Stray cat: a cat that was at some point domesticated but lost its home; depending on time spent outside, some strays display signs of feral cats.
Feral cat: a cat that is wild and was never socialized by humans.
Sometimes stray / feral cats end up at animal shelters, and for various reasons cannot be released back at their recent location. Feral cats have the hardest time to get adopted. They are not friendly cuddly fur-balls that most people associate cats with, and are not used to living indoors. Frequently these cats are then advertised by shelters as ‘mousers’. People like the idea, of having such an organic and non-toxic pesticide around the house. However, there is a process to make this a viable solution.
First and foremost, a relocated feral cat needs time to imprint. Imprinting is the process when the cat learns about the new habitat: noises, smells, the caregiver... The cat needs to stay in an enclosed area for 4 to 6 weeks. If the cat doesn’t go through this imprinting process and is released in an unknown environment, it will simply disappear, looking for its way back home.
Imprinting pens can be borrowed from local shelters; cat volunteers can also be extremely helpful with equipment and advice. Barns, garages, sheds work well for imprinting, too. I had a storage area in my backyard with just a roof, so I had wire mesh put on, and made it a feral cat imprinting place.
Stray/feral Medo and Pupa moved into the enclosure. After 6 weeks, I opened the small window on the side, and the two were able to get out to the larger backyard. They stuck! Not only that… They slowly started following me inside the house, got domesticated, and they now live indoors. Yes, it’s doable. One is extremely friendly and cuddly; the other is still skittish, but loves mom (that would be me).
It’s also important that during the imprinting period, a cat has a smaller shelter within the enclosure to hide in and feel safe. The caregiver can be creative and use a variety of items to serve as such hiding place. Personally, I had two little ‘boxes’ built, with a hole on the side. It’s best if the shelter is placed higher up, rather than on the floor. The two relocated cats loved it.
The backyard was already a cat-friendly environment, since Silly had lived there for nearly 4 years. I made sure there were no toxic plants around. I also covered areas of exposed soil where Silly would be prone to digging. For example, I installed artificial grass around trees. I use ground cover or rocks around herbs and fruit/vegetables. Some plants are so dense that cats will stay away. In small exposed areas, I place river rocks.
I shield young plants until they get established.
I cover soil if growing anything from seeds, until the plant(s) is a few inches high. On the picture below is cat grass seeds just put in soil, covered with plastic wire mesh. There’s always a planter of established cat grass available outside. As one starts dying, I start a new batch. These planters can be purchased online. Make sure they have holes on the bottom. Fill with planting soil, sprinkle cat grass seeds, and water daily. Don’t forget to cover until grass is a few inches tall, otherwise the kitty will find a nice place of soft soil to dig. ☺
For fertilizing, I discovered this great product: the root feeder stick. The fertilizer goes directly to the roots, and is not exposed on top of the soil and pose a danger to pets. It can be purchased online.
Some friends find the (now vacant) cat enclosure amusing. Some ask me if it’s meant for chickens, others have no idea what it’s for. Some ask about ground cover around plants. Others ask about wire around shrubs. After I explain, they understand. This is a cat-friendly environment, and one that is sustainable and easy for me to handle. For example, I would not want the cats to dig and do their “numbers” in my yard. Not only would I have extra work to fix the soil, or they would ruin the plants; it would also smell, especially during scorching summer months here in San Jose, California. It takes very little effort to do things right in the beginning, and then be worry-free.