When Taming Strays, Patience Is Paramount

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It has been said that time spent with cats is never wasted. But to socialize a cat, the key ingredient to success is time. 

Why socialize a cat? There’s an overpopulation of homeless felines on Long Island, and often good Samaritans take on the challenge of transforming an outdoor cat into a forever pet. While not an impossible task, it takes work and patience — for both cats and people.

“Sadly, feral is an overused term,” says Laurie Iglesias, a longtime shelter volunteer and animal advocate. “Only some homeless cats are feral. Ferals will do everything and anything to avoid humans and human contact. I’ve seen some of the most feral cats become loving additions to many families.” 

Since animals are food driven, meals can be used to socialize them. The goal is to have the cat feel comfortable eating in your presence. 

Leave food in the same place for 20 minutes and stay close. If they don’t show up, pull the plate and try again later. The cat will eventually learn that if it wants to eat, you need to be there. After several meals together, the cat will gain a sense of safety around you. 

The next goal may be physical contact. Iglesias recommends beginning by slowly approaching the cat with a soft hand, allow them to sniff you. 

“If the kitten seems fearful … try putting a dab of baby food (turkey flavor works wonders) on your finger,” she says. “As the cat approaches, slowly attempt to pet it under its chin if you can. Repeating this activity lets the cat associate your presence with good things: a delicious treat and affection.”

Gail Hoffman of Lynbrook brought her cat, Patches, inside five years ago.

“Patience is key,” she says. “Let them hide to feel safe. Give them little pieces of food from your hand and speak softly to them, and if you can get one cat to purr for you, the rest may follow.”  

Resources available to those interested in taking cats off the streets include support groups, local veterinarians, shelters, or rescues that can provide additional information So save a life — you’ll be glad you did!