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"I've caught another cat," announces my friend who sets a live-trap for possums raiding his chook pen.

''Domestic or feral?"

"Looks pretty wild to me."

"Female or male?"

"Male, probably -- it's pretty big."

I sigh. "Bring it over, then."

When they show up, I see a huge, scruffy black-and-white cat crouched against the wire mesh, its green eyes wide with the unfocused terror I'd seen a year before with Phantom, my first feral cat, trapped by the same friend in the same place. After five weeks of hiding in a dark corner of the roomy enclosure I'd built, she'd gradually become a trusting, playful, affectionate companion.

But she'd been five months old at most. This big tom looked five years, probably more. What were the chances I could earn his trust?

But what choice did I have, except to try? Taking him to the tiny local SPCA was a virtual death sentence. Staffed by volunteers at one cat-lover's home, it had neither space, time, or resources to tame a wild adult cat unlikely to be adopted..

We put it in "Phantom's Palace." I brought food twice daily, speaking gently to the shadow in the darkest corner, cleaning the litterbox, and leaving. After five weeks, he started emerging, inch by inch, to take meat from my hand. Then I tentatively scratched his chin as he ate, eliciting a tiny purr. During five more weeks of incremental progress, he accepted stroking, then holding; then he learned to play and vocalise.

When he trusted enough to enter a carrier, I had him neutered. The vet discovered he had no teeth, due to FIV! With much care, he became a strong, shiny, robustly healthy cat, occupying my home office with a catdoor to his own deck enclosure complete with tree. He loves to play, "talks" constantly, and basks in affection from me and all who visit.

Now an endless source of love and delight, Photon ("a small particle of fast-moving light") is a constant reminder never to give up on any animal. Love and patience truly can conquer almost anything!

Lethea Erz
Golden Bay, New Zealand

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