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Don’t shy away from adopting a semi-feral kitten. In time, and with the right sort of care, they can become delightful companions.

When some schoolchildren discovered William and his littermates, they were around eight weeks old; their mother was nowhere to be seen. Finally, a rescue organization retrieved the kittens. They spent the next three months at a vet’s surgery getting their shots, being neutered, and socialized before being put up for adoption.

To begin with, the kittens spat and fought whenever they were handled and hissed at anyone who came near their pen. In their first 45 days, they had had some handling by humans – the school children – but not nearly enough to socialize them properly.

William and his sisters calmed down and became very attached to the veterinary nurse in time. Whenever they were out of their pen, they would explore the room and sit on the nurse’s lap while she was doing paperwork. William would even tolerate being handled by visitors interested in adopting him.

Going to a New Home

At around five months, the sisters were rehomed, and William went to live with a couple who had one other cat a year older than him. For the first 24 hours, Victor and William were kept separate. No sooner was he out of his carrying basket. William surprised and dismayed his new owners by going from a cat they had been able to cuddle at the vet’s surgery to one that made himself as small as possible in his hooded litter tray. The sole indication of his presence was an occasional hiss and a clawed paw.

Within a day, Victor had sussed out that another cat was in his home. After an exchange of meows through the door separating the two, it was decided that they should meet. Once the formalities of sniffs, growls, and hisses were done, both were purring and exchanging head rubs. Victor groomed and played with his new companion. Whenever Victor was around, William was out and about the flat, but any unwanted human attention would send him scurrying under the bed.

Tempting titbits

Depending on how anxious he was, William could be tempted out from his retreat by morsels of pilchard or chicken. His favorite toy was a wand with a long piece of string attached. William’s owners worked out that the best way to gain his confidence was to fuss over him as little as possible and let him approach them on his terms. Working with him meant that William became less wary and welcomed human affection. The day he allowed a collar to be put on him was a breakthrough.

Gaining Trust and Confidence

Going outside with Victor after a month had passed increased William’s confidence further. After an afternoon’s tree climbing, the two would come indoors and nap together. William began soliciting more attention from his owners, whether by chirruping or meowing, whether Victor was there.

By the time William was a year old, the only time he had sought refuge under the bed was whenever his owners were entertaining. Still, as his trust increased, everyone would notice the young cat sitting quietly in the corner, watching them chatting. If they resisted their urge to go up and stroke him, they would be rewarded by the sight of him curling up for a nap.

Coping With Trauma

There were setbacks. Now and again, William would withdraw to his hiding place under the bed and dart out only for food or to go into the garden. The only reason his owners could come up with was that someone had spooked him. The retrograde behavior would last a few days or a few weeks, and then William would remember that he could trust his owners.

When he was five years old, William went missing for almost a week, but William was even friendlier when he returned, seemingly grateful to be back with his human companions. Moving house reduced him to a quivering wreck for a few days, but he surprised everyone by letting one of his new human neighbors pet him.

Shy, But Not Semi-Feral

Ten years on, William is a happy, cuddly, friendly cat who greets his trusted humans with a friendly chirrup or meow, adores a good fuss, and curls up on a lap. He’s still nervous around most visitors, but anyone who meets him considers him a shy cat rather than a semi-feral one.

Tips For Adopting Semi-Feral Kittens

Don’t crowd your kitten. Instead, let him interact with you on his terms. His natural curiosity will override his aloofness, and he will come out to explore. You’re not ignoring him; you show him that you are not a threat.

Make it tempting for him to come out. Leave a tasty morsel for him, twitch a piece of string or dangle a catnip-stuffed toy, but when he comes out, don’t overwhelm him with praise. Instead, talk to him and encourage him gently. Reward him with a food treat. In time he may take it from your fingers. Pet him if he’s up for a stroke, but pulling him up now may be too much for him.

Semi-ferals usually get on with other cats. They learn from their feline housemates that “their” humans can be trusted.

Be patient. Your nervous kitten may not turn into a confident one in days or even weeks, but every acknowledgment and interaction with you without fear or nervousness is a great reward for all your hard work.