats from my fingers, and three or four months ago let me touch, then pet him. Lately, he will let me pet him without food for an incentive and he will purr like crazy and arch his back.
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He will come up to me sometimes when I am on the stairs, but it is still a stretch for his courage. I just don’t know how to go about building trust to let me pick him up. Is this too much of a stretch?
— Arlynn Grimm
A: You are making excellent progress with Sweetie Pie, and I’m confident if you keep doing what you’re doing, taking it slow, that he eventually will let you have more and more contact with him. You might not ever be able to pick him up — even some house cats can balk at that — but you can work on having him sit near you and then climb onto your lap.
Don’t try to rush it by grabbing him or trying to force him into your lap — that will undo all that you’ve accomplished so far.
Cats such as Sweetie Pie are not true feral cats. They were pets until they were abandoned or lost, and while they take on some wildness, they remain domesticated. Feral cats, on the other hand, are much harder to tame because they have had limited, if any, contact with humans.
Sweetie Pie is frightened by his surroundings, making it difficult for him to trust you. By feeding him without asking too much in return, you’ll eventually gain his trust. Actually, I think you already have it. You just need to keep building on it.