Can a stray or feral cat be domesticated? That is the equivalent to asking “Will the boy who was raised by wolves ever eat a jelly sandwich in front of a tv?”
We are all delicate flowers, even wild cats and boys.
Our early experiences form the filters through which our future lives must pass, so yes they can be domesticated, but the humans in their lives need to allow for those filters with a serious amount of understanding.
This post, 'part two', exists because of a little black cat's ear anomaly, the mystery of which is revealed near the end. I didn't expect, when I asked professionals about said ear, that I'd also be writing about some real heroes.
First, some light points...
Here’s the list of Southwestern wild animals that now share their former turf with we urban dwellers: Birds, racoons, skunks, chipmunks, mice, rabbits, groundhogs, and thanks to fruit trucks from the southern US, the opossums.
There’s one more animal that lives alongside those wild things vying for ever dwindling food sources; stray cats. Stray and feral cats are the only domesticated animals, at least in most of Canada, (more on this later) that have had to adjust to a wild lifestyle.
Those thousands of years of -who's kidding who-? love-sick domestication is as firmly rooted in feral cats (those who were born in the outdoors with little or no human contact), as it is for stray cats, (primarily cats that have been abandoned), and of course our mostly sedentary housecats.
I could throw peanuts to a squirrel, literally, until cows came to my home, and that squirrel would be quite unlikely to come back between snacks to be petted.
The black kitty, my (stray) kitty number four, is actually feral, but yes, even a feral cat once it's been encouraged, appears very much to want to connect with people. We all appreciate companionship.
Truth be told, it wasn’t just my desire to help the feral cat; we humans are as conditioned to want to be around our chosen domesticated animals as they are to us, enjoying the diversions the other provides from our respective routines.
On a trip down through a southern US state a number of years ago, I saw many dogs at large, about four looked to be having a very deep sleep on the side of the road; after a while I realized they had been killed, maybe, by traffic.
My neighbour, who is from a southern island tells me the numbers of stray dogs there are so high they run around like squirrels do here...very large squirrels.
My cousin, who lives on another popular island, says the feral chickens, at times, makes the place look like a downy white Alfred Hitchcock set.
Canada is a beautiful country, and one that I'm extremely proud to call home. I believe we are avoiding the issues of insufficient controls on the domesticated stray animal populations that other countries have in spades because Canada has in place an acceptance of taxes, a belief in organizations, and a trust in institutions. We know we can fix things.
I didn't know at the time, that by deciding to help her, I was immersing myself in a cognitive experiment.
The process of gaining trust was slower than the small steps taken by a baby human.
If it was rainy she wouldn't come around, if the neighbours were outside she wouldn't come around, if people were coming and going out the front door of my house she wouldn’t come around. I had no idea where she otherwise spent her time, but eventually we had a pattern of short visits a couple of times a day,
Her fifteen-foot berths were slowly shortened, it took weeks though, with the help of a lot of freeze-dried shrimp treats. Eventually I received a gentle swat with a very stretched out paw. The mauve Kneadie™ became a friend for her, a personal blanket that would make a new insulated wooden home feel more personally hers.
Things that make this feral cat different from a housecat:
Insisting on an clear escape to the outside is a constant thing. Her anxiety of closed doors, though, lessens with each visit.
The earth is her home, and her enjoyment of rolling in the wet grass should make my cat Finn, ashamed of his intolerance for anything less than postcard weather conditions.
Inside, is not a place to stay for longer than six minutes.
Stillness IS NOT A THING. She has a slight look of a Siamese breed, so this might contribute to her 'constant movement' however, it's easy to imagine it's due to a life of wariness.
A tv is a scary, incomprehensible, mind blowing, thing.
Listening to me talk to someone on a cellphone through the speaker is cause to leave.
Sudden movements are a reason to run away.
Being a healthy young feral cat, she found great enjoyment in her day, and engaged in solitary forms of play; launching at a tree trunk, chasing squirrels, or leaves, watching dogs and people on their walks.
All bets are off with another animal (cat) around; at times she chased 'terrified Finn' seemingly for fun, at other times she was clearly swatting him in what seemed was an aggressive way.
In the early days I would not allow Finn to smell her scent on me. When I fed her in the outer hall with the door closed, I wore my stray cat pants and a stray cat sweater. I changed my clothes and washed my hands thoroughly before letting Finn guess I was cheating on him. I didn't not know if she might harbour a disease, or what the outcome of this experiment might be, and I didn't want him dreaming up ways to get back at me. I'd heard of nasty gifts left in shoes.
Their encounters consisted of brief visuals, but he was indubitably aware she was out there. I was concerned; Finn, as a kitten, had endured the constant resentful strikes of our older cat. He has lived happily as my cat-husband since Cassie died five years ago, but he remains today, a scaredy cat.
The mystery revealed:
My mid level state of concern hung at about cat height all summer;
I needed to get her into a cage in order to achieve my end goal of her being spayed, the omission of which had got her here in the first place.
I covered her cage with a blanket to keep her calm on the drive to London's Animal Care Centre. When I arrived, Barb, the super pleasant animal care technician came out to meet me and after assuring me I'd be able to pick her up by day's end, Barb explained the cat would be returned with an ear that was surgically clipped; a visual mark for recognizing spayed and neutered feral cats. "We've been ear tipping for about three years" It was a gradual reckoning for me; I pulled the blanket off the cage and we both laughed, looking at her ear. She had been vaccinated and spayed some time ago. The black kitty and I went home.
I feel that the black kitty and I are at the beginning of an offbeat friendship and only time will tell whether she and Finn establish a relationship that will allow them (him) to be happy.
The painting of Finn is part of a grouping of five cats that have touched my life. See the wood corral in the background that holds sustainable Canadian wood for the portrait frames.
My phone tells me Finn was born today, October 25th, eleven years ago. Happy birthday small person-cat.
Here's a link to the portrait page for you to view painting sizes for the animals that have made a difference in your life.
The concerned person who called London's Animal Care Centre, who in turn live-trapped the young black feral cat, spayed and vaccinated her, and then released her back to the neighbourhood from which she came. The cost to spay or neuter a cat or dog is easily out of reach for people with lower incomes; it is typically in these neighbourhoods where the abandoned cats, and the resulting feral offspring reside.
London's Animal Care Centre takes in the city's stray animals, even injured wild animals who are handed off to the right wildlife rehabilitators. When you choose to adopt a stray, or abandoned animal, not only are you making an animal's life immediately better, you're getting an impressive number of services for your money.
For 150$ for cats, and $300 for dogs, they are spayed or neutered, licensed and micro chipped, dewormed, vaccinated for rabies, as well as distemper, upper respiratory diseases, and kennel cough, all services that could normally cost between $400-$800. They even make monetary allowances for older animals, or those with health concerns. Through the tireless help of foster groups and pet stores, they boast a 94% live release success rate. I recall the years where many cities and towns euthanized animals as the go to solution to over population. See their Facebook link to keep up with the stories of success.
The City of London ensures a program for anyone in need of financial support vouchers and subsidies for their animal friends. Look up www.london.ca and type animal into the search bar to bring up various resources.
The East Village Animal Hospitals (EVAH) with two locations: London and Kitchener including the 12 counties in between are the only 'not for profit' veterinary clinics in all of Ontario.
This was a 'not for the faint of heart' decision born out of the deep concern for peoples' and animals' welfare; uncountable aspects had to align for a thing like that to become real.
Serving people of low income and social assistance, rescue groups, and shelters, means more animals (dogs and cats) will be spayed or neutered and people with significant financial pressures will not have to choose between the worthy companionship of an animal friend, and that animal's health. That is a very big thing.
This is the lifework of Dr. Martha Harding and the many people who are in consensus with her vision. Resources must be conjured through alliances with community agencies, volunteers, and the ever important donations. Visit www.evah.ca to show your support.
Their Rural, Feral, and Barn Cat Program incorporates ear tipping, the universal symbol for outdoor cats that have been spayed or neutered. At a glance anyone can be assured the animal is cared for. If you're concerned about the concept of snipping the top of an ear; to put it into perspective, the surgery is done at the same time as the uterus is removed with a healthy amount of pain medication all around.
Animal Rescue Foundation (ARF) is a grass roots program developed by the Executive Director of EVAH, Laurie Ristmae whose motto it is to Rescue, Rehab and Rehome unwanted animals by request and invitation of Indigenous Community members.
A few years ago I listened to a CBC Radio story highlighting Northern people's overpopulation concerns for their dogs, and the limited help available; it was the first time I'd even been made aware of this particular problem for Ontario's remote communities.
Every year a group of veterinarians donate their time and expertise in the North. Think Ontario's version of Dr.'s without borders.
Become a business sponsor, a donator, one who sponsors a dog, or a volunteer to assist with this important and life changing program. Visit the website canfix.org of which Laurie is a co-founder to read the stories about spay neuter programs in the North. A lack of food sources for these feral dogs and the spreading of disease is a huge stress point for the people there who wish they could help them.
Contact them to have your business link on their thank you page.
Laurie is also president of Ontario Canine Spay Neuter Task Force, and one of the founders of 'Pawlooza', the world's largest charity based canine festival.
There's only one message that was repeated by everyone: Spay and neuter all your animals, preferably before the age of four months, so that none of them are left to deal with preventable hardships.
Thank you for reading this post and know that the food and water you put out for stray cats is an important kindness.
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