The Humane Society Silicon Valley is an animal shelter that cares for and then rehomes animals. Cats are a popular choice amongst those who want a new pet. However, some of the cats at the shelter are a little different. The feral cats are not suitable for rehoming into a domestic situation and would never make a good lap cat.
This presented the shelter with a problem for what they refer to as their garden cats. They wanted to find them new homes at properties with land outside where they could continue their garden cat lifestyle. A few years ago, they came up with a solution to this problem when they started their Garden Cat Program.
They came up with this program, so they could specifically match the garden cats with people who only wanted a cat for the outdoors. Some people only wanted a cat to work as a mouse catcher in their barns or stables and the garden cats were ideal for this purpose.
The shelter takes the garden cat program extremely seriously and makes sure the cats are going to homes where someone will take good care of them, despite their outdoors lifestyle. Anyone who adopts one of the garden cats makes a pledge to keep the cat and well, including bringing the cat for check-ups with the vet and keeping them up-to-date with their vaccinations. They must also promise that the cat will get the appropriate treatment if they are ill.
Despite the fact that the cats are well looked after in their new homes, they are still working cats. They will receive love, care, food, and shelter and in return, they catch rodents on the premises for their new owners.
When the program started, there were just two cats. They were very stressed living in an indoor cage, so the shelter workers decided to create a special outdoor place for them. They called this the Marilyn and Fred Anderson Community Cat Garden. This was just outside the office of Carol Novello, the president of the Humane Society Silicon Valley. It is a fantastic space for the cats as there are lots of places to hide.
Lorrie Sprain is Novello’s executive assistant. She explained that the shelter needed a special place for the cats who are naturally unsocial. She described how many of the cats had a ‘look, but don’t touch’ philosophy, but still needed their own space and a basic level of care.
It is well-known that feral cats do not like a lot of attention. However, Sprain discovered that some of the feral cats were faking this shyness. She started to pay special attention to the cats by spending time outdoors with them. In return for food, they started to give affection. She then encouraged other members of staff to join her in the garden to befriend the garden cats.
They had named one of their favorite garden cats Bruce Lee. He stood out from the others as he would sneak into their offices looking for some extra attention and then steal their chairs. In fact, he completely changed his lifestyle and became an indoor cat rather than a feral cat.
Of course, this got the staff talking about the behavior of feral cats and if they weren’t as shy as previously believed. The results of their cat community garden showed that with patience, it was possible for a feral cat to become tame. This showed that the cats probably only adopted the behavior they had learned and used it to survive.
Cats like Bruce Lee are evidence that perhaps feral cats aren’t quite as unsocial as people believe. Having lived as a feral cat for all his life, he soon changed his behavior when he was shown a little love and attention.
The strategies used at the Human Society Silicon Valley are something that other shelters could possibly adopt in the future. Finding a special place for the garden cats to call their own and accustoming them to human contact with the aid of food has obviously worked. By showing their feral cats some love, they may get the same attention in return. This could help to solve the problem of finding homes for feral cats as taming them will mean they are more appealing to potential new owners.