Help building back trust with stray
I have been feeding a stray cat who has made my yard his home for about 10 years now. He is very sweet and comes by for food several times a day and night.
He will only come about 3-5 feet inside the house when the door is wide open and he has a clear escape. I have hoped he would come inside for good but since he won't, I have set up a little cat house for him with a heating pad inside.
We have always had a good cat/human relationship. When I feed him during the day we have a whole ritual. When he sees me he stretches and rolls over on his back and yawns. We slow blink each other and I talk to him and he answers back.
A problem arose a few nights ago. I opened the door and he came out of his house and sat on the porch watching me as he has done many times before.
I checked to see if his heating pad was on and noticed it wasn't so I leaned over to turn it on. I have done this many, many times before and he always just sat a little distance away, a little cautious, but OK with it. This time when I leaned over he ran off the porch and onto the driveway.
I tried to coax him back saying "it's OK" and putting his food out. But he wouldn't come back. When I kept trying to let him know it was OK, he ran off.
Since that night, when I try to feed him he runs away. I know he is hungry and wants to eat. I don't leave food sitting out because I don't want to attract raccoons or rats so I usually stand there until he finishes eating and goes back into his house. Then I take his dishes into the house.
He is a cautious cat, but over the years he has come so far and even lets me pet him while he is eating.
I just want to know how I can build back his trust? It kills me because I think he was mistreated at some point in his life because he is so skittish and cautious. I want him to know love and know my yard is his safe place.
Any advice would help.