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Thursday, October 30, 2008

A Tale of Three Kitties

I was just starting dinner when I heard one of the cats growling outside. Thinking that it was Hitler (our mustached male) attacking one of his siblings again, I threw open the screen door and went stomping out to scare him off. The growling was coming from the grove of wildflowers beside the pool. I peeked over the side and discovered that it wasn’t a cat fighting or mating. It was a cat giving birth.
The mama, one of our kittens from the summer of ’07 (who had already given birth this spring) was making guttural noises to comfort her kittens as they were being born. She looked up at me in between licks as she washed her two babies clean.
Just then I heard a squeaking from the other side of the porch. In behind our freezer, I found another kitten. The mother must have started over there before she went off looking for a more comfortable birthing room. To make matters worse, the other two were now crying. The mother was nowhere to be found.
I allowed Paulina to don gardening gloves and move the lone kitten over to its siblings, where it could share body heat until the mother came back. If she came back.
The life of a barn cat is a mysterious one, to be sure. It is often born in hiding, making its existence known only when it is old enough to come to the back porch for the food that I put out to supplement its diet of field mice and barn pests. Many of the cats that frequent the porch eventually wander off to some unknown fate, or if they are male, they might go to another farm to stake out a new territory. We never see cats that have died. Normally, they are very discreet about their cycle of life.
The Farmer stepped up on the porch on his way back from the barn. He wanted to know what was going on, so I showed him the kittens.
“Now, we just have to let nature take its course,” he said. “The mother is probably just out looking for a new place to live. She’ll be back.”
But he looked doubtful.
Just before bed, I tiptoed out to check on the kittens again. It was dropping to 9 degrees and I was pretty sure they wouldn’t make it if their mother didn’t return. I didn’t want to take the kittens in the house, however, in case the mother did come back. When I peeked in on the sleeping kittens, I was surprised to see that someone had wrapped them in a soft pink rag. Especially since the girls were already gone to bed…
The next morning, the kittens were alive but squeaking with hunger. We warmed up some cream and fed it to them one by one with an eye-dropper. I was amazed at the strength of their will. They clutched at the dropper and opened their mouths, each one of them the size of a field mouse. I kept telling myself (and the girls, for Annie and Polly had joined me) that we could only do so much. If the mother, who had returned, didn’t claim them, they would likely still die.
The day was an especially warm one, and it gave the kittens new energy. When we returned to the farm at the end of the day, we found that the kittens had wandered out of the blanket that we had placed on the porch, and one of them had fallen into the dog’s yard on the other side. I wondered if she had been carried or if she had truly just wandered blindly off the edge into oblivion. I hadn’t thought they could walk yet. I guess I was wrong.
We tried offering the kittens to their mother, but she wasn’t interested except to lick the milk off their whiskers. We tucked them in to the blanket again, and hoped they would make it through another night.
On the third day, Paulina and I were feeding the kittens cream again when Annie informed us that “most cats are lactose intolerant”. She grabbed the mother by the scruff of the neck, and held her down while she placed one kitten at a time on her belly to nurse. The mother looked like she truly couldn’t believe what was happening to her. Annie cursed the mother for kicking, and continued with her monitoring of the forced feeding until each kitten had a belly full of mother’s milk. I told Annie that I didn’t think swearing at the mama cat was going to make her come to her senses.
About an hour later, the mother crept over to where the kittens were nestling on the porch and picked them up one by one to carry them off to a new hiding place.
This Tale of Three Kitties is not over yet, apparently.

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