(Topic credit: Wendy Welch at https://wendywelchbigstonegap.wordpress.com/2015/09/18/the-naming-of-cats-is-a-difficult-matter/ .)
For a few years after its dedication as a Cat Sanctuary my home was catless. Horrible. My mother thought she could protect the house from mice with poison. I came home to a house full of mice. Holding my nose, I said, “We need a cat.”
Another Cat Sanctuary sent me two kittens, Bounce and Pounce. “Their mother is wild as a cat can be, but my granddaughter’s made pets of them.” The kittens ignored cat food, crawled up my legs, and tried to nurse on every exposed patch of skin they found. They were autumn kittens, not more than three months old. They shivered a good deal, more from grief and fear, I thought, than from actual chill, and cried. “You don’t want the mother cat. She’s wild, won’t come near the house, won’t catch mice…”
The kittens wanted her, I said. Later that week a man unloaded a steel trap into the front yard. A very hostile orange cat erupted out of the trap, up the man’s arm, over his head, leaving a trail of blood as she leaped down to the ground and streaked away into the woods.
Later that day the kittens persuaded their mother to be reunited with them in the barn, and came in full of milk, purring and content. The feral mother cat would try to sneak bites of leftover food when she thought I wasn’t looking, but would not eat food that was set out for her. “Silly yellow wild cat,” I observed, and, thinking of an old children’s storybook, called her Liza.
In between the arrival of Bounce and Pounce and the arrival of their mother, on a job site I’d met Graybelle, the Third Queen of the Cat Sanctuary, also feral. For the first week or two Liza slapped and scolded Graybelle. Though Graybelle had kitten teeth and was still growing fast, she was already as big as many female cats get. Liza was an impressive “Big Mamma,” usually mistaken by strangers for a tomcat, and not to be impressed by Graybelle’s size. Not yet.
Over the course of the winter, although Liza was mostly dense muscle and solid old bones, and Graybelle was mostly fluff, the size difference gradually reversed. Then Graybelle went on growing, being one of those Manx cats who revert to the full size of their wild ancestors.
Bounce and Pounce were the cuddly pets who did cute things and wanted to be held. Graybelle was gentle but not affectionate. Liza gradually, week by week, let her kittens persuade her to eat with them.
I didn’t try to force Liza to be a pet. I set out food for Bounce, Pounce, and Liza in one bowl, food for Graybelle in another bowl. Bounce and Pounce would eat a bit and then want to play and be petted. It was amusing to watch Liza approach and avoid, approach and avoid, over the winter. She liked kibble and loved fish. After a month or two she’d even let me stroke her back while she was eating.
One snowy day I sat on the porch and watched everyone eat, and Liza came close enough for me to pick her up and hold her on my knee. She didn’t scratch or bite; she froze. When rubbed behind the ears she emitted an extraordinary noise. It was a sort of purr, but a high-pitched, more panicky than contented purr. She seemed unable to believe that she was being petted by a human and…liking it? Then a strange voice was heard from the road. Jehovah’s Witnesses were out making themselves tiresome. Liza retreated into the woods again.
She was back in the yard for dinner, though, and now a new social dynamic appeared. Management of the humans is a point of social status for cats. Graybelle had been very dignified and ignored Liza once they were about the same size–but now Graybelle was bigger, with status to maintain, and she didn’t like Liza. If I picked Liza up again, when I set her down Graybelle would slap her.
Liza continued nursing her kittens all winter. People who dislike cats will tell you that if cats aren’t sterilized they’ll have two or three litters every year. Actually I’ve only ever seen oversexed adolescent cats have two litters in a year. Mature female cats practice birth control primarily by nursing kittens for six months, which normally inhibits ovulation. Cold weather also normally inhibits ovulation, so nursing met an emotional need more than a survival need for Liza, Bounce, and Pounce.
By March, Liza had lost her fear of me and acted like a pet when Graybelle wasn’t watching, though she avoided me when Graybelle was watching. Then, since she was still feral, she eloped and I never saw her again. Maybe she moved in with her mate’s family and became Queen. It’s hard to say. A lot of cats look like Liza.
Liza was one of nine feral-born cats who’ve become pets, even indoor pets, with some encouragement from me. (Only six of them were my pets; Graybelle, Boots, and Muffin were definitely other people’s pets who also recognized me as a friend.) People who listen to Humane Pet Genocide Society drivel have heard that feral cats can’t become pets. I say: bosh. Feral cats do not have the neurotic need for human supervision that some pet cats do. They know they can survive on their own, which makes it all the more rewarding that they often will choose to bond with humans who respect them.
Would you love someone who trapped you, kept you in a steel cage, separated you from your home and friends, performed unnecessary painful surgeries on you, either held you prisoner or dumped you out on a street corner while you were still bleeding from a major surgical operation? Feral cats don’t love the people who carry out Humane Genocide Society mandates on them, either. That does not mean that feral cats never bond with humans, but it does reduce the chance that a feral cat will ever learn to trust another human.
Would you, on the other hand, love someone who shared food with you, helped you recover when you were in fact sick or injured, helped keep insects from eating you alive, helped baby-sit your children, and protected you from predators? Feral cats often do learn to love the people who help them, too. Be respectful, don’t make a feral cat a prisoner, and it will be your friend.
This Morguefile cat (Gracey at www.morguefile.com/archive/display/232313 ) is one of thousands of cats, mostly male, who look like Liza.