Nancyeclark's Blog


Musing on moggies

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.

Calleigh day 1…making sure she gets a meal. Calleigh is the little white kitten.

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?



Keiko

DSCF0401 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.