Join Date: Jan 2013
Location: Toronto, Ontario, Canada
My policy on taking in and rehabilitating ferals is that you should only do so if you are ok with the prospect of caring for that animal for the rest of its life, regardless of whether it becomes well socialized or not. It's hard to find homes for well-adjusted house cats, never mind a semi-feral that spends all of its time under a bed.
I agree that almost all ferals can be socialized to an extent where they can interact, at least minimally, with people, and that their lives can be greatly improved because of it. Many people who care for feral colonies have established a certain level of trust with the cats and can interact with the colony cats in a way that belies their feral nature. It's trust that isn't easily gained, and is easily lost. But, the sad fact is that some cats are never going to be "adoptable". I use quotations because, to those of us who have taken in and socialized ferals, not being "adoptable" to the average person is a far cry from hopeless.
Rescue organizations generally don't accept ferals or semi-ferals because they simply don't have the resources and man-power to devote to a long rehabilitation process, especially when there are countless other cats being brought in every day that are immediately adoptable. Do I think their policies on, and, in some cases, beliefs about ferals are correct? Not really. I have had a couple of very heated arguments with a woman who works in the office building adjacent mine (this is the area where the colony I am caring for is located) about my plan to rehabilitate and foster Autumn and Ramona, a 2 year old queen and her kitten. This woman was extremely upset that I had taken it upon myself to trap these cats, so that I could have them, at the very least, spayed. When I explained to her that I feel that it's important to evaluate ferals on a case by case basis, and that I would not be returning Autumn to the colony if she was, as I suspected, only semi-feral, she became belligerent and accused me of all sorts of horrible things--her vet had apparently told her that adult ferals cannot be rehabilitated and would be miserable and live in a constant state of fear if placed in a home situation. Incidentally, the tortie in my avatar there is Autumn. I have had her and Ramona in my house since getting them vetted in mid October. Autumn comes running when my mom or I enter the room she's in, purring, and weaving around our legs to the point where you can hardly take more than a step at a time without tripping; she gets along really well with all of my other cats; she loves to play and will meow, and wind around your legs, and try to lead you over to the area where we usually throw bits of kibble for her to launch herself at; and she spent most of yesterday on my bed, sleeping pressed up against me, while I used my tablet. We have a cat that we've had since he was a 4 week old kitten--he's now 8--who's not nearly as friendly or affectionate as Autumn is. Autumn was only semi-feral when I trapped her, but she had gotten somewhat used to people leaving food out for her and her kittens. She had been living in a desolate office parking lot with no real human contact for at least a year, according to other office workers in the area, and she behaved like a full feral when I first started seeing her. My guess is that she was probably dumped as a kitten.
Honestly, so much is dependent on a cat's personality. I know of people who have tried to socialize semi-ferals who seemed like great candidates for rehabilitation and had no luck, even after several months. I also know of people who have taken in ferals that were unmanageably aggressive, destructive, and fearful that were very quickly brought under control and became wonderful, affectionate cuddlers.
Rehabilitating ferals is a long, difficult, and sometimes bloody process, but, as anyone who's ever been even marginally successful comes to realize, it's also a really rewarding experience--and one that can result in a lifetime of love, trust, and companionship with an animal that would have likely otherwise not had much of a life at all.