Celebrating Feral Cat Day With a Little Graduate


Ophelia is standing on my lap, purring and waving her tail, and being absolutely precious. But then, that’s her true nature, precious, cute, sweet, affectionate, all in one petite fluffy seven-pound bundle.

Last year at this time she came to me as a frightened semi-feral juvenile cat along with her brother Hamlet, much farther along the feral spectrum than his sister. Several months before that they were two older feral kittens trying to survive in a neighborhood that wanted them out.

Someone took the time to trap them and remove them to safety. Since they couldn’t be returned there she tried to socialize the two beautiful long-haired siblings, but they made no progress. No one could accept them into another feral colony similar to the one they’d come from. She then set them up in a nice home in a barn, but this wasn’t what they had grown up with and socialized to, and it was just as unfamiliar as moving into a home with a human. Even after several weeks they were still simply frightened. And nearly out of options.

What do you do with cats who aren’t socialized enough to find an adoptive home, but who are too frightened to live in the only feral cat situation available so it’s unlikely they’d survive? Sanctuaries are few and far between, and generally full.

The organizations I work with, the Homeless Cat Management Team and Pittsburgh CAT, deal with this situation all the time. Nearly all the cats we take in are rescued from stray and feral situations, and while many cats had some prior socialization and in time can adapt back to life with humans, some have lived too long as feral cats and have a very hard time adapting to a new situation. They need some humans who can focus on them as feral cats needing specific socialization instead of as frightened or traumatized cats needing to get past their fear or trauma but possessing some socialization.

Basil and Bella had worked out pretty well here, as had Alvina, Simon and Theodore, all of them a little older when they were trapped and needing a little more time to socialize, so I was asked if I could work on “Blackbeard and Casper”, a little older, a little less socialized, and see if they could be socialized enough to be adoptable.

They found the cubby.
They found the cubby.

You’ve watched them change over the past year, slowly at first, with just as many steps back as forward. Then in the past few months, from about the time I guess they would have turned one year old, they’ve been steadily moving forward, adapting to their surroundings, and beginning to enjoy certain aspects of living with humans, no doubt with the careful tutoring of the resident felines.

Ophelia just passed a graduation of sorts on this Feral Cat Day. Last night I took her to our foster clinic and she received her annual vaccinations and a little exam and a microchip—in a strange and frightening place by a total stranger, who poked her and stuck her with needles and even stole some of her blood! Though she was very frightened there were no histrionics, not a growl or a hiss, no claws or teeth were brandished. Even though she struggled metaphorically and physically with the strangeness of it all, when it was done I picked her up and she turned and put her soft little arms around my neck and buried her face in my hair and just hugged me. I wasn’t expecting her to react so well, or to turn to me when she was frightened.

She needed a little reassurance last night and again this morning that the same thing wasn’t going to happen again. After I gently reassured her several times she trusted me again and that was when she stood on my lap purring. It’s easy to tell when she’s happy and trusting. She is absolutely adorable.

On Tuesday my little Girly-Q will meet a person who is interested in adopting her. This will be another test of how much Ophelia has socialized.

I owe the winning of Ophelia’s trust to my resident felines in setting a good example for Ophelia, and I also owe the lifelong lessons of Moses, my one truly feral cat, and Kelly, who probably had a background very much like my other semi-feral cats, and many other frightened and traumatized rescues. Thanks to all of this, Ophelia is able to live true to her sweet and affectionate nature and be totally cute all day long without worrying about defending herself or finding her next meal, or giving birth to kittens under someone’s porch. I can’t imagine the delicate fluffball I’ve watched emerge over the past year in a situation like that, and I’m so glad that, along with several others who cared and a structure that provides support, not only is this one formerly feral kitty in a safe place, but she can be the kitty she truly is.

I also owe being able to take as much time as Ophelia needs to gain her trust, another thing feral cats don’t always have. You will note that Hamlet did not join the clinic party, though he was supposed to.  I can pick him up and hold him for a few seconds, but he is not at all comfortable with it beyond that. Not any amount of tasty Fancy Feast in the dish inside the carrier would entice him to go into the carrier. He never even explores the carrier I leave open in the basement, and is wary of any small enclosed spaces. Even if he had I’m not sure we would have been able to do anything with him. Hamlet needs a little more time, and for all his play and affection and rolling on his back for belly rubs, there is a chance I may never be able to handle him as I do others. He may never find an adopter, may always stay here with me, and I knew that when I took them in.

So why aren’t all feral cats given the time and consideration that Ophelia and Hamlet got, even if they don’t ever socialize and still end up living in a feral colony? Feral cats are domestic cats, the same as the ones who live with us every day, but they didn’t have the opportunity to grow up with humans and socialize with the lifestyle. It could be that their mother was feral too, or it could be that she was abandoned by a human and left unspayed to start producing kittens as often as possible. In any case there is a socialized mother cat not so far back in the lineage of nearly every feral cat who’s out there. Cats don’t run off and join the circus. They end up as feral cats because somewhere along the line humans have abandoned them.  Why aren’t their lives valuable enough for them to be given every chance they can to find a life that suits their needs? Don’t humans owe this to them and other domestic animals who we’ve abandoned. And if humans really want to be rid of feral cats, shouldn’t we be working hard to stop the abandonment of cats to thereby reduce the numbers of feral cats? Yes, we should, and that’s what each Feral Cat Day should remind us.

Read more about Feral Cat Day, founded by Alley Cat Allies.


Shelters, Assistance, Spay/Neuter Pittsburgh and Beyond

Search for TNR Programs or Low Cost Spay/Neuter US and Canada


See also Of Starfish and Kittens


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2 thoughts on “Celebrating Feral Cat Day With a Little Graduate

  • October 16, 2016 at 7:26 pm

    Such a great story about Ophelia. We purr she gets adopted.
    Humans forget that we domesticated cats and we should be responsible for them.
    Thank heavens for TNR groups and homes like yours that are willing to give cats a chance.
    We send all the best to Ophelia and hope for Hamlet.
    If anyone can get through to him, you can 🙂
    Purrs Georgia and Julie,
    Treasure and JJ
    and mum Nancy

    • October 19, 2016 at 2:50 pm

      Nancy, we’ll have news on that very soon! Yes, even feral cats deserve our care and compassion. Look what happens!


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