Monday, January 10, 2011

Wildcat Tamed

As promised here is an update on the Martian, also notes on the technique I use to tame feral/semi-feral cats. So this will be a long post, sorry but there are a lot of steps involved. Not really so many steps but a lot of detail in carrying them out. You will need to build trust with the cat, if it was abandoned it has lost all trust of humans. It might take longer than one that never learned to trust humans, but has always been afraid of them. It takes a lot of time, effort and patience to accomplish this but it is well worth it.

Wild Cat!

I had seen him around off and on for a couple of years. Mostly hit and miss, not more than once every month or so. He may have been around more, just in hiding. He was usually heard more than seen. He does have a very distinctive growl when facing off with another cat. As “M” would say when talking about him “the one that sounds like a martian” that is how he got his name.

Deep cut on his ear.

Around April or May of 2010 he started to hang around more, I would see him a couple of times a week. He would run away if I stepped out the back door. Most of the time I was chasing him away to try and prevent a fight with the other toms. About late June or early July I decided I would try to get to know him if he was going to stick around. He did not seem to have a home as he looked somewhat scruff, also he was very skittish.

Piece of straw stuck in his paw.

He would growl and hiss while backing away. He was always wounded as you can see in some of these photos. He regularly had a deep gash at the base of his ear, at one time behind both. For a while he had a piece of straw jammed into his leg. It was obvious that he was not being taken care of. He also looked to be about half starved. At one point I thought he might have had rabies, what with drool plus foam at the mouth along with a wild and unkempt look. Most cats that are cared for keep themselves a bit cleaner.


I started by putting food out for him, he knew the sound of the can being opened. I buy Friskies caned which helps in training (any wet caned food will work). First I open the can when the cat can see and more importantly hear it being opened. Second it has a stronger aroma for them to smell it so they know that it is food. I will hold the open cat at arms length and approach as close as I am able. When he started to back off I would put the can down and back away that same distance. If I could only get to 15' from him before he backed off then I would back away from the can 15'. Once he stated eating I would take a step or two closer until he started to stop eating. Each time getting a little closer, he would start to growl or swat at me, then I would back off. (A few times he would go after me ready to attack, not really chasing me just a quick jump like he was going to attack. Just a quick hiss or stomp of the foot and he would back off.)

Sometimes I would get his attention by opening the can and set it close to the back door. Then I would sit on the floor next to the screen door, talking to him in a quite calming manner to get him used to the sound of my voice. At that time I was with in 3-4 feet of him, sometimes I would sit on the ground outside so he could see me. I kept getting closer until I could get with in arms reach. I would put the can down lean back so he would eat. Once he started eating I would slowly reach out towards him. I do this until I can hold the can while he is eating. You need to sit the whole time they are eating, not just to put the food down and walk away. It may take 5-10 minutes or longer, much patience is needed here.

If you try this you do have to be very alert and ready to pull back. Very important here to keep an eye on the feral cat at all times. Many times while doing this he would swipe at me with his paw, you have to be quick and alert. Just as important is no quick moves or loud noises. I got scratched a few times, it is all part of the process. If you get caught try not to yelp or cry out “ouch” or at least keep it to a whisper. You can pull your hand back quickly that is OK. However if you raise your hand while yelling ouch you will frighten the cat. It will appear to the cat that you are attacking them, which may also set your training back, causing you to have to start all over.

Around this time my neighbor from across the ally noticed that I was feeding this cat. He saw me calling for the Martian. We got to talking and he asked me if the cat was female and did it have kittens at one time. I found out that his neighbor had moved away about 2 years prior and had 2 cats that he left behind. That was about the time Squirrel showed up, pregnant. As Martian's coloring is similar to Squirrels someone who doesn't much care for cats would get them confused. I took Squirrel out and he identified her as his previous neighbors cat. So it appears that the Martian was on his own for over 2 years, poor thing. He was pretty wild growling, hissing etc.

As I was saying I got to the point where I could hold the can. I would do it in such a way that when he was eating he rubbed his face against my hand. When he got to the bottom of the can I had to hold it in place or dump it out on the porch for him to get to the food. I did that at first because he would not let me get that close without trying to bite me, he would let me pull the can away and dump it out. He did bite me once or twice, but it did not go very deep. I just cleaned it with antiseptic and it would be fine. With him it was more of a warning bite as he did not bite hard or deep. If he was serious he would have bitten harder. I know I have gotten some deep bites, once down to the bone. It hurt for a month or two after, but that was another cat at another time.

Bites can be very dangerous, that is what I hear anyways, so if you need to see a doctor then do so. If you report the bite, remember in some places Animal Control will have to catch and quarantine the cat. There are areas where they will automatically kill the cat and run a rabies test on them, especially if they are feral. Either way someone else will take over and ultimately decide the fate of the cat. This is why I take care of all wounds myself. (He had been around long enough and did not show any signs of rabies) Remember though your health and life is more important than that of one stray cat. If something happens to you who will take care of the other cats, it is a decision you will have to make for your self.

First course.

At the point I can get this close to them, I will place my finger on the top of their head giving a light stroke. It takes several attempts to do this before the cat will let you. With Squirrel at this point I could do it 3 times before she would move, but she growled the whole time. It was funny because her head would not move out of the can of food. She would just pivot around the can and not stop eating. With the Martian it was different he would either take a swipe at me or snap at me. Not every time then eventually he would ignore me.

Dinner time.

Then I move to scratching behind the ear, at the top of the head not under the chin or near his mouth. Starting with one finger working up to 2 or 3. Once that becomes routine next is to give a full stroke from neck to rear stopping just before the tail. Again all this is in steps taking as much time as the cat needs. You are trying to build trust with the animal so you have to take it at their pace. How long it takes varies with the cat. It can take a couple of weeks or even a couple of months to get to this point. If you are consistent and spend time everyday with the cat it will go much quicker. I was spending an hour or more each day depending on the day. I do believe he was starving and might have had worms. He was eating 3-4 cans a day, sometimes eating 2-3 cans at a time. After a couple of months he did not appear to be gaining any weight.

BIG kitty!!

I have a medium trap and he is a big cat so I knew he would not easily go in it. It was September before I felt that I would be able to push him into the trap. I put a can of tuna inside to lure him in, it took a lot of coaxing to get him to start to go in. He would get half in then back out, once he was over halfway in I gave a push and trapped him. The next morning I took him in to get neutered and dewormed. The Humane Society receives funds a couple of times a year for TNR so I was able to take him in at no cost. Which was good as I had just lost my job and needed to save my money.

Smallest cat with biggest cat.
Lil' Bit and Martian.

They neutered him, cut the tip of his ear off, dewormed him and gave him his shots. I made sure they did the ear in case I could no tame him, so he would be marked as being neutered. He spent the night before surgery, that day after coming home and most of the next day in the cage before I let him out. When I did he immediately took off and disappeared for a day. Soon he was back, hungry as ever.

I do not know if that helped or if it just was about the right time, but he let me start petting him more. I moved on to trying to pick him up or at least placing my hands under him like I was going to. This whole time he was still an outdoor cat. All my cats are indoors only and were not used to him. Before I would let him in I wanted to make sure I could get him back outside if needed to. I wanted to make sure I could herd him out or pick him up if I had to. With out getting tore up in the process. It takes a while to socialize a new cat with other cats, and some may never get along.

Peace amongst cats.

Round about a week before Thanksgiving I let him in for the first time. Remember I started this process in late June. By Thanksgiving he was spending 80% of the day inside. Now he goes out maybe once a day for about an hour, then he wants back in again.

He has become a bit of a pest. He constantly follows me everywhere, if I get up to get a drink he is right behind me. He is never too far away, my other cats still do not like him, they either hiss at him or run away. So if I have to break up a dispute or move one of them off of a counter etc he is there which disrupts everything just by his being there. If I sit on the couch he is right there next to me, he is needy wanting lots of attention and petting.

Asleep in bed.

He thinks he is a lap kitty, and will either try to get into my lap or will lay half way on to me. He is a little big to be doing this. When I took him to be neutered he weighed 14 pounds and he has gained weight since then. Because he is so big when he rubs against the scratching post he knocks it down, even with just his tail. I can not let him up next to the computer like Mittens, he knocks things over and does not realize it. Every night he will join me in bed. He jumps up rubbing against me until I pet him then he lays his head down next to mine on the pillow. Some times he will lay across my chest, he is heavy.

Like I said the other cats do not like him and will growl and hiss at him as they pass him. Sometimes they will try to pick a fight. He usually ignores them not even growling back. If they attack he trys to get away. Over all he has become a very loving cat wanting lots of attention. He still does not like his butt or tail to be petted or his rear paws touched. I have to be careful picking him up. He will bite me, he never draws blood just enough pressure to let me know he is there. He also still swipes a paw at me sometimes instead. I am still working on getting him to stop, he keeps getting better. It will just take some more time that's all.

Playing with some toys.

As you can see I use food as incentive, making most of my progress while they are eating. I start touching and petting them while eating. Getting them to associate it as pleasurable activities like eating is. I continue until I can get them to let me do it all the time not just while eating.

In the last week or so the Martian has started chirping, goring rowwrmp to get my attention when he wants to be loved on. Asking to get petted. Right now he is in my lap making it hard to type as I have to push back from the desk to make room for him. He does not care that he barely fits he is just purring away.

Taming a feral cat can be rewarding. Both Squirrel and him are very loving, more so than some of the others are. All they needed was some love and attention, someone willing to give them a chance. It takes time and patience, with lots of love and forgiveness. If you are willing you may find that a former feral is the most loving and gentle cat you ever had the privilege of knowing.



  1. This is fabulous to read -- kudos to you for having the kindness, caring and patience to win his trust and give him a wonderful forever home!

  2. What a fascinating story! He certainly is a lucky cat, and you're lucky to have won his heart too!