Filed under: cats, foster, Uncategorized | Tags: cat, cat behaviour, cats, community cats, crazy cat lady, feral, feral cats, feral kittens, foster animals, foster cats, foster kittens, fostering, fosters, kitten, kittens
Fostering cats is one of the most rewarding, wonderful, loving and heartbreaking things you can do with your time, love and effort.
You take in a Mum cat, perhaps, about to give birth. Sometimes you are lucky and get a few days to get to know each other and establish a bond…sometimes she goes into labour in the carrier on the way home and the babies appear before you have even been introduced!!
Occasionally, Mum has already had her babies and you take them home with you when they are a day or two old or somewhere in that newborn to 12 week old area.
And then there are the orphan kittens, singles or litters, that need to be bottle fed…or if they are old enough, introduced to soft solid food. A very messy business!
No matter how they arrive…they are your responsibility and yours to love and care for. They demand attention…warmth…food…fresh water…litter & litter training…playtime…cuddles & snuggle-time…manners…socialization…all the things they need to be wonderful adoptable kittens and cats…because Mum will need a home too, when the babies are old enough. There will be visits to the vet, shots, de-worming…hopefully no viruses, parasites or other problems. They will all need to learn to use scratching posts and have their claws clipped. They will turn out to be the kind of cat they are, depending on their personality, but you do have some influence on their manners.
Fostering is a commitment that should not be taken lightly, because the goal is to find homes, forever homes for everybody…so we have to do our level best to keep them healthy, happy, well mannered and sociable. And we have to be able to let them go at the end of their foster time! Time and love are the big things in fostering. Time is the only one that is hard to find sometimes…the love comes when you look into their faces and you turn to mush. One of my very favourite things is a purring, contented Mum nursing her purring, contented babies…the next best thing is a tiny body on my lap, latched onto a nipple or syringe and getting that wonderful ear waggle going that means they are getting the nourishment they need. And kitten kisses, don’t forget kitten kisses…soft kisses and soft paws touching your nose…then kittens on a tear around the room or the house…full of life and fun and mischief. So really there are lots of favourite things about kittens.
I work hard at fostering…because I have to also make sure my own kitties do not suffer any loss of attention when there are kittens demanding playtime and snuggles. Luckily I have a wonderful family, and a wonderful family of cats who are amazingly patient at having their tails played with, their food stolen and their naps disrupted by kittens running over them and into them. They also understand when I disappear before their breakfast is put out, to feed the newest ones who get theirs first.
Upstairs in my studio I had a foster family…Phoebe and her 3 babies…Yogi, Archie and Zoe. Oops! Sorry…4 babies! The family increased to 4, because an orphan kitten around the same age as Phoebe’s family was brought in and we carried her home to see if Phoebe would take her on. I wrapped the new one in a towel that had just been replaced in the babies bin, so it smelled nicely like them…gave her a hot water bottle wrapped in towels for 15 minutes to warm her up and make her feel hungry…then introduced her to Phoebe. Calleigh, as she became, let out a tiny cry of hunger and Phoebe’s head whipped upright…she stared hard for about 2 seconds…leaned over…sniffed deeply, then licked Calleigh from stem to stern and scooped her in towards her tummy and the other babies. In the space of about 10 seconds, Calleigh had a new family and Phoebe had a new daughter! The ability of cats to accept a kitten not their own is a truly loving and wonderful thing. Not all will do it…but many will gladly take on an extra body or more.
Calleigh got some supplemental feeding…because even with Phoebe giving her extra alone time nursing…the other kittens were just that little bit older and bigger so that Calleigh got knocked off her nipple sometimes…she took in about an extra two tablespoons a day…spread out over several feedings. Soon she was as fat and roly-poly as the others. She was such a feisty little thing…such an odd face and darling personality.
From fostering and from working with feral or community cats, I have learned that mum cats are amazing creatures. In the colony I have been working with most recently, the mum cats share nursing duties and care of the kittens…they share hunting responsibilities and discipline of the kittens too. When, unfortunately, one of the young mum cats disappeared forever (and I wish we knew what had happened) the other 2 mum cats took over her babies and raised them. Having been a step-mum, I know how precious someone else’s babies are and how wonderful it is to be part of their life…but a lot of human blended families don’t work that cooperatively. Cats seem to see it differently. At least this group of cats. They are amazing animals…wild and nervous of humans…but the little ones, caught between 8 weeks and 6 months of age…have socialized beautifully. We believe they simply have the “friendly gene”…as even though some took a long time to trust…they have all become lovely cats. The adults in the colony have been spayed and neutered…the 2 new males that have wandered in looking for food (so skinny we believe they are strays) are on the list to neuter very shortly.
Fostering encompasses so many things and so many situations…babies…mums and babies…socializing community cats (feral cats)…caring for sick or injured cats…it really runs the gamut. It breaks my heart every time I have to adopt one out…but it is also pure joy to know they have a home and family to love them. I have been very lucky that many of the adopters have kept in touch…just to send a picture or two of the cats/babies in their new homes being loved and being happy. What could be better than that?
Filed under: cats | Tags: animal welfare, animals, babies, bottle babies, cat, cats, challenges, foster animals, foster kittens, fostering, fosters, hand raising orphan kittens, kittens, love, orphan kittens, OSPCA, OSPCA fostering, pets, raising orphan kittens, struggles
I am sure we have all heard of the “aww” factor, right? The cuteness, the sweetness that makes you go “aww!!! ”. The warm fuzzies. That is what everyone thinks of when I tell them I am fostering kittens…particularly baby kittens…orphans of a day old, or about a week old, or two weeks old…everyone says ”aww”. Everyone who has never done it that is.
The reality about tiny baby kittens is the “oo” factor. As in poop, poop, poop and more poop.
Orphan kittens are the cutest things on the face of the planet. They are also one of the hardest things to feed, keep warm and keep alive. And then there’s the poop.
Orphans, depending on their age, need feeding every 2 hours at the start. They will take to a bottle or not. They will suck or not. They might like syringe feeding. Or not. Sometimes a dropper. Or not. It is all trial & error and a kitten happily sucking one minute will decide not to the next. And then there is the poop.
Orphan kittens need to be kept warm and dry. But not too warm. Hot water bottles need to be refreshed regularly, and heating pads need to be under lots of towels or blankies, so that there are no hot spots…and they need to be able to get away from the warmth if they need to…so there has to be part of their space that is cooler. Their blankets, or towels, or bedding needs to be checked often to be sure they are dry and just the right temperature. And then there is the poop.
Orphan kittens need to be weighed. Need to have a set amount of formula. No over feeding or under feeding. Underfeeding leads to yelling, restless babies. Overfeeding can cause diarrhea and other problems. They need to be burped after feeding. And cuddled. They need skin time and bonding and warmth and lots of love. And they need to poop.
Orphan kittens need to have their little bodies stimulated to pee and poop. Their mum would be doing it for them…so you have to take her place, with cotton pad, ball or washcloth instead of tongue…but the job is the same…to gently encourage them to produce pee and a least a poop a day or so. Never rub…you can irritate their fragile bits. Jiggling works a treat. And be sure to clean them afterwards…so they don’t get scald and so they smell good. A kitten who has a mum is kept immaculate…and we foster parents should keep them that way too. Cats and kittens like to be clean. Bathing is sometimes necessary. Not a lot of fun for either of you…but necessary.
And then there’s the poop. Regular poop should be brown and kind of jam-like….and if you are lucky…that is all you get. However, sometimes you get weird colours and textures and blood and mucus and other horrible things because there are so many things that can cause poop problems. Overfeeding. Formula too rich. Intestinal parasites: roundworms, hookworms, tapeworms or the protozoans; coccidia & giardia.Viral or bacterial infections: there are many, but two of the scariest are FIP & distemper. Allergies. Inflammatory bowel disease. Feline leukemia. Antibiotics. Toxins. Cancer. Diabetes. Some can be ruled out or in fairly easily…but sometimes you just don’t now and it becomes trial and error to fix the problem. Kittens, due to their immature immune systems are wide open to almost anything, sometimes inherited from their mother, sometimes not.
When all is normal in the poop department, thank your lucky stars. Because it so often isn’t normal. Very often very messy and very smelly. And you have to keep the babies clean…it is vital, because they can get scald, they do not smell good and because they cuddle and sometimes lick and suck on each other…you have to not let them keep re-infecting themselves. Besides, it is harder to snuggle, kiss and love a sticky, smelly baby.
When you are raising baby kittens…you have to keep them clean, dry, warm but not too warm, hydrated and nourished. All of these can be huge challenges at times. And the younger the baby is…the harder it is to even keep them alive, much less thriving.
The tiniest, the youngest will not have had enough or any of their mum’s colostrum. They often do not suck well. And if kittens do develop poop issues…keeping them hydrated is difficult…they lose fluid so quickly.
This is not intended as a “go to” instruction manual for babies. It is just my observations of some of the things you might face when trying to hand raise kittens. And in my estimation, it is the “oo” factor which causes the most puzzlement, headaches, grief and heartache.
Sometimes everything goes swimmingly…you heave a sigh of relief when they get to about 16 weeks old and they get spay/neutered and go on to their new lives. Hopefully long and happy ones. Sometimes it goes only partly bad. You spend all your time trying to figure out the poop problems and trying to keep them tidy. Sometimes you lose a baby (or more)…cry a lot, work harder (as if that were possible) on those that remain, cry some more and rejoice when they get over it and grow and thrive. Sometimes they are the litter that makes you want never to do this again…to believe you cannot cry any more tears…that you are the worst foster mum ever…that god does not exist or these things would not happen to innocents like this…that vets are useless…that you will never recover from the grief…and that no one will ever ask you to do this again, because you have just killed a litter of kittens. Because if all hell breaks loose, and kittens die…you will blame yourself, even if it is in no way your fault. Sometimes you will know why it happened…and sometimes you do not get any answers…it just happens despite your fervent prayers and diligence and love and medicine and whatever else you tried to save them…shelter visits, CPR, syringe feeding, tube feeding, antibiotics,anti-virals, sub-Q fluids, hot water bottles, emergency vet visits, all the supportive care in the world….even making bargains with the devil…sometimes there is not a damn thing you can do. Kittens die sometimes.
But you swallow hard and find the resolve to do it again…and again…because when all goes well, there is incredible joy and satisfaction in seeing these wee things nurse and snuggle and grow and thrive. There is so much joy in watching their personalities blossom. I cannot tell you how deeply it affects me to have the whole litter sitting in my lap, looking at me with love, tapping my face with their soft little paws and purring to beat the band. My heart sings! And there is seeing them spayed or neutered and head off into their new lives with their forever families. It is supremely satisfying to know they would not have had that outcome if it were not for you. Fostering kittens is about hard work, long hours, a weird fascination with poop, fun, love, joy, sadness, silliness, heartache, awe and wonder and lots and lots of smiles and laughter. It really is all about the “oo” factor…but when it works…it is also about the “aww” factor.
Filed under: cats | Tags: animal welfare, animals, babies, cat, cats, crazy cat lady, foster cats, foster kittens, fostering, fosters, kittens, Lennox & Addington OSPCA, love, OSPCA, OSPCA fostering, pet ownership, pets, shelter animals, shelters, spay/neuter, stray cats
The Following is an article I wrote for the OSPCA Magazine ‘Animals’ Voice” – part of which appeared in the most recent edition.
This is the full article…
Fostering: A Win, Win, Win Situation
By Nancy E. Clark
Dedicated to Fingal, Finlay, Fiona, Darla, Eden, Lilith, Libby, Cain, Abel, Bib, Bailey, Quince, Baldric, Garnet, Domino, Bramble, Zorra, Echo, Julia, Mighty Mouse, Thor, Keiko, Youko, Jet, Smokey, Addy, Teddy, Sally, Juliet, Spook, Robin, and all the fosters who have allowed me to share a small part of their lives.
I began fostering cats for the Lennox & Addington OSPCA in 2008, because I love animals, cats in particular, and I wanted to help them and my local shelter; I had time and love to give, but not a lot of money. I am also lucky enough to have a husband who is patient and kind and helpful; and a room or two I can close off to isolate the newcomers for the duration of their stay, or just until it is a good time to introduce them to the general population. We have a large family of cats of our own…spayed, neutered and up to date on all their shots. All but 3 (rescues) are shelter cats, adopted over many years and ranging in age from 1 to 12. I taught my children to be wary of strangers, but my cats have had to learn to be open and accepting of strangers and patient with kittens. After I began fostering, I realized that not only is it an important (and mostly unrecognized) part of saving animals…but the wonder of birth, the delight & pride in a blossoming personality, the amusement afforded by cats of all shapes and sizes and the downright hilarity of their antics at times…makes the job so satisfying I may never stop.
Usually it is pregnant mums who arrive at our house in Selby…a few hours, days or weeks before they deliver or just after the babies are born. Sometimes it is right smack dab in the middle of delivery, as in the case of Eden, who went into labour in the carrier on the way home and had her first kitten an hour and a half later. Quite the introduction!
The expectant/new mums are given a room which is as comfortable and clean as I can make it…with various ‘nesting’ boxes and bins so they can choose a comfortable place to have/keep their babies. The closet is the most popular spot, with a towel-lined plastic bin inside and a curtain over the opening. There is clean water and food nearby and a fresh litter box. When given the time (prior to birth), I spend time with the mums…earning their trust and building a bond that will allow me to keep track of their health and that of their litter…and to help mum be calm and happy and eat well for the babies and to begin building on her adoptability for the future.
Occasionally it is a feral/semi feral or timid cat or kitten we have to work with and socialize…lots of patience, baby food and play required, but it’s one of the best feelings in the world when they come out of hiding and let you stroke them and eventually encourage their personalities to blossom. It’s the same feeling I had when my step-daughter trustingly took my hand the first time.
Fostering is defined as “to promote the growth of, to help develop, to afford, receive or share nourishment; the foster person stands in the relation of parent, etc., as regards sustenance and nurture, but not by tie of blood.” (or species in this respect)
Nourishment is not enough, however…but nurture comes close. Webster’s Dictionary includes this: To Nurture, Nourish, Cherish. Nourish denotes to supply with food, or cause to grow; as, to nourish a plant. To nurture is to train up with a fostering care, like that of a mother; as, to nurture into strength; to nurture in sound principles. To cherish is to hold and treat as dear; as, to cherish hopes or affections. [1913 Webster]
I really like that definition…nurture, nourish, cherish. That’s the foundation of why and how I foster. To provide a warm, safe home, proper nutrition, clean litter boxes, exercise, playtime and training. To schedule (and show up for) shots and de-worming and surgeries, to provide supportive care to the ill, to ask for vet care if needed, to apply or give medicines, to be the parent the animal deserves. To work with the staff at the shelter to keep everyone as healthy as possible. But it is so much more than that, it is also the cherishing…to hold dear, love, snuggle, be endlessly patient with, to fight for them like a mother, but accept the inevitable if it comes, to grieve for them when they leave, to give them all you can to give them a fighting chance at a long, happy, contented life…because it may break your heart many times over, but fostering gives you transports of joy, much love, and satisfaction on a massive scale…healing the heartbreak and drying your tears.
It is the cherishing that is both the easiest and the hardest part of the job…and probably the most misunderstood part…the animals are both yours and not yours…and that can cause the odd moment of friction between the staff and me.
Fostering cats and kittens is a marvellous and wonderful experience, full of laughter and smiles. Having babies in the house is a constant wonder…touching, hysterically funny at times and always new…because even if they are not people…kittens and cats are individuals…each completely unique. Watching them grow from tiny eating/sleeping machines into lively, happy and distinctive personalities is a privilege and a pleasure. Normally, all you have to do is the basics of nourish, nurture and cherish. You bring them up; play with them, teach them manners (at least some), live with a chronically messy house because kittens will chase and play and leave your towels on the floor, your every nook and cranny explored and their toys on the stairs. Kittens, until taught what not to do, will get into all that they can find in hopes it is play-able…so kitten proofing starts at floor level and gets steadily higher as they grow. All too soon, they have their first shots etc. and then their surgeries, they go up for adoption and you send them off to their new people with lots of tears and a huge smile.
That, by the way, is my favourite part of fostering, waving goodbye as my “children” head off into their new life…that and cuddling babies of course.
But occasionally things go very wrong. Julia, for example, had 4 babies, all extremely sick from day 2 on. We had to euthanize Mighty Mouse and Thor within days…Keiko survived to 6 weeks and then began to suffer breathing problems and we lost her too. Youko survived against all the odds and is doing well at 9 months…adopted out and happy. Then there are all the other problems that can crop up…parasites, viruses like Calici, Herpes and Corona: the problem often lies with the mum, having no idea of her exposures or carrier status, and whether my own cats can spread/catch viruses they may or may not have been exposed to years ago; as careful as you are with hand washing, disinfection and isolation…things happen. I find it hard to give up even when I know in my heart there is no hope. Henny Venus, the Shelter’s Manager and the staff have been wonderful in this respect, helping me learn to recognize the point at which to say…enough. To always recognize that these creatures are my responsibility, yes, and that I love them, yes, but they are OSPCA cats, and I must respect their experience and decision making. I think that is the hardest part of fostering…remembering always that these animals are mine in every sense of the word, except in actual fact. When you love them, it feels that they are only yours. And you have to love them to let them flower and flourish. Henny has always been kind to me in this respect, simply pointing out to me the things I know in my heart to be true, and allowing me to feel involved.
Fostering can be fun and easy and rewarding. It can be painful and hard but still rewarding. It is the luck of the draw. We have had both kinds…with the good ones vastly outnumbering the tough ones. Good or bad, happy or sad, it is a job worth doing…for them and for me.
Working with Henny and Heather and Rebecca, Haili, Jackie and Meghan and Bernice (before she retired) and the volunteers has been, overall, a wonderful experience. They are skilled and kind and supportive. They are also extremely patient with me, as I tend to be a pain in the butt kind of foster parent…perhaps over protective and sometimes unsure of my own knowledge, ability and experience. I have learned so much from them and enjoy working with them always.
There are so many good things about fostering. It brings me volumes of love and affection, it allows me to help animals get their chance at a good life, it has taught me lessons in care, in training, in teamwork, in gratitude, in life, love and letting go. I have learned discipline and sacrifice and not to mind cat hair everywhere and that kittens can be very, very bad…cute but bad. I have learned to respect and admire the people at the OSPCA and the often unrecognized difficult job they do for all the animals our society abandons, abuses, surrenders and neglects.
There are questions about fostering that may make you reluctant to start. Is it time consuming? Sometimes. Does it require some financial input? Yes, it can…with toys and litter and food…although many shelters provide food, and they all look after the medical stuff. Is it wrong to take in or raise an animal, bond with it, love it, and then see it adopted out into a stranger’s home? Isn’t that abandonment?
Well, yes it is…BUT…unless you plan on keeping every single foster animal…which would be impossible…being fostered can give the cat or kitten a much better chance at a wonderful forever home: a stray, a timid animal, an injured one or the new lives, the kittens, get to learn that people are gentle & kind, that cuddling and playing are encouraged, that food will never be in short supply, that there are soft, warm places to nap when you are tired. The socialization they receive makes them happier and that makes them much more adoptable. The whole idea behind sheltering and fostering is to find these animals homes…good homes for the rest of their lives. Adopting them out does provide some stress and distress for these animals…but ultimately it is the best ending for them, and they will soon learn to love & trust their new family…if we have done our job and taught them that people are good companions. We can help to make the match between animal and home the right one….so there should be fewer problems and fewer returns.
Fostering takes animals out of the shelter and the stresses inherent in that environment and gives them a happy home to grow up in or live and learn in, while they wait for the right person or family to come along and fall in love with them. Foster parents can learn so much about an animal’s personality and behaviour that they can help potential adopters decide if the adoptive animal is going to be a good match…because even using wonderful programs like SAFER or the OSPCA’s Feline-ality, it cannot tell you as much about them, because animals do not behave like themselves in shelters as much as they do in a home environment.
If you like or love animals…cats, dogs…whatever…if you have some space, time and love…if you like the idea of helping unwanted ones find homes…if you would like to foster an animal…please contact your local OSPCA branch or affiliate…your local shelter, rescue or humane society. You will fill out some forms and answer some questions, and they may come and take a look at your accommodations. Fostering can give you an idea of the kind of pet you want, if you do not currently have one, and it is temporary…not a life-long commitment (at first). Fostering is a wonderful way to help many animals instead of just one or two. You will change your life and that of the animals in your care for the better, and I am sure you will never regret your decision to open up your home—and your heart.
Filed under: cats | Tags: babies, broken heart, cat, cats, challenges, death, decision making, euthanasia, euthanization, foster kittens, fostering, fosters, heartbreaking, judgement, kitten, kittens, life, OSPCA, pet ownership, pets, shelter animals, shelters, snowshoe cat, struggles, vets
She was probably doomed from the start, but she did not seem to care and tried so hard to have a life and grow and become a cat…but we lost her and it broke my heart. Into tiny little pieces…that will, I am sure, eventually fit back together, but there will be a lot of scar tissue.
Keiko was one of four kittens born to Julia, a foster mum from the OSPCA. Tiny and beautiful they were. There was Mighty Mouse, the runt, a little grey and white fighter; Thor, a big black boy who seemed to have odd feet and skeletal issues and then the two sisters, Youko and Keiko, both white with lilac points. When we got them home they seemed fine and Mum seemed fine too, but it quickly became apparent that Julia, although gorgeous and sweet and loving, had no clue about being a mum…there are some cats that should never be mums…too young, too whatever. She would nurse her babies briefly and then walk away, leaving the kittens to get cold and lonely…and if we left her alone in the room with them, she would carry them around and deposit them in strange corners and leave them alone on the floor. As soon as we realized this, within hours, we began by putting a heating pad under their bin and adding hot water bottles to keep them warm, keeping the door to their carrier closed so Julia could not scatter them, and every hour or so, put her in with them to nurse and clean them. She was great with them for a while each time and then yell and claw to get out. The kittens also developed diarrhea almost immediately and it became clear we had four very sick kittens…but they were kept warm and clean and dry and nursed well when given their mum or a bottle, and seemed even with their issues to be doing okay…no dehydration…and with food peacefully asleep. I spent hours and hours with them, watching, stroking mum so she would nurse, cleaning them and their towels, changing hot water bottles, moving mum in and out, experimenting to see if she would stay without being locked in with them, trying to see if she would leave them together in one spot, praying and worrying, supplementing with formula…then one day…checking in on the nursing babies, all seemed fine, when I realized Mighty Mouse could not be seen amongst the pile…I found him under his mother, smothered by Mum lying on him…he was flat and still and flaccid and not breathing and I panicked and rubbed and stroked him and breathed on him and called the shelter and finally he coughed and his chest started moving again…all of which may have been a bad decision in hindsight because although he seemed to recover he succumbed to the struggle of life a few days later and we had him put to sleep. He simply got too tired, and I probably should have let him die and be peaceful when it happened…but instinct made me try without thinking. Thor, the big, black, hungry boy became much sicker a few days later in the space of a couple of hours, and at 5 am on a Sunday, we heard him begin to cry in distress and had to make the heartbreaking decision to have him put to sleep too. So we were left with Keiko and Youko…the two white sisters…still sick but as far as we could tell…happy with each other and not suffering. Julia was still a lousy mum so we kept them warm…and as clean as we could, continued supplementing their diet and they slowly began to grow and get better. They changed from white to cream…Youko with lilac ears and tail, Keiko with dark points on face, ears, paws and tail…simply beautiful kittens…with sweet tempers and good appetites. The diarrhea stopped, but as the days went by…you could see that the diarrhea, the virus, whatever had made them sick, had caused Keiko to have growth and development issues…Youko soon out paced her in size and strength. Keiko’s problems became more apparent, possibly from mal-absorption of nutrients through the diarrhea, possibly congenital, she grew a little and regained her hair from the urine scald she suffered even with constant cleaning, but she stayed small and her legs did not work as well as they should..her front legs bowed a bit and occasionally knuckled over…her back legs did not seem to have as much flexibility and feeling as they should…but she kept trying…playing with her sister, eating well, beginning to try out toys…purring and cuddling… and then came the breathing issues. She began having trouble breathing after eating and although her teeth were coming in (in that tiny mouth) and she began eating a bit of solid food…she began to be unhappy and we took her to the vet to see if there were any hope of recovery, growth and development. The consensus of the vets was that she was going to have too much suffering to let her continue…perhaps if she had not had trouble with her breathing she might have had a chance…but with the new breathing issues it was unfair to let her struggle for each breath…and the shelter totally agreed and put her to sleep…which did not go well and will haunt me ‘til the day i die…Keiko…with all her problems, did not go quietly and I will never get over the fact that for a short while I was responsible for intense fear and suffering in a kitten so small and innocent. I know from experience that euthanasia does not always go smoothly…but this one, although necessary, will haunt me, will haunt my dreams forever. No one’s fault, just one of those things, but still…..
I will always remember Keiko’s ability to motor across the floor with a speed that amazed me…she would come running as soon as she heard me at the door to her room. I will remember her tiny dark paws that held the bottle so tightly, her eyes so bright, her wee cream face and dark nose looking up at me, her tiny body pressed close to my heart as I fed her, her patience as I cleaned her, her first use of the litter box, her first enjoyment of kitten food, her favourite toy (a tiny white coil), her absolutely fierce will to be normal and play with her sister…I will remember every minute I had with a kitten so challenged and so happy (until she could not breathe) and so beautiful…with awe and respect and admiration and gladness and sadness…Keiko will be with me forever…although she only lived with me for a few weeks.
And I will question myself and my decisions, and learn from the experience, compassion and knowledge of the wonderful people at the OSPCA, of the wonderful vets, and grow in knowledge about how to deal with sickness and death in creatures so small and innocent and beautiful…I would like one day to be more sure of decisions made and roads taken. Having had a run of success with foster kittens…Julia’s litter has taught me so much about the other side of fostering…the heartbreaking side. I can only hope the decisions I made hourly, did not cause any suffering that could have been avoided…I watched so closely for any signs of discomfort, any signs that they were unhappy, and I wanted so much to give them a chance at life…that I profoundly hope that the life they had was not an unhappy one. If anything I did caused them pain or sadness I will never forgive myself…Mighty Mouse, Thor and particularly Keiko, will have me looking inward and pondering and questioning and asking always…Am I doing the right thing??…Am I doing the right thing for them or for me???…How do you ever know for sure that giving anyone or anything a chance of life, a chance of recovery is the right thing to do????
Keiko …’Kei’ means ‘celebrate’, ‘respect’, and ‘open’ and is combined with ‘ko’ which means child…has taught me to respect life, be open to possibilities and open to learning, and I will always celebrate her life…she touched my heart and soul so deeply and profoundly that I will never be the same person I was before I met her. Keiko, so tiny, so beautiful, will live forever. And I hope, forgive me if ever I hurt her…even if only with good intentions.
Filed under: cats | Tags: babies, broken heart, cat, cats, challenges, death, decision making, euthanasia, euthanization, foster kittens, fostering, fosters, heartbreaking, kittens, OSPCA, pet ownership, pets, shelter animals, shelters, struggles, vets
Mighty Mouse died. On a Tuesday. Euthanized because he struggled too long and exhausted his energy. One minute a tiny grey and white fighter, a suckling champ…the next second too exhausted to do anything except sleep. He was the runt, he was sick, along with his brothers and sisters, his mum was inattentive and she lay on him, flattened him and he stopped breathing. Instinctively I fought for him, called Lisa at the shelter in a panic about him, rubbed and stroked and breathed on him and got him breathing again….perhaps the wrong decision in hindsight…but I did not see the future reality…only the hope and immediate need. A few days later he tired of trying to grow and develop. Thor went the same way this morning…he was doing alright on Saturday afternoon and through the evening, … fighting for his nipple, getting extra formula, purring, curled up with his littermates on mums belly and a hot water bottle when she left…bright eyed and strong and black, although certainly not well.…sick but working on it and happy. Lord how kittens can turn around in a heartbeat. By 130 am on Sunday I was less happy about him, something was not quite right..but not critical, and he was still nursing, so I grabbed a couple of hours sleep, checked on him at 4am and immediately realized it was all wrong and he had become very sick indeed. All of a sudden he was in pain and congested and would or could not suckle…in the space of a couple of minutes we made the the decision to have him put to sleep, to end his fight and suffering. 5am on a Sunday morning…thank god for the Emergency vet clinic and their wonderful staff. The shelter was not open to call, so we took Thor to Kingston, snuggled to my breast, tired and quiet, and there we had him put to sleep, gently and kindly by the doctor with me stroking him as he died. Just like Mighty Mouse he had gone from fighter to giving up the struggle in minutes, so fast it was hard to believe.
Maybe when they first got sick I should have asked to have them all put to sleep…but as they seemed happy except for the diarrhea; trying hard, suckling and getting extra bottle feeds…I wanted to give Julia’s 4 kittens a fighting chance. But fostering cats and kittens, either on your own or for the OSPCA or local shelter is heartbreaking and totally unpredictable. It is also heart warming and joyful. Babies in particular suffer sea changes in health in the space of minutes and hours…like visiting a friend in hospital, talking to them, seeing them rallying from illness or injury, hopeful: and and then hours later you get a call that they have passed away. Like my mum in June, seemingly doing well and recovering in the CSU from cardiogenic shock and everyone is guardedly hopeful, she is conscious, eating, talking and then, Wham, her heart stops and all hell breaks loose.
There are two kittens left with Julia…two tiny creamy babies just 3 weeks old…and I know that even if we get a non-thriving kitten to 4 weeks…it can all blow up in your face at any time…but how can I look at these two, small and eating hard, learning to stumble further around their nesting spot each day, getting their sea legs, and not let them have a chance. They seem happy and content…no pain that I can detect…they are warm and fed and dry and I find I cannot give up on them. Maybe that is wrong…maybe it would be kinder and less heartbreaking and more cost effective to just put them to sleep now…but I cannot do it…and perhaps this means I am not a good foster parent and may never be a good person to work at a shelter…but I am not yet good or fast at making this kind of decision…although I am sure I will learn to do so. It is always, I think, a struggle to do the right thing, to hold on for them, and not for you, to give them a chance, but not prolong any suffering…to learn to look at a baby and say it would be better for you not to have to fight to survive. I can only hope I am doing the right thing…by doing what seems right, what feels right…but how do you know..how do you sleep…how do you not have doubts and questions…regrets and fears??? Why is doing what you think is the right thing so damn hard????
Up until Julia and her 4 babies, now 2, we have had a wonderful run of success in fostering…6 mums and babies…all have found homes…but Julia, Mighty Mouse and Thor have me totally questioning my abilities and my judgment…this is perhaps the question all animal people, all pet people have to face…when do you give up..how much is too much??? Is the decision you are making the right one for you or for them????