Step 10: Romeo & Juliet - how to tame wild cats
My daughter named Homer's mom Juliet and the tom who was his dad Romeo. Juliet was a wild feral cat. I don't even remember the first time that I saw her, she was just another wanderer that ran away as soon as she saw me. I have no idea how old she was or where she might have come from. She would show up and sneak food when the other cats would let her. Slowly over time she began to get used to me and stopped running away. So I decided to try and make friends with her.
The best way to approach a wild, or semi wild cat is -- don't. As soon as you make a motion toward them they will run. So what you do is get them to come to you. Sit down or get on your knees and hold out your hand to them. By getting low to the ground you come down to their level and are not so intimidating to them. Also they seem to know that if your sitting you can't jump up and grab them as easily as you can when standing. The best thing is usually to offer them food. Get upwind if you can so they can smell you and what it is that you are offering them. Talk to them softly and quietly and if they are hesitant to cross those last few feet, put the food down and back up a little. Don't throw it to them because they will think you are throwing it at them. Once they get used to taking food from your hand they will calm down and let you touch them. This might take a while, just go slowly and let them set the pace.
Once Juliet accepted me as a friend she was around all the time. She really liked being petted and scratched. She got tame enough that we could pick her up and she didn't struggle. For a wild cat this was pretty amazing. She had a special personality and it showed in how she reacted to me. She was very sociable and actually liked people. Many wild cats will never reach this point and will always run away from you. That is just the way they are.
I knew that Juliet had been having kittens but I never saw any of them. Then one spring she decided to have them in one of our buildings. If you want to find where the kittens are hidden, and they will be, watch the mom closely. She will usually stay fairly close by. When she goes to visit them you can listen for them and then figure out where they are. If the mom trusts you she won't be bothered by your looking at her kittens. The mom will usually move them to a different place within the first 2 weeks, this is just what they do, they move them from the place where they were born. Juliet moved her batch and we never saw them again. Later I heard from a neighbor that Juliet had been there with a bunch of kittens hidden in a pile of old lumbar. They said some dogs found them and killed them all. That's the hazard of living in the wild.
Romeo, the tom, was a very large and stout bull's eye tabby. There is no doubt that he is Homer's dad. He too had been living wild for years. I used to see mostly his tail as he ducked under a building. He didn't trust anyone and would not even let you get close. Then he started watching me from a distance. When I was working in the garden he used to come out from his hiding place and just sit and watch. If you even started walking toward him he was gone. Then he got tired of doing that and I finally got close enough to him to get a good look. My daughter was right about them being an item. He often hung around where Juliet was and not because she was in heat. He stuck around even when she was expecting kittens. After Juliet became friendly with us he started to move in closer. It was a long slow process but eventually Romeo became friendly, taking food and getting scratched. He was a very strong cat, just all solid muscle. No wonder he did so well on his own. He even let us pick him up finally. We couldn't walk with him or carry him but if we just picked him up he was OK with that. So they became regulars at the food dishes.
One thing about Romeo that amazed me was that he only was friendly with certain people. He was fine with me and my daughter and a few others but if a stranger showed he was GONE. I had a UPS driver pull into the driveway and Romeo had been sitting quietly with the kittens. He was up and gone before anyone knew what was happening. He definitely recognized different people and if he didn't know you he would not show himself.
An interesting thing I have noticed about wild cats is they will not go into a house, at least not the ones I have dealt with. There is something about it that really scares them. Possibly its the lack of a way out, but whatever it is I can always tell the difference in a wild one and a cat that was raised by someone. If a stray has no problem coming through the door then it was not born wild. I have had people dump cats here or along the road. People decide that they need to get rid of them so they take them out someplace and just drop them. We had one cat show up that wanted in the house so bad it was painful Apparently that is where she was raised. After she had kittens she brought them onto the porch and refused to leave. She stayed there with her kitten pile even when it started to rain. She finally got her way and we let her and her wet kittens in.
I looked through years of pictures but I cannot find any of Romeo. Maybe he was camera shy also.