I didn’t intend to adopt a cat. But one day early last year, as I was putting my potato peels into the bin, I saw the sweetest angel run across my yard. She stopped to stare back at me. I immediately knew what I had to do. It took me nearly an entire year to train my cat from a skittish, skeletal, scaredy cat, to the sassy BFF who lets me lift her into the air Simba-style on the daily. It has been so, so, worth it. With a lil bit of salami and a whole lot of patience, you can get a cat for free- even if it breaks your tenancy agreement and has to be top secret as a result!!
Prerequisite 1- Live in an area that has a population of stray cats- usually a highly populated area near nature that has a fast turnover of tenants (abandoned cats, dumped kittens, etc.).
Prerequisite 2- This guide only works for stray cats as you cannot socialise feral cats, although you can feed them to be nice!
Step one- Locate cat- although often, the cat will choose you!
Step two- Leave food outside for the cat and go back inside. Repeat this daily at the exact same time, so the cat knows when to come back.
Step three- After a couple of weeks, leave the food and sit beside the cat at a distance, if the cat shows discomfort, go back to step 2 and try again in a week or so.
Step four- While doing step 3, hold out a hand and see if the cat approaches you. If yes- touch their nose and scratch their cheeks gently- do not overstep boundaries. If no- go back to step 3 and try again soon.
Step five- Once you’re at a place where the cat lets you pat them- do this properly! If you have the means, take the cat to the vet or the SPCA and see if they’re chipped- they could be lost- not abandoned! If not- watch the cat’s behaviour, do they return to a house? Does it seem like they’ve recently had social interaction? The SPCA also has these cute paper collars that you can print out, and you put your phone number, and if the owner sees it, they can contact you.
Step six- Place food inside the kitchen or door closest to where the cat usually eats- allow them to come in and sniff everything!! Encourage them with treats and chin scratches. This is often becomes the longest step; I fed my furry bestie in the kitchen for 2 months before anything progressed. It’s usually at this point that you name the cat and start bragging that you have a cat now.
Step seven- Make appearances around your house at random times- so the cat knows that you’re there for more than just feeding times, and they can come in whenever!
Step eight- Slowly introduce your cat to more places in your house- always keeping a door open so the cat can leave if they want. This is usually an agonising inch by inch ordeal.
Step nine- Show your cat your bedroom! Teach them how to get inside through your window!
Step ten- Depending on where you’re at- your cat may be at a stage where they appreciate pats and physical affection from you- if so- pick up your cat (gently!! And only if there’s no resistance!!) and teach them how to get in and out of your bedroom window.
Step eleven- Teach them how to jump onto your bed and let them stay the night- always mindful to leave the door open in case they must dash. You’ll find that cats crave routine and will often show up at your window at the same time every night and leave at the same time in the morning. It is at this stage that you should already be de-fleaing and deworming your cat.
Step twelve- Start leaving little things for them in your room; a scratching post, a water bowl, and a small plate of non-stinky biscuits- so they know they can return in the day to hang out! Also, litter boxes are instinctual for cats- if you put a litter box there, they will just use it instinctively, no need to train. Do not attempt to make them into a fulltime indoor cat, strays are naturally outdoor cats, and keeping them inside is cruel and keeps them away from their cat besties.
Step thirteen- Buy your new little friend a collar to claim ownership, and if you have the means, go to the vet and get them chipped, registered and vaccinated. It also gives you a chance to ask the vet questions regarding age, sex, breed, and general health. It’s way harder to tell than you’d think.
Step fourteen- Let your cat meet your friends to widen their social circle. Tough love often works here by keeping them in a room with your friends and allowing them to slowly get comfortable. This is vital for when you need to move flats with your cat, to get them used to new people early on.
Step fifteen- Buy a pet hair glove and find a place to stash your cat memorabilia (cars are great) for when your landlord comes.
Step sixteen- Sit back and watch as your cat begins to trust you more and more every day. Every time I think it’s reached the peak of befriending my cat- she always surprises me- she’s only gotten playful recently, and even though my legs are attacked when I roll over in bed, it’s adorable.
Tip one: If you don’t have any stray cats in your area- go to the SPCA and adopt one- it’s the same premise. It is, however, way harder to introduce a cat to a no pets flat that it is to slowly acquire one.
Tip two: Do not adopt a cat if you don’t fully intend to look after them for the rest of their life! I recently found out that my small stinky daughter was one year old when I met her- which means we’ll still be hanging when I’m in my mid-thirties- bring it on! But looking for a cat is more than just the commitment- it’s also doing the mahi and being prepared to take on extra responsibilities or costs when necessary. If you want to have a cats-with-benefits relationship, stop at step four!
Tip three: Be super patient. It was often frustrating when I’d spent months trying to befriend my cat, and she’d cold-shoulder me. Never yell at your cat, and never withhold food or affection as a punishment. Give it time!