Sunday, April 21, 2024
adopting a catanimal welfareblack catscatsdeaf catferal catssenior cats

Formerly Feral, But Not Unadoptable

pastel painting of gray cat with pink sweather
A Rosy Glow, pastel, 15″ x 11″, 1997 © B.E. Kazmarski

Our Mama Bernadette couldn’t get her interview completed yesterday with a kitty adopted even though she had a chronic illness, but we will catch up with that kitty another time because she still has a good story.

Today we had planned to share our love of kitties who often don’t even make it to the adoption area in a shelter, and even if they do, they don’t always make it out alive because they just aren’t accustomed to being with humans at all—feral and stray cats and kittens who have either never lived with people or who have lived a long time without them. We don’t understand how kitties could live without a human and a nice soft bed, but we see a few of them every day in our yard and they tell us it’s not so bad.

But we lived with one of these kitties—our tortie sister Kelly. And we heard stories from her and from Cookie, and even our mom, about Moses, a kitty who’d never known humans at all except to run from them for the first months of her life who lived here for longer than we can imagine. We’ve had it easy, and we honor our sisters and others like them who haven’t had the posh life we have!

orange cat on porch
Gabby, a neighborhood feral everyone cared for.

Yes, as the Fantastic Four have introduced, today’s “less adoptable cats” are formerly feral and stray cats, the forgotten cats, those who have been tossed out or simply gotten lost and ended up living on the streets, and the successive generations of those cats. With the rise of trap-neuter-return (TNR) programs many of these cats don’t end up in a shelter at all but are neutered and given basic veterinary care, and fed and monitored by one or more people in an area where they are safe. Cats can live their entire lives cared for in this way, and individuals and organizations quietly feed and check on groups of cats in back yards, in parking lots, in alleys and in the woods all over the US and Canada. While it can be emotionally difficult to leave them outside and feed them and hope for the best instead of taking them into your home and loving them as you do the cats and other pets you already have, sometimes there are simply more cats than can be taken in, and sometimes they don’t want to come in.

stray cat nursing kittens outdoors
Moon, Sputnik and Thistle, a stray and her kittens.

But in areas where there is no TNR, or where a colony of cats is endangered by abuse or a change in ownership or status of the property, the cats will suffer if nothing is done to ensure their safety. If another place is available cats may be trapped and moved to a completely new place or integrated with one or more existing colonies. But if there is no other place to go, they are either abandoned in place or trapped and taken to a shelter.

Feral and stray cats are often considered unadoptable because they act aggressively toward any human intervention and it’s difficult for even the most loving person to get past the hostility they find. Sometimes the cat has had no human contact at all, sometimes it’s just a frightened stray, and only time can help to determine which and what each cat needs to find an acceptable home, be it someone’s lap or a barn on someone’s farm.

A friend years ago adopted a cat who’d come into a shelter from a feral colony even though the opinion of the cats’ personality was that she “ought to be put to sleep to put her out of her misery”. My friend decided that was absolutely wrong and took the cat home because she loved her and to save her life. More than a decade later, McKenzie is still a little hard to handle and she’s not as cuddly with humans as the other cats in the house, but she’s devoted and sweet and loves her feline sisters, and is hardly in misery. It just took time and an understanding human.

Unfortunately, many stray and feral cats are never taken from an endangered situation, and those who do end up in shelters never have the chance to be adopted. Two of the cats who spent their lives with me were such cats, Kelly and Moses, and today I’d like to share their stories, linked in the paragraphs below, as well as a few stray/feral cats who are looking for homes right now.

Mysterious Kelly

A Little Bit About Kelly

Of course you know Kelly, and looking at her photos from recent years who would have known she was trapped with a stray and feral colony and went through the shelter system in the days before TNR, frightened and nearly euthanized because she wasn’t socialized? She had a long and difficult road to travel for a little kitty, but she traveled it bravely. I had originally intended to include stray and feral cats in this week’s articles about less adoptable pets when Kelly was still with us, because she was such an example of a kitty who adapted in her own time and in her own way. Now it is a tribute to a sweet cat who no one would adopt who grew to a well-loved kitty, but who still kept a small part of herself protected. Kelly’s story is a five-part series I posted over two months. The first and second parts will tell you enough about her beginnings, and the third part will tell you about her experience in the shelter; parts four and five will tell you how she learned to live with humans, and how it was living with me, where she spent the greatest part of her 18 years.

Read the first chapters of Kelly’s story:

A Little Bit About Kelly

Part 2: The Rescue

Part 3: Saved At the Last Minute

Part 4: A Friend

Part 5: Home

I had begun Kelly’s story the same as I’d begun telling other rescue stories, a one-part post simply about how Kelly was rescued. Shortly into writing what became the first part I realized Kelly’s story was far too complicated—and too important—to constrain it to one post. I outlined the major parts of action in her life and decided I’d serialize it. Readers encouraged me to publish it as a book and I have been working on that, finding more photos and creating illustrations to complete the story. I intend to publish it in print and electronic form as well as recorded form, and to have the sales of Kelly’s story benefit the many cats who have found themselves homeless.

gray tabby cat in shade of bean plants
The Garden Bean

My Favorite Feral

That precious little Garden Bean was once a feral cat. Hungry and frightened and somehow handicapped this tiny gray tabby kitten found herself wandering a neighborhood looking for food and nearly starving to death in the process.

On the hill above the neighborhood a long-term care facility had housed eight floors of patients for nearly 30 years. Surrounded on three sides by a steep wooded hillside and residential neighborhoods around that, it was a natural place for stray and feral cats to gather around the dumpsters and be fed and cared for by staff, even visiting with patients when they came outside to sit in the sun on the quiet grounds.

That building was closed to be reopened into four regional centers to make care and visiting easier for families. One of the regional centers was just across the street from the original building, but cats still roamed the private acreage of the old building where they’d been left behind.

Moses apparently came from that site because she continued trying to run back to it, though she could never make it. After her rescue by my niece on her paper route Moses came to me. I knew nothing of feral cats or starving cats and was surprised by her change in personality after her belly was full, never hostile but totally terrified of me, and able to hide in the smallest spot and make herself invisible. She rarely spoke and vaporized when humans she didn’t know came near, but she grew loving and devoted over the years, and ultimately very affectionate. I was fortunate to have spent a portion of my life with this generous and wise cat. Read about her in the story My Favorite Feral, and My Enlightenment.

tortoiseshell cat
The elegant Amelia.

Those in need of adoption

Here and there I collect stories of stray or feral cats who are being cared for outdoors but who need a permanent home. This is Amelia who, along with her sister Emily, were trapped and spayed and are being cared for in their rescuer’s back yard. They are very friendly and would love to have a home of their own. Read about them here.

Also read about a mama cat and two generations of kittens being cared for by a neighbor near me in A Few Special Less Adoptables, about Pretty Boy, Luciano and Allie, and Sunshine, and you can always visit your local shelters or rescues or Petfinder to find your new best friend who may be considered less than perfect, but who will love you perfectly.

Read other articles here about “less adoptable pets”, those who are passed by in shelters and rescues every day because of age, injury, illness, color or any other perceived imperfection that makes people uncertain about living with them. Anyone I’ve ever talked to who knowingly adopted a pet with one of these issues learned very quickly that underneath the fur or physical difference or exceptional need for care, they were just like any other pet they’d ever know—full of unconditional love for the human who cared for them.

All images used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in using one in a print or internet publication. If you are interested in purchasing a print of this image or a product including this image, check my Etsy shop or Fine Art America profile to see if I have it available already. If you don’t find it there, visit Ordering Custom Artwork for more information on a custom greeting card, print or other item.


From health and welfare to rescue and adoption stories, advocacy and art, factual articles and fictional stories, "The Creative Cat" offers both visual and verbal education and entertainment about cats for people who love cats, pets and animals of all species.

3 thoughts on “Formerly Feral, But Not Unadoptable

  • Pingback: The Creative Cat - For the Love of Our Animal Companions

  • Simply fantastic post. I love it! We have quite a large number of groups, here in South Africa, who work on the TNR basis and it is working fantastically. We also have a number of no-kill shelters, that will keep feral or stray cats for life, if living outside is no longer an option. Every now and then, we find a great home for one of them and, if people are prepared to be extremely patient, they turn into wonderful pets (albeit never friendly with visitors). Jangles, my cat that I refer to as Jittery, is one such case, who now demands love and attention but will never be seen by a visitor – ever! Pure patience, time and love have proved her to be one of the sweetest natured cats I’ve ever known.
    Thanks for a brilliant post.

    • Susan, you’re exactly right–I could never touch Moses with two hands, only one, because two hands made her feel trapped. She was 12 before she sat on my lap the first time. Yet she was completely devoted to me. And Kelly, as sweet as sugar, but so timid even with me. I’m so glad to know you have a thriving TNR program there! It varies all over the world, but it sounds like your situation is pretty much the same as the states.

      Thanks for remembering the forgotten cats!


Leave a Reply

%d bloggers like this:
Verified by ExactMetrics