article image

It Started With Two Cats

Kitty Corner

A few years ago, we at Humane Society Silicon Valley began our Garden Cat Adoption program. We decided we needed a special place and program for less social cats or those with a history of living outdoors. We created the Marilyn and Fred Anderson Community Cat Garden just outside of my office as a place for community cats to live while waiting for a special kind of adoption situation. The garden is fenced and has lots of hiding spots for the cats. It can hold up to a dozen adoptable garden cats at a time.

These cats are mostly unfriendly, unsocial, and unwilling to live indoors. We find homes for our garden cats in barns, warehouses, and other outdoor situations. The cats are cared for by their adopters; although they don’t come indoors or receive human affection, they are given food, water, and shelter. 

Our staff helps garden cat adopters create a plan to allow the cats to safely transition into their new environment. However, almost immediately upon creation of the community cat garden, something unexpected happened. Two garden cats snuck their way into my office and began spending time with me there. They became known as “Carol’s Ferals” and the name stuck. All garden cat inhabitants are now fondly referred to by that nickname, especially those with more of an affinity toward humans than the average garden cat.

Not long after “Carol’s Ferals” made a temporary home in my office, some of our administrative staff began to take a special interest in the garden cats. They started spending their breaks in the garden, throwing out tasty treats. Eventually, a few of the cats became more friendly and started to approach them. Some even let our staff touch them.

One such cat was Tito, a beautiful white cat who came to us after living his entire life outdoors. We placed him in our garden, where he quickly showed another side. Tito started waiting at the door of the garden for treats and gradually became more comfortable receiving pets. He started spending some of his time in the offices of staff members receiving attention, treats, and brushing before becoming bored and wandering back out to the garden. After a few weeks with us, Tito was adopted as a garden cat. But within just a few months, Tito’s new family reached out to let us know that Tito had decided on a new place to live — inside their home.

Still, not all our community cats turn over a new leaf. Some are perfectly content living outdoors, mostly ignoring humans, and doing their “jobs.” Greta, Griffin, and Chance were three such cats. This trio had lived outdoors their whole lives. When they arrived here at HSSV, they were tense, terrified, and hiding and were only able to relax once we let them into the garden. Unlike Tito, these cats were completely uninterested in human affection, even with treats involved. So when a woman from an equestrian center reached out in hopes of adopting outdoor cats to help with a rodent problem, we knew we had the perfect cats for her. Greta, Griffin, and Chance are now living happily outdoors doing their job. They’re given food, water, and shelter, and their adopter is committed to ensuring they stay healthy.

We’re grateful for the ability to find the best homes possible for our animals, no matter what kind of needs they have. Thanks to our Garden Cat adoption program, we’re able to place unsocial cats in the best situations possible where they receive the care and attention they need at a level that keeps them comfortable. If you’re interested in your own garden cat (imposter or not!) ask about our Garden Cat Program.

Carol Novello is the president of Humane Society Silicon Valley,, and the author of Mutual Rescue: How Adopting a Homeless Animal Can Save You, Too (Grand Central Publishing, April 2019, 272 pp., $28). Under her leadership, HSSV became the first organization to meet all model shelter guidelines set forth by the Association of Shelter Veterinarians.



The Human Society of Silicon Valley Garden Cat Adoption Program finds homes — usually outdoors — for less-social cats. Some have jobs like rat patrol at equestrian barns. Others wind up getting ove their shyness and become house cats. Most adapt well to their new settings. 

Are you a San Francisco Bay area cat behaviorist, cat consultant, or cat expert who would like to contribute to this column, Kitty Corner? Send email to

Main article photo by: Courtesy HSSV