WEST PARIS — “If you’re off working all day, feral cats won’t make you feel guilty.”

That is the sales pitch of Diane of West Paris, as she urges other animal lovers to consider adopting a feral cat from the Responsible Pet Care shelter in South Paris.

Diane currently cares for 12 feral cats at or outside her home. Her last name has been withheld because she does not wish to have unwanted cats left at her property.

Many feral cats have been born in the wild and have not been socialized with humans, but they may be social with each other. Some must be trapped in order to get them to a shelter, although those who have had contact with humans as kittens may become more social toward people.

An old white cat named Concho drew Diane into feral adoption three years ago.

She read that Responsible Pet Care was having an Adoption Day for cats that had been with them for a long time — in Concho’s case, seven years.

Not many people want to adopt a cat that is fearful of people. Living in a cage only makes the felines’ anxiety worse, Diane said, despite the good care the cats receive.

“Their pupils are dilated and they’re scared all the time,” she said. “Who wants to live in a cage when you are wild?”

She decided to do something about it, at least for this one cat. But as soon as she committed to taking Concho she thought, “She can’t be by herself.”

So Diane also went home with Jamie, who had been at the shelter eight years.

Home for the felines became an outbuilding with an attached outdoor, closed-in pen. In the winter months, the cats live indoors in a heated room off Diane’s garage.

They have become acclimated to her and now allow her to pick them up.

She has added more cats — six who live with Concho and Jamie, along with her three domesticated cats, and four who are so wild that they come and go year-round from a separate small building where food, water and bedding are provided.

When the wild ones first arrived, she said, “They came mostly at dusk, when they are the most active.” 

As they have gotten used to their surroundings and Diane’s presence nearby, they have sometimes allowed themselves to be seen during the day, she said.

Diane refers to her two groups of cats as the “touchables” and the “untouchables.”

As for the number of cats she has taken in, she said, “It snowballed. I used to be normal at one time.” 

Where’s the satisfaction in adopting such cats, some of whom she rarely sees?

“It’s knowing that they’re free, that they’re not in the shelter,” she said.

Diane encourages others to consider adopting feral cats, as long as the people accept the cats on their own terms.

“They’re not Velcro cats,” she said. “They won’t sit in your lap.” 

For anyone concerned about providing special housing, she said, her seasonal arrangement of an outdoor shed and kennel for the more approachable cats is not necessary.

“They can be indoor cats,” she said.

The wildest ones can have their minimal needs provided for in a barn or other outbuilding.

There is no adoption fee for feral cats, but they must be adopted in pairs to provide each other warmth in the winter, as well as feline socialization.

The RPC is currently raising funds to build an outdoor enclosure for their feral cats.

For more information on the RPC feral program, go to http://members.petfinder.com/~ME44/ferals.html or call 743-8679. To contribute to the program or the enclosure fund send donations to Responsible Pet Care, P.O. Box 82, Norway, ME 04268. (Note: Diane also wants people to know that there are plenty of spaying and neutering programs available to help with those costs and she encourages people to look into them, rather than giving cats up or dropping them off to fend for themselves in the wild.)

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