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Walk on the Wild Side: Adventures with Kittens

April 18, 2012

Back in 2005, I moved into one of the student areas of my city because, though not a student (any more) I didn’t have much money and I found a flat that was cheap and fit my requirements: It was way off the road and it had two bedrooms and was within walking distance of the city centre. It was also damp and freezing cold but you can’t have everything.

I needed it to be off the road because of Luke, my then three year old cat. Here he is:

After my sister moved in with me and we found jobs and Luke learned to fight, due to the large population of semi-feral cats in the area, I started thinking vaguely that it might be nice to have a second cat.

One day I stepped out my back door and saw the cutest little kitten sitting in the hole under the house and I thought: There’s my new cat! I saw that it was one of the latest litter of one of the abandoned cats in the neighbourhood. I popped next door and asked my neighbour about them. She had been feeding the mother and knew when they had been born– they were seven and a half weeks old and no, she had no specific plans for them.

I’d like to say I got a cage ready and was super organised but I’d never tried to catch wild kittens (even if they had been seeing my neighbour on a regular basis so they knew people = food) so I didn’t know if I’d even be able to catch them. I just put down a bowl of dry food and stood back.  The cream kitten I’d first seen soon came out and approached the food. I stepped forward and scooped him up. And thought: O bugger, what do I do now? I had to carry him inside and grab my cat cage off the top shelf of the cupboard, making lots of noise and traumatising the poor little thing.

I put him in the cage and went outside again, where I saw the mother and the black kitten eating the food. The mother, in her rush to save herself, blocked the hole under the house so then I had two kittens. I couldn’t catch the grey kitten that day, but my neighbour scooped him up the following morning and handed him over. So that was three for three.

We gave them a box with a towel inside to hide in– we cut out the end but made sure we could open it from the top, incase we needed to– and 5 litter boxes to begin with. This was because, that first night I gave them the one I already had and shut them in my kitchen/dining room (no carpet and nowhere to crawl under or behind except the box) and, tho they’d used the litter box a bit, we’d awoken to a perimeter of cat sh*t. I cleaned up, white vinegared the spots and then went and got a litter tray and clumping litter for every spot they had used in the night. They never made a mess again. We quickly reduced to three litter boxes– two handy to their hidey box and one under the table so they wouldn’t get caugh out if they were out on adventures.

We took them to the vet and the vet got worm tablets into them then I gave them each a bath: on the cream kitten, we could see the layers of flea dirt that tracked the growth of his coat from birth. Eww. Fortunately, two of the three were obviously persian crosses (I’d seen the Persian tom with his flat nose and colourpoints a couple of times) and their fear response was to freeze, which saved me from being scratched to bits. Even the black kitten had the wind knocked out of his sails when I dunked him in a sinkful of water, so that went OK, too. They each dried out inside my top to keep warm, they each got a flea treatment, and that was the last traumatic thing that happened to them for some time.

Every day, we would come home from work and sit on the kitchen floor and play with the kittens. I work shifts, so most of the time one of us was around. We found that the best thing to do was to make a lure out of a fan-folded piece of paper and string and drag that around for them to chase. We dragged it over our legs and around behind our backs, relying on kittens’ addiction to chasing moving things to get them over their fear of us. It worked really well– so well, that the black kitten was ready for his new home in just 10 days!

We named the cream kitten William (coz I wanted something a little bit flash for out little-bit-flash boy). It took one day for him to stop hissing at us, and a week to stop shying away when we touched him. Soon he was like this:

and like this:

Meanwhile, the grey kitten, who was a bit shyer and a bit slower to warm up, finally came around and was relaxed enough to be like this:

We rehomed him, once we found a suitable place. He apparently grew into a huge, laid-back, sociable animal, which was good to hear.

And then we were a two cat household. We discovered something magic happens when kittens hit 20 weeks, as Luke started registering William as a cat at that point, not a strange rodent that he must try to eat. William has a submissive nature, so Luke was top cat and we had a peaceful household.

The stray, who had sat on out back doorstep and howled for a week (hard to listen to) but had evaded our trapping attempts, never had kittens under out flat again… but a couple of litters later, when the people up the street had either moved, confined or castrated their purebred persian and the stray had to settle for the roaming black tom, three black kittens started coming by, looking for food. We don’t know how old kittens are when their mother kicks them out, so we don’t know how old they were, but they were small and skinny. We thought they were probably too old to tame and wondered what we could do. The neighbourhood didn’t need any more feral cats.

Then, one day, one of the kittens walked into our flat looking relatively relaxed. We thought: Maybe we can do this. But these were no persians and they definitely didn’t freeze when they were scared, so we had to get creative. We trapped them in William’s plastic cage that opens in the end (William hates going to the vet and hides under his towel with his face smooshed in the corner. The solid plastic cage was our attempt to make him feel safer. We have to take the cage apart to get him out.) We caught all three, only one escaped. We did what we did with the other kittens but we didn’t get very far at all. We named them Theodore, Sir Touch-Me-Not aka Teddy Bear and The Evil Livvy.

The evil Livvy was truly evil, so we gave up on her and took her to a shelter that doesn’t automatically put down evil cats, but tries to find them a farm to live on, and focused on Teddy.

Here’s the picture I call ‘So young, yet so p*ssed off’

Teddy took a year to get tame, and if he hadn’t falled in love with his half-brother William, I don’t know if he ever would have calmed down.

The feeling isn’t exactly mutual, but William is a long-suffering beastie. Teddy’s antics have actually taught William to stand up for himself a bit. I have even heard growling and hissing on occasion! Teddy still prefers cats to people and still much preferrs kisses on the head to pats. He’s 5-ish, now, and is getting nicer as he gets older. Both cats are happier since my Luke disappeared without a trace a year ago… we miss him, but admit that life is easier without his brand of crazy in it.

RIP, Lukey ❤

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