CAT TAMING TALES
These tales are from people who have tamed feral kittens and want to share experiences.
TAMING AN ADULT
I have successfully tamed adult ferals using a method of positive reinforcement and tactile stimulation.
I have a large cage set-up directly behind my desk chair, the cat has a box to hide in and always has dry food and water. Since I spend many hours at my desk w/ the TV or radio playing softly, the cat becomes desensitized to me and normal household noises.
I have taped a large wooden spoon and a hair brush to one end of a yard stick, several times a day I put just a little canned cat food in the spoon and slide it slowly up to the feral. They always hiss and/or bat at it in the beginning, but once they get the idea that the spoon is not a threat but a treat, they start to accept it's approach. Now I use the brush and start to groom him. Once they easily accept the grooming, I shorten my grip and gradually get closer until I am holding the brush in my hand. The time this takes varies w/ each cat, and sometimes you can have relapses, so I back off a little and keep up the treatment.
With lots of patience this seems to work very well, I don't always end up w/ a lap cat, but at least he doesn't end up as a terrified house feral.I think that this approach mimics the actions a kitten receives from it's mother, so I suppose that I become surogate mother in his mind. As you know, all cats have unique personalities and adult ferals have to be suspicious to stay alive, so there are no guarantees that this will work w/ every cat.
TAMING A TRAILER PARK KITTEN
I once tamed a litter of feral kittens a different way from the method at Taming Feral Kittens and Cats. When I was a teenager living in a trailer court, the ugliest cat I had ever seen approached me while I was sitting on the back steps. She had a head shaped like an otter's, small pointed ears, a short fine coat, a skinny and graceless tail, and the frame of a minuscule cow. She was a finely striped tabby the colour of mud with mud-coloured eyes. She meowed like a drunk - "Rayoowwl." But she was a sweet and friendly little thing with a purr three times as big as she was. Her teats were enlarged, but I saw no kittens. She visited me on most afternoons.
Winter was coming on, the nights were bitter cold, and I worried about the cat, who had that frayed homeless look. I boiled knucklebones and set out the broth in a tuna can. Because I could never be sure when she would show up, I set it out very hot, so it wouldn't freeze quickly. Once she came running from under the house and almost burned her nose before she realised how hot it was. I also scattered kibble [dry cat food] on the ground nearby - I started out putting it in a dish, but she ate so enthusiastically that she always tipped it out.
Eventually it became clear that she was keeping her kittens under the house in a fourteen-inch-high crawl space. They began to follow her out. They were wary, skittish little things, wild and distrustful. I knew that they would have a better chance of finding homes if they were easier around people. So I decided to try to tame them.
I set out pans of food and broth big enough for the kittens to stand in if they wanted to - which they often did. Like the mother's food, the kittens' food was under the steps. In the mother's case, I wanted to make sure it wouldn't be stepped on. The kittens, however, just wouldn't come out. They fled my presence.
So I took a book out to the steps, set out the pans, and sat on the steps reading and blowing on my fingers to keep them warm. I waited for the mother's welcoming "rayoowl" and grateful purrs and the scrabbles and growls of the kittens. At first they ran if I even moved my foot. Then I started sitting at the foot of the steps, where I could see them and they me. They hated eye contact and growled at me if I leaned near. So I started shaking the kibble box, which they learned was a signal for food coming. I didn't put the pans down before they came. The kittens ran at first when I reached in to put their food down, leaving the mother to placidly eat her ration off the ground. Eventually they just drew back for a bit. I knew I was making a breakthrough when they started mewing at me - "Give me food!"
They still wouldn't let me touch them. I started hanging my hand down near the food dishes until it went numb; they learned to ignore it. I smeared my fingers with broth; they learned to lick them. Then I waited until they were all head down and guzzling and began touching their backs. They jerked and growled; I moved away. They learned to tolerate it as a sort of nuisance that went along with dinner. Then I had the second breakthrough: I gently stroked a kitten's back and he arched his back and pushed against my hand. He didn't know what it was at first, and the startled, accusing look on his little face - "You're not Mom!" - was comical.
Eventually they all learned that being petted and skritched behind the ears was nice. Some began to explore me, snagging my jeans cuffs and untying my shoes. They watched their mother and copied her, soliciting cheekbone rubs and walking in slow, happy circles with tails raised when I paid attention to them. Some even let me pick them up - briefly, but I managed to sex them all. I now knew them as individuals and began to give them names. I made plans for selling them - at the time, the shelter was death row for animals, and I already knew that if I advertised a price for the kittens, I would get more responses and they would be more valuable to the people who took them home. I was starting to work out how to keep a litter of semi-feral kittens and a mother cat temporarily in a house that already had a cat, thank you, as well as a big dog that loved to lick cats' heads whether the cats liked it or not.
Then the whole family disappeared. I walked through the trailer park shaking the kibble box and calling their names. No sign. We moved away a few months later.
But I think that at least one of them had a happy ending. The littlest, bumbliest, timidest, most plaintive kitten, Spook, was the one I worried about most. I knew his markings by heart: grey, with a round white splotch on one hip, a white bib and milky chin, white paws, and ice-blue eyes. A year later, I was passing by the trailer park when I saw a big, pudgy gray cat with a round white splotch on one hip, a white bib and milky chin, white paws, and ice-blue eyes. He was escorting a little girl to the school bus shelter.