The kitten project
Reading this blog, you might think all we do is renovate our house. Sawing, sanding, painting, visualizing, shelling out money. Yeah … it feels like that. Obviously, if we were that dedicated, we’d have finished the kitchen six months ago. Sometimes we get sucked in by a different kind of rehabilitation project. Something a little softer and furrier.
Along with being parents of a boxer and six cats, we also feed numerous neighborhood stray cats. They live tough lives, but one thing they don’t need to worry about is where to find food and water. I don’t know why there are so many cats in this neighborhood. Do the tenants of nearby houses and apartments “forget” their cats when they move? Do people come here to dump unwanted cats? Or do all the unneutered pets just keep providing the neighborhood with more offspring?
Occasionally we pitch in and neuter a needy cat. (We can’t afford to do them all.) For instance, several years ago a friendly young marmalade cat decided he liked hanging out at our house. He showed up daily, lounged on the counters, slept in my chair … and began marking his new territory.
“Oscar,” we said, “If you’re going to move in, you’ll need a simple outpatient procedure.” One hundred fifty dollars later, Oscar was neutered and vaccinated. A few days later I was chatting with a friend down the block. “Have you seen that little orange cat who runs around here?” I asked. “Yeah,” she replied, “He belongs to my mom’s roommate. Someone neutered him!” She must have read the look on my face. “Was it—you?” (Oscar’s—actually Oliver’s—owner wanted to neuter him anyway, but was too down on his luck to pay us back. He moved away a week later and we never saw Oscar/Oliver again.) Since then, we’ve been careful to interview the cats thoroughly to ensure that they are truly homeless.
We acquired Checkers and Lacy the same way. Adopting a cat is easy around here. Just step out on the porch and make a friend.
A few weeks ago, I was amazed to glance out the window and see three tiny tabby kittens frolicking on our porch. “We have kittens!” I cried. And a very young tuxedo mama cat, already back in heat. Soon thereafter, mama and one kitten ceased coming around. We were determined to trap the remaining two kittens before they disappeared, too.
We baited our live trap and waited. It didn’t take long to hear a loud bang and commotion. Rats! We’d caught the wrong cat! The next day we saw our own Fred (below) dining on the bait with his front paws carefully placed on the far side of the trigger plate. He exited just as carefully. (Fred is one smart cat, and not about to let someone else eat the yummy Fancy Feast.) We decided not to risk traumatizing innocent cats with the snap trap.
Instead, we set up our large wire crate on the porch, with a string attached to the door and run through the window to inside. We set the food and water bowls in the crate.
We let the kittens eat there a few times so they got accustomed to the set-up … then, Eric pulled the string and—bingo—we had us a couple of kittens! And they were NOT PLEASED.
In fact, the poor little things were terrified. But awfully dang cute.
The female (we assumed) had a little black spot on her nose. The male had a tabby streak on his nose. So, because we’re writers, we named them Dorothy Parker and Dashiell Hammett—Dot and Dash.
These kittens hated us. (It’s really hard to use “kittens” and “hate” in the same sentence.) But these kids were WILD, and they wanted nothing to do with humans. We estimated they were about 12 weeks old, which may be too old to be tamed. Their first week with us produced nothing but soft hisses and baleful looks from the back of the cage. Eventually Eric was able to place his hand next to Dash, the braver of the two, and even touch his back a little. But that ended when Eric tried to pick Dash up and all hell broke loose. Dash retreated to the sleeping box and has not come out to greet us again.
Our other cats pay little attention to the youngsters, but Uncle Duke is fascinated. He lays by their cage and is front and center whenever we interact with them. Duke formed a strong bond with Lacy and Checkers just this way.
If they won’t be handled, how did we get these uncooperative guests to the vet? Easy! We swapped out their sleeping box for a cat carrier a few days before their appointment. They loved hiding in it, so they were packed and ready to go at appointment time. Just as we’d suspected, Dash is male and Dot is female. They were a little overwhelmed and not feeling so good after their vet visit and day surgeries.
They bounced back quickly and are now more active than ever. It’s sleep all day and party all night. We manage to sleep through the banging around, and when we get up in the morning, the cage is trashed and they’re exhausted. Hard to think that these little angels would draw blood if I got too close.
In the two and one-half weeks they’ve been with us, we’ve made only small progress in taming them. Both will lick wet food off my extended fingertip (as long as I stay outside the cage), and Dot is easily coaxed into playing with dangly toys. But they still won’t allow us to touch them and they skitter away when we approach the cage door. I’m unsure what their fate will be. We already have six cats, and we can’t take in any more. Our vet tech has shown some interest in adopting one or both, but I’m not holding my breath. They will need a lot of patient work to become domesticated. The Humane Society doesn’t accept feral cats. I suppose we’ll return them to the porch and freedom, but that’ll make us a little sad.
Meanwhile, who should show up out on the porch? Kitten No. 3 is back! We’ve named him/her Ditto, because soon we will do this all over again.