DEAR DR. FOX: As a feral cat rescuer for more than 20 years in Washington, D.C., and with parents who did this in Washington state, I can tell B.W. in Naples, Florida, that old, feral, outdoor cats do love to "retire" from the outside and live the indoor life when they get old. There is nothing more rewarding than waking up to a formerly feral cat sleeping beside you in bed!
Boo sounds like she would do very well as an inside-only cat. I have brought many, many colony cats inside when they get old, and they adapt well. I do this not only for my cats, but I have helped many people bring their old feral cats inside, too. There are some tricks that make it easier:
-- First, I recommend taking the cat to the vet for a full checkup, including vaccination updates, de-flea, deworm, ear treatments if necessary, etc.
-- Use two litter boxes at first; feral cats seem to prefer to go pee and poop in different boxes, I think because they are used to the clean soil. Scoop right away when the box is used, and use unscented, scoopable sand to approximate what they know outside.
-- Install window perches, as you suggest, but do not let the cat have access to screens for the first few weeks. Instinct could cause the cat to try to get out, and they can go through screens easily.
-- Use interactive toys to keep Boo active, so she's not bored. Turn on a radio to get her accustomed to human voices.
I hope this is helpful. -- S.W., Washington, D.C.
DEAR S.W.: I will pass this on. Good advice indeed. In my estimation, formerly feral cats -- like many stray and previously abused or neglected dogs -- once they come to trust and feel secure, make the best companions. Too many in shelters are killed for lack of space and funds to re-socialize these animals, though some never come around because of severe trauma or possible genetic drift to "wild" (fearful and hyper-alert) temperaments, especially those birthed in the outdoors by stray and feral generations of cats.
My wife and co-worker Deanna Krantz and I have a feral cat in our home who we are hoping to rehabilitate for adoption or integration into our two-cat (formerly feral) family. What is quite nonsensical in our location is that if we were to have taken this cat to our local animal shelter, he would have been declared unadoptable and been released back on our property after being neutered and given rabies vaccination when the windchill was negative 20! Animal control and the local police contend that feral cats are wild animals and belong outdoors. In suburbia? The domestic cat, Felis domestica, belongs only indoors, never being part of the wildlife ecology of North America, especially since it is a descendant of the Middle East desert cat Felis sylvestris lybica. Nuts!
DEAR DR. FOX: I am a 92-year-old lady. I have three kitties (I don't have "cats" -- I have "kitties"). I love them dearly. They are 15, 11 and 4 years old. They get along quite well. I always want to learn more ways to care for them better.
When I leave my mortal coil, my sons (who also love kitties) have promised to care for them, and I know they will. So I would love to buy copies of the two books you recently wrote about that you have written, "Supercat: Raising the Perfect Feline Companion" and "Cat Body, Cat Mind." Where can I find them? -- M.C., Falls Church, Virginia
DEAR M.C.: I always appreciate receiving a letter such as yours that demonstrates how elderly people can be eager to learn more about their animal companions. Having an active mind and learning new things is best antidote to mental deterioration -- along with good nutrition! My cat books are easily available to order online at Amazon.com. You can also check my website for more cat-related information at DrFoxVet.net. I am sure there are some articles there that you would enjoy reading. I also have a DVD movie on my website you can watch about cat behavior and psychology, as well as one on dog behavior and psychology.
It is a sad reality that the corner bookstores in most communities are now gone. Now every corner seems to have a bank, drug store, liquor store or bakery, a reflection indeed of the health of the nation! Poor nutrition and no food for thought seems to be the fate of many consumers whose maladies are mirrored in their companion animals, who are fed biologically inappropriate diets and live impoverished lives alone most of the day.
Cats, like yours, do so much better when they have the companionship and reciprocal need-satisfaction of one or more other sociable cats. When I wrote my now-out-of-print best-selling book "Understanding Your Cat," I made it very clear that it is an arrogant presumption to claim to "understand your cat." Like good hunters, they are unpredictable and full of surprises. We learn something new about them all the time, and I am glad to be able to convey the insights of behavioral and animal health and welfare research findings to my Animal Doctor columns that I have been writing for over 40 years. I continue to learn much from the animals and those who care for them and who develop a strong, sympathetic relationship of mutual trust and affection. Kinship indeed!
(Send all mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns.
Visit Dr. Fox's website at DrFoxVet.net.)