This post is not about dogs. Anyone interested in only dogs should skip it and go on.
As previously stated, I am actually a cat person. On Saturday night I got a call from my friend Ben. Four kittens were in an empty lot two blocks away– what should we do with them?
As Ben explained, it immediately became clear that these were feral kittens who had been discovered by curious children. Now the kittens were scampering about, attempting to follow the children home, and generally about to go play in traffic. The mother, of course, was nowhere to be seen.
Though their eyes were open, Ben said the kittens stumbled when they walked, and they sounded too young to be without their mother unless someone had the time and patience to bottle feed them formula. As Ben is the father of ten (yes, ten), his time is limited. I told him to put the kittens in a box that was too high for them to climb out of and leave, so the mother would come back to nurse them. In the end, though, afraid of raccoons, weather, and other dangers, Ben took them home for the night, and brought them back the next morning. My Oldest and I checked on them around 11:30 Sunday morning, and the mother cat was in the box with the kittens. However, we had no way of taking them home in an open box that mommy cat would simply leap out of, so we were forced to leave them in the field.
I e-mailed my rescue contact Marisa to find out what to do next. Marisa said to bait a trap with a can of tuna, catch mom, and bring the whole family into someone’s home or garage. There were only two flaws in that plan. None of us own a suitable trap or cage for Part A, and two, no one could take responsibility for a clowder of feral cats. As stated, Ben, who was taking most of the responsibility here, has ten kids. I have a highly allergic spouse. Another friend runs a daycare in her home and the government would shut her down if she had unvaccinated feral cats running amok. And so on.
Meanwhile another kindhearted neighbour, Joe, unaware of all this, found the box of kittens and did what any normal person would do; he ran it to the SPCA. We hadn’t done this because I already knew, from my experience with kitties Scraps and Matilda, that the SPCA does not take kittens readily. Marisa did not suggest it because our SPCA is not a no-kill shelter. And sure enough, the person at the SPCA told Joe that due to their age and the number of cat viruses floating around, these kittens would be euthanized if they were left at the SPCA. But, if Joe would take them home and look after them for two weeks to determine if they were healthy, he could bring them back and they would be put up for adoption then. The SPCA even provided a proper carrying cage and a litter box.
Joe was not keen on euthanasia, so he took them home, even though there was no way he could keep boxful of kittens. Then he found out (I don’t know how, but it’s a small community) that Ben was involved in this kitten mess. Ben and two of his sons got the cage from Joe, baited it with tuna, and waited, until 10:30 at night, but mama cat never came. They left the kittens in the lot, took the cage, and went home. My Oldest wanted to go keep watch, but at 10:30 at night, this was not a viable option.
At 6:00 Monday morning, Ben saw that Mama Cat back with her kittens. We were all very happy that our plan was working; now we just had to find time to go back with the cage, get Mama in there, and figure out the fostering question. Ben works, I had some morning appointments, but at noon I picked up the cage from Ben’s house and headed to the lot.
The box was gone.
At the back of my head, I knew that there was always a chance that someone else would step in; after all, that’s what had happened with Joe. There was no way to know who had taken them. Were they in someone’s house? Or, like Joe, had someone taken them to the SPCA and they were now on death row? And what was I going to tell my daughter, who was dead set on keeping the kittens in our garage?
Fortunately, I’m not far from the SPCA. I headed over, and sure enough, they were there. They had been brought in (coincidentally, by someone who lives on my street, though I don’t know who) only an hour earlier. I explained to the woman at the desk the whole sad saga, and told her we would all accept responsibility for their care. She went off to find out what had become of them.
She came back and told me, “One of the staff is going to foster them. Do you want to see them first to make sure it’s the same litter?” I did, so I hung around another five minutes until Marcy, the fostering staff member, returned.
Initially, Marcy’s reaction to me was hostile. “You left these kittens in a box in the rain?” she asked, her tone accusatory. I honestly don’t know what she thought– that I had dumped kittens in a vacant lot for fun, and wanted the SPCA to return them to me for some sort of wicked experiment?
“That’s not exactly the story,” I told her. “We were using the kittens to lure the mother so we could keep the family together.” I told her how many people were involved, how all we wanted was the kittens to be safe, and, if possible, save the mother too. She softened up and took me to see them. They were, indeed, our little fluff balls– orange, grey, and two tabbies. I had misjudged their age– they were eating solid food and drinking water, so they would be okay without their mother. I gave Marcy my Oldest’s e-mail address, and asked her to let us know how the kittens are. She said would; I hope she does.
I asked Marcy what we could do about Mama Cat now. “Not much,” she said, a little grim. Knowing that no one was going to spend time trying to trap a feral cat who none of us could care for, and would most likely be euthanized immediately, I gave the SPCA their cage back.
It’s not the happiest of happy endings. Two blocks away there is a cat looking desperately for kittens who have vanished. While the kittens are safe for now, there is no guarantee they will find homes. Marcy explained that she will keep them and assess their health for the next two weeks. Then they’ll be vaccinated, and two weeks after that put up for adoption. But, as I said, this is not a no-kill shelter. They only have a certain amount of time to find a home.
While Marcy is far more qualified than I am to foster these babies (not to mention in possession of a much healthier environment than my dirty garage), I’m still sorry I didn’t come to that lot on Sunday equipped to deal with mommy and litter. I’m not sure what I could have done with four kittens and a feral mom, but at least euthanasia would have been off the table. While it is reasonable to think that four small cute kittens will be adopted, there’s still the chance they could languish at the SPCA until their time runs out. Then the efforts of half-a-dozen people to save four kittens would be for naught, and that would be the saddest ending of all.