Faux Feral, Woody's Story
When is a feral cat not feral?

Hardy Menagh   10/22/21
Freehold, New York

A large stray tabby cat we initially called "the phantom", showed up in the late Winter of 2015 and moved into our pole barn (AKA: wayward cat halfway house).


At first, we only saw the tracks in the snow, of a cat that was afraid to be seen. When it became clear that he was living in the pole barn, I started putting food down and providing a steady supply of warm water. He showed every indication of being feral. When he eventually allowed us to see him, he kept a distance of at least 30 yards and would only come out to eat when he was sure I was back in the house.

In March of 2016, I trapped him in a Havahart trap and we took him to Animalkind in Hudson NY, with the idea that they might relocate him to a feral colony. After discussing it, they convinced me that he was better off in our barn, if I didn't mind continuing to feed him. He had never been a problem for me or our house-cats so of course I didn't mind.

As an aside, Woody got his name hastily from a sign I saw on the way to Animalkind. It had the name "Woodrow Wilson" on it and I knew they would ask for a name. So, Woody is named for a sign, not Woodrow Wilson.

On March 19th, 2016, Animalkind neutered him, checked for Feline Leukemia, gave him distemper and rabies shots and we brought him back home in a large soft cage, on loan from Animalkind, on the 20th. Lucky for Woody, they neglected to clip a tip of one ear, someting Vets usually do to indicate a feral cat has received care.

I only saw him for three days after releasing him to his barn on the 21st and his food went uneaten after that. We didn't see any sign of him all Summer.

It wasn't until late January 2017 that I saw him again. He was back in his barn. I don't know how long he had been hiding there. He appeared a bit lean. I resumed providing food and warm water. As usual, his appetite was extremely good.

I still don't know specifically where in the barn he found shelter. It's open to the outside in several places but there are lots of places to crawl under and in. He rejected the styrofoam shelter I made for him. Somehow, he survived another Winter with some below-0 nights, with his ears intact.

By March, I began noticing some differences in his behavior. He was never aggressive toward our cats but seemed especially fond of Chester, our affectionate 3-legged tabby. When I would let Chester out, Woody would leave the safety of his barn and come trotting up to Chester with his tail up to touch noses and rub his head on Chester's. He obviously craved affection. He also appeared to be visibly benefiting from the regular feeding.

Woody gradually allowed closer proximity and got to the point where he would cautiously play with a toy on the limits of a 7-foot string, especially if Chester was nearby and also joining in. Every several seconds of play, he would remember himself and bolt but soon return to the irresistible possibility of fun.

He started spending time on our back porch, resting and napping on top of a small carpeted cat hutch. He would make eye contact with me through the window in the storm door, returning my slow blinks. Occasionally he would stretch up toward me with his paws on the door and give a quiet cry. This didn't strike me as feral behavior. However, if I opened the door he would run away but I could get him to come back quickly by simply putting Chester out.

I started feeding Woody on the porch and in the mornings, he would be waiting there. He would run a few yards away when I opened the door to put his food down but would quickly return to rapidly eat every bit of it when I went back in.

It seemed to me that Woody must have been domesticated at one time and was likely a good candidate for re-domestication. He had been caught in a catch & release trap once and I tried it again but he wasn't going to fall for that trick twice.

Where's Food?
For two days, prior to Wednesday April 12th, 2017, I had been able to feed Woody just barely inside the back door. I'd been propping the storm door open just wide enough with the keeper on the closer, putting the food down on the floor and calling him. He was very cautious about going through the doorway but accepted his meals inside while glancing suspiciously at me on the other side of the kitchen, then retreating quickly when he had finished.

And now, the dirty trick:

That Wednesday evening, I tied a string to the storm door handle, then propped the door open at the sill with a wadded-up plastic grocery bag. This held the door open but would collapse easily. I put Woody's food down, called him (Woody, Woody, Woody!) and walked to the other side of the kitchen with the string in my hand. He entered, more cautiously than usual, glancing at the string above him. Eventually, he approached his dish and started to dine. I pulled the string and the screen door closed and latched.

He instantly panicked and jumped against the storm door, then frantically searched for another exit, finally huddling against the storm door. I left him alone for several minutes, then returned with his friend Chester. His friend didn't seem to reassure him so I withdrew again for a time, then decided to see how he would react to being touched. I had to find this out to know what I was going to do next. Releasing him and allowing him to remain feral was always an option.

I put on a pair of heavy leather gloves and touched him on the back of the neck. He hissed once, then allowed me to pet him without resisting (resistance would not have been futile). I took off the gloves and continued to pet him and rub his ears and lower jaw. He stretched out his neck and allowed me to rub under his chin.

Then, I struck purr.

This took me by surprise. I have to assume it had been at least a couple of years since he'd had any human contact and it's impossible to know what that consisted of.

I fetched a vacant cat bed, put it by the back door and lifted him into it. He hissed once more but took no defensive action. He huddled into the bed and I soon had him reassured and purring again. I supplied him with a clean litter box and his food and water and left him alone for the night.

To shorten the story, by the next evening he was sitting on the couch with me, purring and eventually falling asleep with his head resting on my leg.

Since then, he has become overly domestic. He and Chester are kindred spirits and enjoy racing up and down the hallway, playing tag, then collapsing together for a nap. Woody regularly climbs into my lap, kisses me on the lips, then rolls over into my arm and kneads my beard. Some feral cat.

Woody & Chet

Woody and Chester receive the best care available
from the doctors and staff at the Delmar Animal Hospital.

Delmar Animal Hospital

 Hardy's Back Room 

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