After looking at this forum and all the wonderful people trying to tame feral and semi-feral cats and kittens I thought I would share the story of how my cat slowly became one of the sweetest, friendliest, healthiest and most well adjusted pet I've ever owned.
About eight years ago my father began putting out all sorts of leftovers and we knew something was eating them. We didn't know what at first, but we eventually realised it was a feral or semi-feral cat. She wouldn't let anyone get close to her.
At first I was against my father feeding her, she wasn't our responsibility and I didn't want her to come to depend on us, especially since we weren't even feeding her cat food; there was a lady in the neighborhood that already fed the feral cats. However, I am an animal lover and fairly quickly my fascination with the elusive cat won over my reservations. I began feeding her instead of my father.
Every day after dinner I would take whatever we had leftover and sit outside -- it didn't matter what it was I gave her, she would eat anything. She was almost always outside somewhere close-by, waiting. I would talk softy to her, keep eye contact, stay low to the ground and make no sudden movements. She still wouldn't let me get close, but I didn't give up.
One sunny day closer to a year after we'd begun feeding her I managed to come closer to her than I ever had before. I'd managed it by laying on my stomach and slowly moving forward. When I was about an arms length away I carefully stretched my arm out. I brushed her whiskers.
I was shocked at the instantaneous transformation. She must have been starved for attention, because once I made that first slight contact, she allowed me to pet her. She was so happy, she was purring and everything. Eventually laying on the ground became too much and I slowly sat up into a cross legged position. She ran away at first, but I was able to coax her back to me.
I thought it might be a one time thing, but the next time I approached her she must have remembered our last encounter because she didn't run very far away. When I sat down I was able to call her over again. It was an incredible breakthrough that had been a year in the making. I quickly confirmed my suspicions that she used to be owned by someone, as she had numbers in her ear. Unfortunately the ink had run so it was impossible to read anything. We thought because of this she might be quite old.
No one else in the family could get close enough to pet her yet, in fact most of my family didn't care much for the whole idea anyway, but I didn't give up. My next step was to get her used to sitting on my lap. Every evening I would spend ten or twenty minutes sitting on the front garden's stone rockery and scratching her. I would also try to place her on my lap. The first time she bolted off. Actually, for a long time she would do nothing but bolt off. But I would speak to her softly and hold on to her gently -- she could still leave if she wanted, and she always did. However, gradually she wasn't as eager to jump off my lap.
The first time I picked her up and walked around with her I was amazed that she wasn't going nuts in my arms, my dad was also outside and looked over asking "She lets you do that?" ... "This is the first time." I'd replied. When my father got close, wanting to pet her, she lost it and flew out of my arms. Eventually my father was also able to pet her sometimes just by proxy, he hadn't really needed to work at it like I had. The greatest effort had come in me needing to break the ice.
Due to well over a year of feeding and some somewhat successful socializing efforts, I had bonded with the cat. I became worried about the winter that was coming, although it doesn't usually get colder than minus five we were still concerned. The first time we coaxed her in the front door, then closed it, she went wild. She ran around frantically trying to find a way outside. She found one. In a backroom with high windows there was a broken pane of glass she managed to squeeze out of and fall to the ground. We were horrified.
I've read on here that cats that act like that once inside are too wild to become indoor cats, however, we moved on to a more likely solution. In that same backroom there was also a closed off cat door in the wall leading to the backyard. It had fallen out of use years before I was even born. The next time we brought her inside we made sure there was no escape but the cat door, and we made sure she knew we had placed cat food on top of the unused pool table, which was also in the backroom. Of course, she was far more interested in escaping than eating and bolted outside as soon as she found the exit.
We kept bringing her inside though, often I'd carry her in despite her protesting. The backroom was most often unoccupied and she wasn't stupid, it was getting colder outside! She began coming inside to sleep and eat. The rest of the family suddenly had to adjust to the notion that not only were we feeding a cat, but we now had it sleeping in our backroom.
The next few changes took place over a few months and years worth of efforts, there wasn't anything really noticeable or immediate. Just little changes happening all the time. Like how she began meowing in greeting when she'd come into a room, or how she began walking right up to me when I'd be standing outside. The first time she came up stairs on her own was quite something, as well as the first time I got her to lay on my bed without her running away instantly. The first few years she wouldn't let anyone scratch her tummy despite appearances that she wanted us to, over time however we realised she was far less likely to hiss, bite, scratch and kick you with her back feet when you'd try to scratch her there. She never does anymore, she's just a big baby.
It was a shock to us this year when we got around to asking the vet how old he thought she was, as we've already had her eight years. He said between eight to twelve years. I was expecting an estimate of at least fifteen years since she certainly wasn't a kitten when we started feeding her. She must be between ten and twelve years old.
For at least the last six years she has been the most fantastic family pet I've ever owned. The time spent taming her was completely worth it. She's leery of strangers unless they're in our home -- she won't come close to them outside unless we're with her (I've watched from the window as children to self-proclaimed cat lovers try to get close to her), she runs from cars, she's never more than a neighbor's yard away when she's outside -- most often sleeping in the neighbor's front garden, she immediately comes when she's called, she loves following us on walks when it's getting darker outside -- she'll cry at the door if we try to leave her behind, she'll follow us around the yard -- as soon as you're out there she'll locate you, she loves sleeping on my lap when I'm at the computer and she loves me carrying her draped over my shoulder around the house -- I think my arm would fall off before she tires of it. The best thing of all is that she sleeps curled up on me at night -- she doesn't have to, she could be anywhere else in or out of the house, but she chooses to stay with me. That's what makes it so special. It just took a little time for her to realise that's where she wanted to be.
So! Don't give up on those feral seeming kitties. You can really make a difference. The time spent taming them might become one of the most rewarding experiences of your life.
Her name is Blacky. The name is a sign of the fact that we really weren't looking to name her... but it stuck.