Happy Indoor Cat: Dusty, the Formerly-feral Cat

Sometime in May of 2010, I began feeding a group of small feral kittens in my yard. They waited on my porch to eat every morning, and again before dark. I tied string to various toys and threw them into the yard, pulling it back slowly, playing with them. I couldn’t touch the kittens - they would run if I got close. Months went by …

One of the young cats slept on a sunny woodpile next to my shed in the afternoons. I tried getting close, but she would hear me and wake up. One day, I got close enough to touch her head, and she ran off. The next day, she let me rub her head, then ran.

Around this time, I was also caring for a neighbor’s dog. While walking the dog in the yard before I went to bed, I suddenly felt something touch my knee in the dark. I was afraid to look! When I looked down, there she was, stretched up and waiting for me to rub her head – it was that kitten.

Every night from then on, it was the same routine. Walk the dog, pet the kitten, go to bed. Slowly developing trust

The first week of December that year, it was cold and snowing. I shoveled the porch, and the kitten followed me into the house through the sliding glass door. That first night, she climbed up on a bed and went to sleep.

Now an indoor cat, she would climb under my hutch and come out covered in dust, so I named her Dusty.

Dusty’s first portrait on the woodpile.

Dusty would hide if company came. My son didn’t believe that I had a cat living with me, because he had never seen her! Until one day she came out, reached up, and touched his knee with her paw.

Dusty has moved with me from New York to Virginia to Florida during the past eight years. She even joins us on road trips vacations now; we just returned from a 13-hour road trip to North Carolina to visit my son. She has a lovely carrier, but prefers to sleep on the floor of the car — good vibrations, perhaps?

Dusty hates her harness and doesn’t like collars, but she loves drinking from her water fountain. She still hides under the bed when the UPS man knocks on the door, but she knows that visitors who come in are good for giving treats and friendly pets.

The most difficult transition has been taking her to the vet for her rabies vaccination for her local Florida license. She reverts to being wild - jumping all over the little treatment room - on top of the upper cabinets, and down under the table. It takes the vet and two vet technicians (wearing suede BBQ gloves) ten minutes to catch her long enough to give her the shot and aim her back into her carrier, as she snarls and hisses the entire time. Last time, then the vet told me I could "bring her back for blood work". I can’t imagine them trying to find a vein!

Despite some of the challenges, I wanted Dusty to be an indoor cat. I was worried she would be hit by a car in our busy neighborhood. In the winter, cats sometimes climb into the car engine to get warm, and some die doing so.

The group of feral kittens also left me some wonderful 'gifts' on my porch, which I will admit I didn’t fully appreciate. Several mice, a Blue Jay, a mole, a squirrel, and several voles. I’m also a bird lover, and the dead the Blue Jay was especially upsetting to me.

Fewer cats outdoors would have a positive impact on wildlife. Our area didn’t have a program to trap feral cats, which would have been ideal, especially while the kittens were young, cute, and potentially adoptable.

Cats belong indoors. Here in Florida, many people have screened lanais, which are perfect for cats. They can be outdoors, but still be safe. Still, many people here allow their cats to be both indoor/outdoor, risking their lives. We have alligators, bobcats, coyotes, and even eagles in my neighborhood, all eager for a meal.

Inside the house, Dusty loves to sit on the windowsill and watch the birds in the tree outside, which is safer for all of them.  She’s also a “Keurig cat” (she likes to sit on top of our Keurig coffee maker), so I had to move it to a different spot. The top of it is warm and kind of hums a bit. I’m sure that’s why it was one of her favorite hangouts. She sits next to her empty dish in the morning, staring at me, waiting for treats. She has me trained well.

Of course she’s spoiled! She’s great company.

It does take time and patience to gain a feral cat’s trust. I never thought Dusty would follow me inside, but I am happy she did.

— Carole Wyland

This blog post is a Happy Indoor Cat success story. If you have a story about a feral or outdoor cat that you’ve transitioned to a life indoors, we’d love to hear how you did it and why you made the choice to keep your cat safely indoors. If you need advice on transitioning your outdoor cat to the Happy Indoor Cat life, we have a set of resources available for you.