Socialization in the study of animal and human behavior is the
process by which
human beings or animals learn to adopt the behavior patterns of the
community in which they live. For both humans and animals, this is
typically thought to occur during the early stages of life, during which
individuals develop the skills and knowledge necessary to function
within their culture and environment. However, this also includes adult individuals moving
into an environment significantly different from one(s) in which they
have previously lived and must thus learn a new set of behaviors.
For example, the cat
returns readily to a feral state if it has not been socialized properly in its
young life. A feral cat usually fears humans. People often unknowingly own one
and think it is merely "unfriendly."
These cats, if left to proliferate, often become "pests" in populated
neighborhoods by decimating the bird population and digging up people's yards.
Feral cats are sometimes helpful when used in agriculture to keep rodent and
snake populations down. Such cats are often referred to as "barn" cats.
Socializing cats older than six months can be very difficult. It is often
said that they cannot be socialized. This is not true, but the process takes two
to four years of diligent food bribes and handling, and mostly on the cat's
terms. Eventually the cat may be persuaded to be comfortable with humans and the
learn to be feral either from their mothers or through bad experiences. They are
more easily socialized when under six months of age. Socializing is done by
keeping them confined in a small room (ie. bathroom) and handling them for 3 or
more hours each day. There are three primary methods for socialization, used
individually or in combination. The first method is to simply hold and pet the
cat, so it learns that such activities are not uncomfortable. The second is to
use food bribes. The final method is to distract the cat with toys while
handling them. The cat may then be gradually introduced to larger spaces. It is
not recommended to let the cat back outside because that may cause it to revert
to its feral state. The process of socialization often takes three weeks to
three months for a kitten.
Animal shelters either foster feral kittens to be socialized or kill them
outright. The feral adults are usually killed or
due to the large time commitment, but some shelters and vets will
spay or neuter and vaccinate a feral cat and then return it to the wild.