Thursday, August 6, 2009 4:31 PM

Wild Things

One of the reasons people love cats is because they are constantly hovering between domestic life and the feral state. Despite having been brought under human auspices several thousand years ago, they've never really been completely tamed. This becomes apparent as one observes their sleek, agile frames, hunting prowess and even how they sleep--mostly during the day, and mostly with one eye open! The tabby markings, still so apparent today, provides us with a glimpse into the wild state. This natural camouflage enables the cat, when sensing danger, to hunker down, remain still and thereby avoid notice. Perfection!

Once a cat has lived a feral life, it is nearly impossible to turn them into pets. My friend, J.M., belongs to group that traps feral cats in order to neuter and spay them in an effort to control these wild populations. Unless these cats are extremely young, they are placed back where they found them after a short recovery period. These people know that these older cats are virtually unadoptable, and they have learned not to even try placing them in shelters. Of course, dogs can also form feral communities, but their reversal to the wild is not as complete as the cat's. Anyone who has ever tried to tame an older "barn cat" will know exactly what I am talking about.

My cats were born to a feral mother at the University where I worked. When I discovered them, they were still nursing. J.M. and I kept a close eye on them and when we noticed the mother bringing prey back to the nest, we knew it was time to bring them slowly into the domestic world. The first time I placed a bowl of kitten chow into the nest (in a window well), the mother cat swiped at me. I didn't know she was there! She didn't get me, and I like to think she knew I was trying to help, since it was a decidedly half-hearted swipe. I started handling the kittens when she wasn't there, and as soon as one ventured out of the nest we swooped in and bundled them off to my house. The rest is history, as they say!

The attention that these cats have received since they moved in here has made them into the sweetest cats I've ever owned. We all know of pet cats that are downright nasty, and I feel sure that the reason for this is usually that they are not handled enough by their owners. The secret to suppressing the wild side of cats is lots and lots of loving physical contact. For cat lovers, this is usually a requirement that is easy to fulfill.

So the next time your cats are bouncing off the walls, chasing each other and play-stalking their stuffed mice, take a moment to appreciate the wild side of this beautiful animal. And give yourself a pat on the back for being wise enough to bring these barely-domesticated felines into your life. It's truly a walk on the wild side!

Today's Pic: This photo comes from the National Geographic Best Pictures for the Year collection, sent to me courtesy of my sister-in-law. She's got a good eye, eh?

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Amanda has worked with animals for many years and has always had cats in her life. She lives in Massachusetts with her husband and two excellent cats.
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