Sad “Big Red” a special ginger tabby feral cat who decided to be domesticated

Big Red is a special ginger tabby feral cat, found in St George, Utah, USA, and rescued; and once rescued he decided to be domesticated and feel the warmth, both physical and emotional, of having a human caregiver look after him. I guess he had had enough of being a feral cat, struggling to survive. He has a very sad face in the photograph. It is as if he has suffered and no doubt he has.

Big Red
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Big Red. Photo courtesy of The Humane Society of Utah, St. George News.

I think his main suffering has come from an eye condition called entropion which describes a defect when the eyelids turn inwards. This means that they rub against the eyeball. You can imagine that that is very uncomfortable. He had suffered from it for a long time. I’m going to say that his miserable appearance can be put down to this condition. And of course, the great difficulty of surviving as a feral cat.

Big Red is so named because he is the largest feral cat to come to the Humane Society of Utah. And he was also the oldest at four years old. They say that normally feral cats are much skinnier and are unlikely to live to 5. Normally feral cats treated at the clinic are aged between 1-3. Note: TNR volunteers say that cats in a colony cared for by volunteers can live good lives well beyond these limits.

He was brought in to the Humane Society in the spring of 2021 by the woman who runs a local rescue called One More Chance, Kris Neal. Her charity runs TNR programs and she brings them into the Humane Society for fixing and vaccination and thereafter ear tipping.

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Neal brought him in because he looked unwell. At that time, she thought that he might need to be euthanised. She said that he was badly beaten up and his eyes were “horribly crusty and goopy”.

Their veterinarian diagnosed Big Red with entropion and operated on him to fix that debilitating defect. The inward part of the eyelid is removed so the eyelid can rest flat against the eyeball.

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Staff at the surgery got to know Big Red and fell in love with him. He hung around the office. He wasn’t friendly and looked very grumpy but there was something special about him said Kelsie Watters, the manager at the St George clinic.

After the surgery, Neal took him home to care for him during his recovery. She had planned to release him as soon as he had recovered but Big Red planned to stick around. He stayed inside a workshop at her home. This told her that he wanted to stay. She wasn’t sure whether she could bond with him and used protective gloves to get him used to the human touch. Eventually he let her cuddle him.

This surprised Neal. She said: “We never thought in a million years this cat could ever be an indoor cat or would want to be held by anyone. He was very feral, so we thought he’d be much happier living outdoors.”

Big Red became a domestic cat

Big Red became a domestic cat. Photo: courtesy of The Humane Society of Utah, St. George News.

She is keen to mention that the story of Big Red is unusual. She does not want to encourage people to take in feral cats and treat them as domestic cats. It doesn’t really work and it can be very difficult for a feral cat to be treated like this. It’s difficult for both cat and person.

I have to say, though, that adult feral cats can be socialised with great commitment and patience. And therefore, they can become domestic cats. Very few people have the time, commitment and patience to achieve this. But also, it should be noted that there is a wide spectrum of type of feral cat. Some are already semi-domesticated. Some are genuinely wild in nature. And of course, each feral cat has their own character. This dictates how well they will adapt to domestic life.

RELATED: Speaking with an Australian lady about feral cats and Australia’s native species

I think it is nice when a feral cat is domesticated because their life improves dramatically. They return to where they should be, in someone’s home being looked after. The feral cat is a sign of failure in the human-to-cat relationship. To domesticate them is to rectify that failure.

Neal says that Big Red still looks as grumpy as ever but that he has a “softer side to him now, and he’s beginning to trust in his human friends, all thanks to our St George staff and community partners”.


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Michael Broad

Hi, I'm a 74-year-old retired solicitor (attorney in the US). Before qualifying I worked in many jobs including professional photography. I love nature, cats and all animals. I am concerned about their welfare. If you want to read more click here.

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