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Gypsy, the Feral Cat

Mindy Norton

Gypsy's tortoiseshell coloring helps her blend in to her surroundings.   She is one of the fortunate ones that was probably a stray and managed to figure out how to get along on her own - with the help of a few friends.  Never abandon your pet in hopes that it can survive in the wild.


For several weeks we noticed a tortoiseshell cat hanging around our house, occasionally perched atop our car and surveying her surroundings. We assumed she belonged to a neighbor. Then we began to see her in our back yard, so we put out some food, which she hungrily ate. That allowed us to get close enough to see that the tip of her left ear was missing, an indication that she might be feral and had been trapped, spayed and released as part of a T-N-R program. We decided to call her “Gypsy”.

There are indications that once upon a time Gypsy may have been someone’s pet, because she seems friendlier than the usual feral cat; but she has been on her own long enough that she is wary and does not trust humans. She may have become stray, and then feral, which is a behavioral characteristic, not a biological condition.

Generally, a feral cat does not have an easy life. On its own it will live an average of about two years. If it has a caretaker that provides a sheltered place to sleep, access to food and fresh water, a feral cat can live ten years or more.

Some cats are more feral – or wild – than others. There are cats that will not let a human get anywhere near them while others might tolerate a human’s presence when food is being set out, and may even become a little more social.

There are two important things to remember in your interaction with a feral cat. Never make an attempt to grab the animal; it will reinforce its fear of humans. And sit or squat down when feeding so you do not appear to be a threat.

We have been feeding Gypsy for about a week or so, and she has come to expect that we will give her food. She meows at us, and walks with her tail up, a sign of trust. She will even let us scratch her head lightly and very briefly, but remains wary of any contact. We are hopeful that eventually she will learn to trust us.

Support Trap-Neuter-Release efforts in your community, which allow community cats to live healthy lives on their own terms, when you’re speaking of pets.


Mindy Norton has been “Speaking of Pets” on Alabama Public Radio since 1995.
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