#9 Our feral mom escaped outside. She jumped on my lap and rubbed her head against me and started to purr. Back inside she was feral again

I am a rescue volunteer Huntington,WV. My grandmother currently fosters cats in her home. Two of them are mother and son, that were dropped off at our farm a few years ago and were left in a dog crate for a few weeks with little to no interaction. The male and his mother have never gotten use to people. The male, who's about a year and a half, will sit in her living room and observe you, with his head cocked to the left. He doesn't move, but when he thinks your going his way, he's gone. His mother on the other hand, is way worse. She hides, and only comes out for food. If your not in the room, she's laying around on the couch or wherever, but as soon as she hears or sees you she takes off. But the strange thing is, a few months ago she got loose outside and was gone for about 2 days. A neighbor called and said there was a cat and described her and sure enough it was Anne. Anne was looking at me and meowing, and even jumped on my lap and rubbed her head against me and started to purr. So we took her back over to the house. The minute I let her out of my arms, she ran off behind the couch. I tried to get her, thinking she had a change of heart, but scratched my hand and had to go get a few stitches. I was wondering if there was still a chance to get them to trust people fro the first or possible second time in their life, or is to late and just leave them alone. Any advice would be a tremendous amount of help.

Sorry for such a long email, and many thanks,

Dear Justin,

Thanks for writing with this fantastic insight into the sliding-scale of feral behavior. When she had no other hope for help, Anne knew she could trust you to help her. On the other hand when she is safely indoors and she can take care of herself, she prefers to keep humans at a distance. Former ferals are ingrained with a very smart instinct we would all do well to apply more often: "Don't take any chances that you don't have to." She's probably reasoned that since the food is put down every day without fail, the house is warm and safe and everything is fine just the way it is, why risk getting any closer to the humans than necessary. Outdoors, she had no where else to turn and you were her only chance of survival, but now that she's safely back indoors, all bets are off. She's obviously a smart cat which is usually the case with the hard-core ferals. It's their intelligence that stands in the way of socialization to humans. Less intelligent cats are much easier to tame.

She's shown that she can definitely become tame, but you have to provide the incentive to make the necessary trust permanent. The same is probably true of her son.

It may be as simple as not leaving food down for her and her son to eat freely without interaction with you. This is difficult with other cats in the house who don't have behavior problems and like to eat when they want. You could try putting them in a separate room where you can control the food but being alone all the time in a room isn't great for socialization either. However, since they hide when you are near being alone in a room may be the short term solution.

Only put food down when a human is right nearby and take it up when you leave. This can be tried from across the room at first but eventually you want them closer and closer until they are right next to you being petted and eating from a dish in your lap. It could take weeks to accomplish but if you stop the free ride, they will decide to become friendly to you out of self-interest and you won't have to do anything except give them the incentive. She's proven that when she needs you she can be nice. Make her be nice if she wants to eat and she'll make very quick progress. Take it slow but once you see that she understands, hold your ground and let her make the choice to make friends with the guy who has the food. Over time, it will be come permanent. The outdoor rescue was too stressful to be permanent but it was a great indicator of what she is capable. Ferocious dogs often display this tame behaviour briefly when they are in danger, only to become ferocious again the next day when they are safe again.

Go over the material in our video and print out and see if this is something you could work up to with the two of them.
Read Blog #4 about not staring directly at the cats, and also #5 with some more info about controlling the food.
Sincerely, Mike Phillips, Urban Cat League

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