My daughter’s science project looks at the exponential numbers involved when a single feral cat gets pregnant producing up to twenty kittens in a year. Then the kittens produce kittens and the colony expands. We have trapped two mommies and the drama has begun.
But the gift of life is still a breathtaking wonder to behold!
The cat Brigit calls Spot, gave birth to five babies. By the time we checked on her in the barn cage, one kitten had been shoved away. It was cold and limp. Lifeless. Brigit didn’t want to touch it. Death is a fearful thing. But I gently eased the body of the little Calico out of the cage and rubbed it.
If only it weren’t so cold. If only I could rub it back into life.
As I massaged the little fur ball it began to move, ever so slightly. All we knew for sure was that it wasn’t deadâ€”yet! That was enough to change everything. Nine-year-old Brigit hopped on her bike to get help from a neighbor who is an expert on cats.
I brought the kitten inside and handed her to my son Peter. “Keep her warm,” I commanded. Then I drove down to another neighbor’s house. Lillian raises goats and always has fresh goat’s milk. That milk has been the magic formula for many a baby animal in our neighborhood.
With milk in hand, and an expert to show us what to do, we felt sure we were up to the challenge of raising a newborn kitten.
“You have to take care of both ends of a kitten,” our expert said.
“Huh?” Brigit and I wondered.
“A mother cat licks it all over to keep the food flowing both in and out. Keep both ends clean. And newborn kittens eat all night long. They don’t know the difference between day and night.” She pulled me aside to say, “The chances are slim. I don’t think this one will make it.” She shook her head.
But as the children went to bed, I still felt confident this was something I could handle. We had the kitten in a box with a heating pad. The goat’s milk was in a bowl next to me with an eyedropper ready. I dozed.
But as the nighttime hours wore on, the challenge of caring for this baby became more and more difficult. She mewed every few minutes but pulled away from the feeding dropper. She pawed her way to the top of the box as if she wanted to commit suicide by falling out of the box right on top of the dog waiting on the floor below.
Finally, I decided the kitten needed to feel a heartbeat. The box, no matter how warm it was, couldn’t give the kitten courage to live. And living certainly does take courage!
We moved to the living room chair. I held the baby on my chest and tried to get comfortable. Whenever I moved, the baby cried. It brought back memories of days with my babies and the sleep deprivation that went on for weeks.
The life of a newborn is demanding. So I held the eyedropper again and again and tried to get the kitten to drink. Sticking the dropper in the side of her mouth, small quantities of milk made their way into her belly.
And then black stuff came out the other end. Maybe that was the problem. After that, the kitten seemed to really come alive. She cried and used her little stick paws to climb and move.
Morning came just as I fell asleep, nearly rolling on the sleeping fur ball in my hand!
I realized I was not going to be able to continue this routine for weeks. I’m just too old. We took the baby outside, praying that the mother would take her back. The day was cold. There was ice on the horse trough. But when we held the baby out for Spot she licked her! Then Brigit helped the baby find a place to attach to her real mother.
Within minutes we saw our rescued baby demanding her space. She was more than willing to fight for life. The baby, who had been a rejected runt the day before, became the healthiest, toughest of them all.
It seems a paradox to do so much for one little kitten when we are faced with way too many wild cats. But life is a giftâ€”even when it is overflowing!
(P.S. We’re giving away baby kittens and we’ll spay as many cats as we can afford to do.)
Watch for more “cat tales” in next month’s newsletter…