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My mother was active at spay and release (trapping feral cats, spaying or neutering them, and then releasing them back into the neighborhoods they lived in) at her old house. By the time she left, there was only one feral cat in the neighborhood left.

She decided to bring the cat with her to the new house.

It has been several years now, and the cat is still completely feral.

It lives in the (furnished) basement, and hides in a sectioned-off area whenever people are around. She used to come out and play (primarily with a laser pointer, as it allowed her to avoid coming too close to any humans), but never let herself be petted, touched, or even allowed anyone to come within arm's reach of her.

My mother, unfortunately, recently got a dog. A small, very active puppy. Since getting the dog, the feral cat has regressed a bit, and no longer comes out at all when people are around.

They have one other cat, who is very friendly, and has adjusted well to the dog (well, relatively well, considering how hyper the dog is...). The two cats get along well.

Is there any advice I can give my mother on making the feral cat accustomed to being in the presence of people, or even comfortable enough to allow them to pet her?

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Feral cats can be domesticated, but that is somewhat dependant on why they're feral in the first place. A cat born wild is likely to stay mostly that way even if it is comfortable with other cats or one human. A cat that is feral because it was "kicked out" or abandoned is more amenable to human contact and can be brought back to comfort with humans as a result. My in-laws have done this successfully with about a half dozen rescues and our current cats are offspring from one of those successes, it just requires a lot of patience and a willingness to sit still for it. I did a similar thing for a persian that was badly abused and was deathly afraid of men, eventually he was the biggest suck of a cat you could meet.

In terms of your Mom's cat, it may never entirely get comfortable with people and not all cats are keen to be petted either. The puppy represents a disruption to routine as well and some cats really hate that, so that may be the real reaction rather than specifically the puppy. Mind you a nutty dog in a dignified cat's "space" may be sufficient offence anyways. :D

  • Sorry, but I've met LOTS of feral cats that were domesticated at a later age. It depends on how close to human presence they grew up in, their personal temperament, and your patience. My cat is actually one of those. – surfmadpig Aug 28 '14 at 12:11
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    @surfmadpig - I'm not sure what you're arguing, my first paragraph says all of that. – John Cavan Aug 28 '14 at 12:30
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Is there any advice I can give my mother on making the feral cat accustomed to being in the presence of people, or even comfortable enough to allow them to pet her?

Feed the cat close to where you normally are. Start by putting the food far enough away where the cat will still eat around you. This is easiest if you have an activity where you are still like lounging in a chair, reading, or watching TV.

Over the course of several weeks slowly move the food closer and closer to you, until it is right at your feet. Don't make any sudden movement or loud noises. If the cat does not like the television you will have to turn it off.

After they are comfortable eating at your feet and trust you enough to eat facing away from you, you can try to touch them, but be aware that trying to touch them is dangerous. When touching a feral cat it is best to assume that they will viciously attack you. Wear appropriate protective equipment. I wore eye protection and a thick stiff leather welder's glove that came up to my elbow. Really you run the risk of injury unless you wear something like a bomb-disposal outfit made of Kevlar with a full face shield. Touch them with one finger on their back very lightly while they are eating. Eventually over time try touching them more.

My parents did this on the back patio with some feral cats that had zero human contact. Eventually the cats would eat at our feet and you could touch them briefly without them freaking out. That is as far as we took the experiment so I don't know how much more is possible.

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