There are several neighborhood cats that pass through our tiny backyard on their way to important cat events. The big gray and white tom that our neighbor says is their Inky’s boyfriend. The white cat with the tan tail. The black cat with the red collar that caught a goldfinch as I watched with surprise and temporary immobility. Then came a little calico who would peek around the corner and trot off when I talked to her. We saw her a few times in the early summer, then one time she passed by on the hill with small kittens, we couldn’t see how many. We decided to lure her with food, then catch her to get her spayed.
The luring was easy and fun. We put out yummy canned cat food and she came and ate it. Eventually she would let me touch her while she was eating, but it seemed clear she was at least semi-feral. She hung around, sleeping on or under our deck. What happened to her kittens? We want to believe that someone else took them in and is caring for them, or maybe took them to the Humane Society. The plan was to take Olive, as we named her, to be neutered soon.
Early one Saturday morning, there is Olive as expected, lounging on the deck — and four kittens! Seems that after trying us out for ten days, she had decided to move her family to our deck. Sweet! Where had she been keeping them? We still don’t know.
Now we feed all the felines, and try to get the kittens to like us. We let them into the house. We trail string around for them to chase. Olive herself comes in to eat. When she snoozes or plays while inside, it is sweet satisfaction. The kittens do not let us touch them, having been taught well by Mama. Four kittens, each as cute as only kittens can be.
Now what? Okay, we will catch Olive and have her spayed, as planned. She is feral so we will release her back outside when it’s over. And we will bring the kittens in and socialize them until they can be adopted out. We know a lot of people, a lot of cat lovers, so it shouldn’t be too hard to find them homes, once they get used to being around people — you know, once they become pets.
We give them temporary names, just so we know which one we’re talking about with each other. With the understanding that these are more-or-less disposable names, we decided on Fluffy (for the fluffy black one), Spot (for the calico one with a spot on the face), Lily and Vivian, both orange. (Those last two names come from the same source as “Olive” – a TV show called “Pushing Daisies.” Unusual, stylized, and entertaining, we recommend it.)
The family spends a few weeks on our deck. A plastic bin appears, put on its side with towels across the bottom as a soft bed. When the forecast is rain, a tarp comes out and covers the bin. Regular feedings are supplemented by chipmunks from Olive. One time there is a black squirrel but the kittens show no interest in that meal. Kittens cavort on the hillside and snuggle with mom and nurse occasionally. Everyone is happy.
The time has come. Fall is here and we need to move forward on the plan. We need to borrow a humane trap to get Olive. She’s not exactly going to walk into a cat carrier and we’re not going to be able to catch her. Does anyone have a trap we can borrow? Mary does, except that she used it to catch a skunk recently and it stinks of skunk. Diane might have one in the barn, she will look next time she goes out to feed the fox. Nope, they must have given it away. Luckily, Vanessa has one. She uses it to catch raccoons. When I see the dents in the thick wire mesh, I realize that raccoons do not like to be trapped and that they are very strong.
Now to catch Olive. First step, get the kittens inside and Olive outside. Done. Practice setting up the trap. Done. Get the kitten out of the trap. Sigh. There wasn’t even any food in the trap.
Let’s pass quickly over the next few days of trapping attempts. Turns out that Olive is not so hungry that she neglects to step delicately over the trip plate. However, lining the bottom with newspaper does the trick and she’s in. Rick pops her into the trunk and heads over to One of a Kind Pet Rescue, in Akron. They handle feral cats all the time and know that instructions like, “Don’t let her eat after midnight” and “Drop her off at 8am” don’t apply to the feral situation. So you take the cat anytime during the day (whenever you can catch her), they keep her overnight and do the surgery the next morning. All at low cost. It’s an absolutely wonderful organization and if you want to know more about them (or support them), their web site is http://www.oneofakindpets.org/
We keep feeding and playing with the kittens. They like the Cat Dancer very much and I can get them to run around my legs chasing it. Fluffy is so stinking cute I HAVE to pick him up. Rick drags the Cat Dancer under my hand and I make a quick grab for that fluffy little body. Gone! I’m empty handed. Sigh.
Eventually the two orange kittens will get on my legs to play. I pet one, he stays! Very slowly they are getting used to us.
Olive comes home and has to spend time in the crate in the basement while her stitches heal. She’s very calm and we keep her in the recovery room for 3 days. The big day arrives and we haul the crate out to the driveway. The door slides open and in a flash she is out, racing across the grass and behind the next building. Okay, that’s that.
Forty-five minutes later, she’s at the back door, calling her children. They crowd around, meowing to her through the glass door. This is very sad. We do the only possible thing — tape newspaper to the glass so they can’t see each other. Oh yeah, much better. The next day, Olive shows up with a chipmunk for her kids. Damn. We are steadfast but it’s difficult. Luckily we’re out of town for the weekend and by the time we get back, Olive has given up. We have not seen her since.
Now we have four little bundles of joy to take care of. They must be converted from cute, playful, and fearful to cute, playful, and adorable. So people will want to adopt them. The first visit to the vet involves professional cat catchers (usually cat sitters but willing to do what’s needed). Four kittens, two pros, one bystander, two cat carriers. Hilarity ensues, including kittens popping in and out of carriers, and ending with a winner-takes-all duel between Denise and Lily in the guest bathroom. Kittens go to the vet, with only a few minor human injuries. All kitties in good health. Many thanks to Kit-n-Sit.
As the days pass, the kittens become comfortable in their new but temporary home. We feed them with Pet Luv, so we’re on their good side already. We play and watch TV together. We buy expensive cat things, like a six foot cat condo. We get out Ayla’s old toys and accoutrements (Ayla was our beloved kitty who passed away in 2009 at the age of 19). Time for some real names, which will be based on constellations or stars. Fluffy becomes Leo (the Lion), Spot becomes Cassiopeia, Lily is Remus, and Vivian is Romulus. (The vet informed us that we had three males and one female. Did you know that virtually all calico cats are female?)
We’re one big happy family now, as we learn their personalities and they learn to like us. In fact, Remus (“Remy”) figures out early on that being an indoor cat, and a pet, is the good life. We have the occasional triumph when three or four kittens lounge on the couch with us, on or near us, purring. Life is good.
Of course, we know that the kitties will be leaving so we don’t get too attached. Do you believe that? Okay, if we were going to keep two, which would it be? We seem to agree. The timing is not good, we’re leaving town for three months soon. But, these kitties came to us, so what can we do? It’s meant to be. Right?
We do nothing about finding prospective adopters. Someone mentions she’s interested in one of the kittens and later we discuss why she is unsuitable as a cat parent. Friends offer to ask around to find good homes, and we demur. It’s too soon, they are not adoptable yet.
The kittens are incredibly bonded with each other. They touch noses, groom each other, chase each other up and down stairs. They jump on each other and mock-fight. When one calls, the others come running. When one purrs, the others show up and start purring too.
After Rick spends four days alone with the kittens, and I spend four days without kittens, we independently come to the same conclusion. We cannot give them up. Not one. With some trepidation about “crazy cat person” status, we acknowledge the truth: they are family now.
Our littlest angel, Cassie is the only girl. She is mostly black, with assorted orange and tan markings. She is brave, the first to come out when we have guests, the last to leave when the vacuum cleaner is on. She loves the Cat Dancer and the shaky mice toys. She gives as good as she gets from her brothers, attacking and wrestling and racing around. She also enjoys chasing the pointer around on the computer screen. She is a great lap kitten.
Leo is super fluffy and soft and so black he seems to absorb all the light around him. He is very loving and is the first to give kisses, which Rick collects on a daily basis. He is the shyest and spends long hours under our bed when anything unusual happens. He’s been known to miss a meal because of this. He lacks a complete awareness of his surroundings so that on occasion, he rolls off the edge of the couch or chair, but he doesn’t care.
Our adventurous and attentive child. He’s slender and orange with swirls on his sides and rings on his tail. He loves to be petted and to give kisses. He is the first to greet us in the morning and when we come home. He’s physically brave, flinging himself into the air, diving head first after disappearing toys. His fits of mania alternate with calm affection. His favorite napping place is the pink and white fluffy cat bed.
While the kittens were still living outside with Olive, Remy disappeared for a while. We searched for him and entreated Olive to go find him, but he did not show up until two days had passed. When he did come, he ate voraciously, trembling all the while. Was that why he decided early on that living with us inside was a good thing?
The most reserved kitten, still sizing us up to see if we are worthy. Romy is a bit larger than the others, and orange with swirls on his sides and rings on his tail. If that sounds familiar, it’s because Romy and Remy are nearly identical; we still have trouble telling them apart. Romy is just starting to let us pet him and to accept kisses, which makes us happy. He loves to wrestle the doormat. Romy and Leo make a good wrestling pair.