On Relating To Another Species And Their Care-givers

How can we know when a colony cat wants our help? Christyl RIvers

There are countless stories of people who rescue cats, dogs, birds and more. Most of the stories you will hear end with happy ever after, neatly gift-wrapped feels. But how does one really know, really feel, what a sick kitten for example, really feels? Or can we know how other humans, care-providers for them, are motivated?

We rescued a colony cat with a history that was a locked, black box. The colony feeder called her Grouch. Grumpy, and unhappy, she surely was. But there was more to it, although calling in a somewhat disgruntled sound, she was calling, talking, mewing to the feeder. She seemed to be asking for help. She made eye contact, but took weeks to allow herself to be approached.

The feeder got close enough to stroke her eventually, and realized in one cautious stroke that the cat was most likely pregnant.

Silky, as we came to call her because of her soft waves of silver, silken fur, was so stressed and afraid when we set the carrier down in the shelter room, that she literally climbed the walls. At one point, my partner set down a heavy box and the kitty, freaked and fast, clawed her way up my arm leaving a scar that I have to this day.

When settled into one of the many nests and cubbies we provided for her, Silky gave birth to five slick, tiny mounds of fur. Five kittens. One white, three tabby, one that was an apricot sized patchwork of tabby, black and white.

Going into the foster cat nursery was always an adventure. Silky would leave her kittens, presumably to distract or deter any invading ‘predators’. But the truth is, being outsiders to her language and motives, we never knew whether she had left them to deter us, to hide herself, to abandon them, or to follow some other blind instinct we could never fathom. She hid herself in amazing tight spots, under the microwave cart which was less than four inches above the floor, in the back of the sofa, which required squeezing through canvas fabric that barely stretched to two inches. She could always hear our footprints approach, and we could never be stealth enough to catch her in the nesting box.

The kittens were incredibly weak, and sick. We were not sure, despite trying everything to see it, whether all kittens were nursing. The fattest lump, we called Pushy, because it was clear he was getting nutrition. But even Pushy showed signs of an upper respiratory illness that mucked up his nose, mouth and eyes.

We knew we had to somehow collect all the hidden kittens and their mom and get them all to a vet. We managed, with a few more scratches and protest to box up the family.

The vet, ensconced in her devices, ignoring us — and it appeared to a large extent — ignoring the cats, relentlessly tapped upon a keyboard, furrowed her brow a lot, and said very little. What she did say indicated she thought the kittens were “non-viable.” They most likely did not get healthy immunity from the mom to withstand a virus that Silky carried. The mother had overcome it because her immune system had time and maturity to resist the vile cooties within the colony.

There were relationship intrigues here I did not understand. Was it routine for a vet to give up on tiny patients before trying anything at all? Did the vet have too many other crises distracting her from this one? Did she feel like likely failure (death) would result in accusation or lawsuit? Why didn’t she want to at least look at Silky? (Silky was a terrified mass of fur in a well-covered carrier box in the back of our car at this time.)

The emotions I felt during this time were muddled and confused. Of course, I was also thinking rapid fire thoughts about the kittens, and asked whether they could get injections of anti-biotic, or some other relief, while we were in the office. I tried to get answers, diplomatically, to some of these questions. But, toward the end of the examination it was not at all clear that the key-board tapping vet intended to talk to us at all. Turns out, she did not.

She gave us a prescription for oral medicine, some eye drops and some expensive protein goo food additive. We went on our way.

The first kitten to die slipped away after a lap snuggle and feeding with meds that seemed futile. She refused the nipple, the eyedropper, the sipping plate, the larger bottle, the syringe, the goo covered fingertip — everything. It was the same with the next tiny kitten a few days later. Getting them to breathe, let alone eat, was frustrating and exhausting.

I would glance wistfully at the cat tree all our former foster kittens eventually clambered up and down, the fuzzy fake mice and bird toys, rainbow wands and other toys — all of which had formerly held the astonishing power to bring joy to any heart.

We lost all the kittens except Pushy and his little sister we came to call Baby. Pushy was forever blinded in one eye by a secondary infection developed because of the virus that had left him so vulnerable. I am unhappy with myself for not making the vet administer an antibacterial injection, (which in my non-professional ‘expert’ opinion I believe may have saved his eye).

We do not know why only Pushy and Baby lived. We do not know what scared, fluffy Silky thought about any of it. We do not know how or why a virus runs rampant, wreaks havoc, and settles quietly inside the survivors.

This was a painful, but necessary lesson. I realized that human beings never really have the power over miniscule viruses, or even much influence over other care-providers.

Silky, and the two remaining kittens went to live at a tiny apartment, forever confined. I am guessing that this convinced Silky that humans are nothing but a trap. I imagine her plotting an escape back to the footloose and fancy-free colony in the well vegetated and hidden jungle area behind the service station. No cages. No bars. No locks. Freedom.

Silky was fortunate to be taken with her babies to live together, but I don’t know if she knows this. She seemed terrified of tall men, but was adopted by one. The three kittens who never knew frolic, pouncing and bouncing about the play room lay under some flowers and shrubbery in our Garden of Memories. Their secrets lay with them.

Ecopsychologist, Writer, Farmer, Defender of reality, and Cat Castle Custodian.

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