By Mary Davis
Feral cats have been around Lower Main Street for years. When numbers seemed to swell beyond all reason, neighbors attempted capture. Several were caught, but one feral female, a calico named Gracie (and obviously at least one male) eluded capture. The result: Early Summer Gracie gave birth to a litter of kittens. Knowing that if they were not captured, we would soon have dozens of cats again. We traced the litter from one house to the next until they seemed about the size that could trigger a small hav-a-heart trap. It was agreed that I would keep the captures at my house since I was the only person with no pets.
On the afternoon of July 3rd, a small spunky gray kitten emerged from under a porch and curiously wandered into a trap. Neighbors jumped into action. I was inundated with kitten food and milk, a litter box and litter, a kitty bed, a kitty corral and lots of advice.
The corral is a five-foot diameter by two-foot-high tent with a mesh top that zips on and off. And so, the kitty corral in my studio became home to Greyson. Although she loved hiding under the little bed, she decided she loved being held even more. Since I have a healthy respect for a cat’s claws, it was my daughter who first reached in and grabbed her the first time. From the initial human touch this kitty purred like a little machine. My cohort next door helped with weaning. Joanne held the baby while I dipped my finger in kitten milk. As Greyson licked my finger I gradually lowered it into the bowl of milk and slowly pulled it away until Greyson was licking hungrily from the small dish. So far, so good. Little Greyson proved to be a very good eater and an affectionate charmer. I fed her from small antique china bowls and held her so much my friends thought I needed a baby Björn. Gradually I introduced her to the chaos of the kitchen, for socializing. Plus, we had two more kittens to capture and I needed separate kitty accommodations in case the siblings no longer got along. I put signs up on my doors: “Loose Kitten-Open Carefully!”
Greyson relished undivided attention for a couple of weeks, until, that is, we caught a black and white kitten. Tuxie lacked charm and appreciation and cried unconsolably. I had to wear leather gloves just to set his water and food in the corral. Per someone’s advice I started petting the terrified kitten with an expandable Swiffer duster from a small unzipped opening in the corral top. Friends and friends of friends came by to help. One brave visitor swaddled Tuxie in a fleece blanket—a purrito.
Meanwhile, momma cat, Gracie, was pacing back and forth across my yard. My daughter had the brilliant idea to open the outside door and let Gracie come in for a little visit. We wanted to capture the momma and take her to the shelter to get spayed; Tuxie was the bait. Our logic followed that with mamma cat out of the den, the third kitten would get hungry, making it easier to catch. So one morning before breakfast I opened the studio door and in strolled Gracie. I ran around the house and shut the door behind her. Capture successful.
And then mayhem ensued. Gracie tore into the windows, lodging herself between the lower sash and the screen. Daughter managed to grab the wildling with a large towel and hurl her back into the room. We shut the windows, except for one. While we were out of the room, Gracie somehow nabbed her baby from the Swiffer duster slit on the top of the corral, dragged its little self up the wall, found a two-inch opening between the stained-glass window and the window frame, wedged themselves behind the partially opened bottom window sash and screen and pushed it out to their escape! You have to admire Gracie’s motherly instincts and her commitment to saving her babies!
Figuring Tuxie and Gracie were half way to Delhi by the end of the day, with the third abandoned, I set the trap again. Soon after I heard a little kitten cry in the forsythia. Pretty to look at, impossible to hold, Callie was one angry creature. She impaled herself against the kitty corral whenever I entered the room. Sounds came out of the little monster I had no idea were possible for a cat. She growled, she hissed, she spat. I called the shelter lamenting that I just could not socialize the kitten. Having over 200 cats in residence they asked that I keep it until she was at least 12 weeks old, the age they could all be neutered or spayed. I reluctantly agreed to another three weeks. I again donned my leather work gloves, found some bravery and started petting Callie with the Swiffer duster. After a couple of days of swiping at it I caught her in an exhausted moment and she settled into a nice long pet, granted, a long distance one. Gradually I moved my gloved hand closer and closer until I could finally, finally touch her. Then little by little she allowed me to pick her up for a moment or two, to set her down in front of a fresh bowl of food; building trust.
Meanwhile, back outside, Gracie & Tuxie were again sequestered under a neighbor’s porch. If Gracie and Tuxie wanted free food they would have to take their chances in a trap. Thus, we caught Gracie again, delivered her to the shelter for spaying and within hours caught Tuxie once more. Tuxie was inserted into the corral, this time with Callie for company. They were inseparable, partners in crime. We initiated the Swiffer duster technique again, swaddled him in fleece. I kept the corral by my desk so they could hear my running monologue on tough love, how I knew how unhappy and angry they were, how I knew they missed their momma, that it was for their own good and everything would be ok… look how happy Greyson is…. It took quite awhile until I could let them out of the kitty corral and attempt their reunion with Greyson, still ensconced in the kitchen.
I learned cats are really good hiders and I spent a good part of these days looking for kittens. Greyson loved the onion basket; I took the onions out. Callie and Tuxie liked the black file boxes; I took the papers out. They hid between the fabric and foam of the outdoor chaise cushion; I let them have it for hide and seek. But one morning I could not find Callie anywhere! There was no meowing, no scratching, no kitty sound at all. I had installed cardboard around the refrigerator so a kitten could not get behind it. Again, Joanne, the cat whisperer, came over to help. With a bit of panic in my voice, I gestured around my kitchen asking “Now where, in your infinite experience with cat hiding, could that kitten be?” We decided to pull the stove out from the wall and, lo and behold, Callie sat crouched way down below between the electric and gas lines. More cardboard was installed.
The process of taming the wildings took about seven weeks. I’m happy to report that all have fabulous forever homes. Gracie is back in the neighborhood and enjoying fleece beds. I found a latent caregiving hormone and in hindsight was awarded a great sense of accomplishment. Sometimes I even miss those little wildings.~