From Fearful To Friendly!
By C. M. Saracco
He appeared near our porch one day: a shy, striped grey cat. Crouched beneath a bush, he eyed the empty food bowl that I’d left out for a neighboring stray. When I called him, he hissed and ran. I went inside, refilled the bowl, and placed it on the porch. My mystery guest was nowhere to be seen. But a few minutes after I retreated into the kitchen, he crept towards the bowl. Young and slim, he had a clipped left ear, which told me he was a feral or stray male who’d been trapped, neutered, and released. By the looks of it, this kitty was well under a year old. Weeks passed before I could get close enough even to take a photo of him. If I weren’t indoors or a reasonable distance away, he would hiss and run. He behaved the same way around my husband, who also fed him.
Eventually, though, I caught him on camera and posted his photo on NextDoor to see if anyone in the neighborhood knew anything about him. No one did. Chats with neighbors revealed no leads, either. A few had seen him, but no one knew his story. I decided to see if I could get him to trust me. A couple of months after our first meeting, I placed the food bowl on one end of the porch and stood at the other. He approached warily, tucking his tail beneath his legs and hissing. Eventually, though, he nibbled on the food, never taking his eyes off me. As the days passed, he became less suspicious. The hissing mostly stopped, and I was able to sit several feet from the bowl while he ate. After another two or three months, I extended my fingertip in his direction. He swatted at it, then hissed. This continued for a while until, one day, he decided to sniff my finger. Contact! After that, it was just a matter of time. Gabriel (as I began to call him) gradually progressed to brushing up against my legs.
A year or so later, he began to accept brief cheek and head scratches. More than three years have passed since our first encounter, and now I can pull him into my lap and hug him. Most mornings, he waits for me to come out and place his food on the porch. But he ignores it until he’s had his daily dose of affection. He still cries and swats if spooked, and I have to monitor his body language to avoid a nip or scratch. He won’t come indoors, and he hasn’t yet let my husband pet him. But he’s come a long way. If a fearful stray cat comes into your life one day, you might be surprised what patience, love, and care can do. It’s worth a try. I’m certainly glad that I made an effort, and I think Gabriel is, too.
Edited by Rena Henderson