On TNR Day, while I was busy signing in my 16 charges at the ASPCA Mobile Clinic in front of my house, I had left 2 traps set in my neighbor’s yard to try to trap the 5th & 6th kittens* I missed when I tried drop-trapping Tabby Mama’s litter the day before. By the time I checked, I had, in fact, trapped 3 cats! A kitten, hopefully one of the missing, was in one. The other trap had a kitten & an adult. Likely the kitten did not trip the trigger, and the adult cat followed it in. Was this the 6th kitten? Would an adult have followed a kitten that’s not hers? I’m guessing it’s the mama & that this kitten is not Tabby Mama’s. I threw covers over them to reduce their agitation.
To get from my neighbor’s yard to mine, without making the trek around the block, necessitates negotiating an overgrown patch of shrubbery on his side behind his garage, as well as climbing through the existing hole in my fence. Hauling the trap this way with the single kitten was manageable. But when I went back for the mama & baby, the mama went berserk in the cage, making the cage swing wildly as I tried to maneuver through brush & hole. I was sure she had trampled her kitten to death! Once in the garage, I peeked under the cover; the kitten looked terrified but ok, and the mama was hissing & spitting.
The mobile clinic had already booked all its spots, and in any case they had already closed the clinic door for the day. So the mama cat was going to be in my charge until I could arrange another spay date. I did not believe I had seen this mama cat before, though a lot of the mackerel tabbies look so similar that, especially when lighting & sighting conditions vary, one can never be sure. In any case, the mama exhibited extremely hostile behavior whenever anyone approached the cage w/ food or clean newspaper. While she clearly was taking care of the kitten, her banging around in the cage led me to be concerned for the kitten, so I separated them, placing the kitten’s cage next to her. Mama did not calm down, and now the kitten was inconsolable. (At least I could now be sure it was her kitten & not Tabby Mama’s 6th.) Relenting, I put them back together. I named the mama Medusa.
Medusa’s spay date 2 ½ weeks later necessitated their separation once more, and this time it was final, because after 3 days of recovery, I released her. The kitten, on the other hand, would now have a chance at a new life if he could be socialized. So, with the other kittens in custody, he would now stay with me til he got old enough to be neutered & get his shots. Medusa was also the last adult to go. So now I just had a garage full of 14 kittens….
At first, I visited the garage 3 times a day. The tiniest babies (separate story) had to be bottle fed, so they came first. Then the cages were usually serviced in some logical order: neediest kitties first. As Medusa’s kitten (having been the longest with Mama) was the healthiest, he was usually last, and the poor kitty would cry until I got to him. Given his lienage, I called him “wild thing” or “little outlaw” for a while, but then decided to call him Sundance.
We settled into a routine where I would briefly visit his cage in between feeding babies or cleaning cages, sometimes rolling bottle caps for him to bat around, sometimes just talking or singing (Wild thing, you make my heart sing!) to him to soothe him. When I eventually came to do his cage, I would try to get a little friendly, spending a few extra minutes, so gradually he allowed me to touch him.
As the tiny ones’ need for feeding frequency abated, and they could eat wet food, and as demands on my own scheduled increased (gotta make a living so I can feed all these critters), I cut garage time to twice a day. The kittens were growing at an alarming rate. I negotiated with the ASPCA for appointments, but it was clear they were outgrowing their cages. So, with the help of cages borrowed from friends, I created larger environments for most of the others. But several were still in traps, including Sundance. I started experimenting with 2 of the other kittens, letting them out during garage time into an old playpen that I lined with plastic with cardboard on top. Sundance was jealous and was vocal in letting me know, so when one of the 2 other kittens got sick, I let Sundance join the other one in the playpen. His joy was apparent, even though he let the other kitty beat him up all the time: she, Precious, was smaller but feisty and used her claws; Sundance, on the other hand, was a gentleman! If I did not have time to let them use the playpen, I heard about it!
As the were gradually all getting spayed and neutered (as I could get dates), they were also growing even bigger. Plus I wanted a better environment for them, as they were all coming back flea free & with their shots. So I prepared a small room in the basement with an airlock entry (to prevent escapees), and moved them there. Friends helped me advertise for adopters, and one by one the kittens left. The two that tugged at my heart the most, though, were Sundance and his playmate Precious, and it became apparent that I could not part with them, when I started telling adopters they were spoken for.
So Sundance, Precious, and a third kitten, Syracuse (who steadfastly refused to come out to show himself to any adopters) all joined my household, where Pepper, my cat of many years, was taken aback at the newcomers. Eventually, he and Sundance became buddies.
Sundance always carried himself regally, with his tail straight up with a little undulating curl at the end. He seemed totally content with his new digs, thoroughly enjoyed his playmates, and was especially pleased that when he came to me for attention, he got all he wanted. He turned into an affectionate lap cat who appreciated every little rub behind the ears. The little wild thing that had cried so plaintively for weeks in the garage now rarely uttered a sound!
Recently, however, I noticed that he had gotten a lot more sedate. In fact, I teased him that he was acting more like old man Pepper. That did not seem odd to me. I thought he was just growing up & calming down. I was accustomed to having all the cats follow me from room to room as my tasks changed, but lately, Sundance was missing from time to time. Then, last week, he started hiding in a closet a lot. And on Thursday evening, he did not come running to the kitchen for the tuna treat I give them in the evening. I even looked for him and waved it under his nose. He looked sadly at me & turned away. This was not good.
The next morning, when I did not see him out & about, I found him in the bottom of the closet. I reached for him to pull him out & give him a hug, and he cried out, so I stopped. But this was now worrisome. Was he in pain? I called the vet, got an appointment around noon. The news was shocking. He had anemia so severe he would need a transfusion immediately. I rushed him to the animal hospital, and the next 2 days were a blur of conversations with the doctors, 2 visits, and much searching on the web for answers about his condition. The bottom line was: his body was failing to produce both platelets and red blood cells. Sunday afternoon had seemed hopeful. Sundance was alert enough to interact with me, and seemed to appreciate my holding, talking to, and rubbing his head for nearly an hour. We tried a second transfusion. The Doc told me his blood count was a little better, and we all hoped it would keep rising & hold. I left them with an order not to resuscitate if he failed, and I got the call at 4:40 AM Monday, that he had breathed his last.
Sundance was only about 1 ½ years old. It is possible that he had some genetic defect. It is hard to know what caused him to fail. He seemed the healthiest of all the kittens in the garage, and I had recently also teased him because he was starting to get round. There is a big hole in my household now, the other cats have been more subdued since he left, and sometimes they look at the door, or sniff some place that was his favorite spot. Pepper goes to the apartment door and wails. We are all sad.
* Tabby Mama & litter story to come.