It must be summer. And I must have very strong mothering instincts. Well, I know that I do, since I happen to be a mom. Anyway, they led me to become kitten rescuer extraordinaire today.
(I should preface all this briefly by saying that I have never been a cat person per se. I have not had any personal grudge against the species (though many in my family have); it’s more that I haven’t had a lot of experience with cats.)
Somehow, I had talked my teenage daughter into washing my car (oh, I remember now: I had offered her money). As she was dutifully finishing up, I went to get a towel so I could “help her” dry. As I went to get the towel, I heard insistent mewing from the back yard. My daughter has always had a soft spot for animals, and the feral kittens in the yard are no exception. I told my daughter, and she came running. I dried the car myself.
Let me back up a moment. When I say “feral kittens,” I say it with a proviso, in deference to a tacit, but very real, agreement between this particular family of Felis silvestris and my own Homo sapiens unit. You see, the mother of this mewing kitten (the latter being now approximately seven weeks old) was once herself a mewing feral kitten, prancing naïvely between our neighbor’s front-yard rose bushes with her litter-mates, while Mom was otherwise occupied. It was cold and windy, and night was about to fall. Her mewing had triggered my (then pre-teen) daughter’s maternal reflex, and mine, too. Despite my husband’s caution (“The mom will smell your scent and abandon her kittens!”),
we scooped up the two slowest ones and brought them into our living room, delightedly stroking their tiny little heads and letting them curl up in our laps and cling to our clothing with their tiny fish-bone claws. We had serious concerns that the mom might have abandoned them. We would be the benevolent and compassionate animal welfare monitors, who would responsibly take the kittens to the SPCA to have them spayed and neutered and prevent unchecked population growth (already evidenced by a cat under every parked car on our street). I even went to Safeway and bought some kitten formula and a few cans of kitten food (they hated the formula but ate the food). We kept them in a box on the back porch with a little towel to keep them cozy, while we feverishly looked up how to care for kittens on the Internet.
When my husband came home, protesting our actions with expected vociferousness, we sheepishly put the babies back outside, in the cold, windy night, where they were reabsorbed (we have to believe) into their feline family unit. But the few hours of warmth and love that we had shared with the two kittens—whom my daughter had named Atsuko (because she was calm) and Envy (after a boisterous anime series character)—had left a bond between us.
Fast forward to the present. We had actually been watching this new litter through my bedroom window since we first noticed them seven weeks ago, half-hidden in the shade of our huge red geranium bush. We had seen them nursing and jostling against Atsuko’s soft white, furry belly in the sunny breeze, and then frolicking in wooden planters whose plants had long withered away. Mom was never far away. But today, she had left them in the yard, and the smallest one, white with symmetrical tan and black markings on her ears, was straying out from under the bushes, mewing hungrily and forlornly. I approached her, to see that she had both eyes shut. On closer inspection, I could see that they were glued together by some mucus, no doubt due to an infection. She was bumping into things as she walked, because she couldn’t see!
I called my daughter, who couldn’t resist the opportunity to pick her up. She seemed very happy to be held by each of us in turn, as we stroked the tiny little indentations behind her ears. She stopped shivering and lay calmly, finally relaxing. Very worried about her eyes, I looked up a solution on the Internet. I was alarmed to read that if you let a kitten’s eyes remain shut due to mucus, there is a risk of eye damage as the fluids build up underneath the eyelids. Then my daughter and I took turns dipping cotton balls into warm water and gently wiping the little sweetie’s eyes, while the other held her tiny head up, until all of the dried mucus was gone. It took a good 15 minutes. She didn’t mind at all, letting us clean her eyes until at last, the heavily encrusted goo came off and she opened her beautiful little blue eyes! She looked at us and had a start! I don’t think we looked as she had imagined. We brought her into the house for a few minutes, wondering what to do. It’s Sunday of a holiday weekend. She is probably going to need some antibiotics, but in the meantime, the best thing for her is to rejoin her mother and get some nourishing, infection-fighting milk. We’ll keep an eye on her, and see if we can get her some help on Tuesday.
And so the tradition of my family helping the kitty moms continues …