Ten years ago this month, I became the godmother of 5 one day old kittens and a very young mom, Missy. She was only 7 months old. She has lived with me since, as has Jake (he’s the one in the basket looking far and away). How Jake came to stay will become evident as you read further. They came to me from a house that, let’s just say, had too many animals and no one was ever spayed or neutered. Harley already lived with me and came from the same house. Emma was queen of my house, then, even though she wasn’t even 9 mos old. I also had three Great Danes, so five kittens and their momma made for a house full. But we coped and it was an experience I would never forget (or hopefully repeat).
At the time, I wrote a letter to a friend, telling him of my adventures. I’ve copied it below. When you get to the part about the little kitten who continually hid in my desk drawer (still not sure how he kept getting in there) know that little boy was Jake, and after all the other kittens were adopted out, it became obvious he wanted to stay. He ignored anyone who came looking to adopt and curled up next to me whenever he could.
From my letter (May 2004):
A soft heart and large home made me the likeliest candidate to take care of a young cat and her litter of 5 kittens, when her owner couldn’t. I won’t go into my spiel about spaying and neutering your pets, an unexpected litter of 5 kittens when shelters are overflowing, should say it all. Unexpected maybe, unwanted never, a daily, joyful surprise, always.
Since I’ve never raised kittens from birth (actually a day old when they came to my house with their not yet year old mom, Missy) I wasn’t sure what I’d gotten myself into. My beloved BJ, who died a year ago, came to live with me when she was only five weeks old and motherless, and my calico ball of spunk, Emma, arrived at 8 weeks last summer. So I suspected I’d have my hands full. I truly had no idea how full.
I thought I’d make list of what I learned while raising kittens.
1. Mother knows best. The first few days, when I was unsure of the care and feeding of 4-ounce fur balls, first time mom, Missy, made it clear she had everything under control: Would you please keep your big germ-y paws off my kittens…and could keep those big, slobbering beasts somewhere else, I hear Peoria is nice…I just got them to sleep, DON’T wake them up!
2. Great Danes make great babysitters. Missy and I both began to understand that regardless of their size, if the Danes were around, the kittens were safe and protected, wet with slobber, but safe.
3. Being the runt doesn’t necessarily mean you should panic. On their third day in the world, I weighed the kittens and was shocked to see one of them was at least ½ ounce less than the rest. I quickly rushed out to get kitten milk and proceeded to try and supplement Missy’s milk. Mostly I just wore it. By their fifth day it was obvious that, like his brothers and sisters, he was gaining an ounce a day and was in no immediate danger…except maybe from me drowning him. He’s turned out to be a charmer…small, but charming. And he always gets the girl.
4. Herding cats is an apropos description. Two weeks old and suddenly they were mobile,
they didn’t go much further than their crate, but they were definitely mobile. Missy, in typical mother fashion, felt her youngsters were much better off sleeping in a corner of the crate and did not take well to their new mobility. Then one morning I came downstairs after my shower to find they had escaped the fenced area around their crate and were exploring the family room. Missy was meowing desperately, trying to round them up and put them back in the crate. When she saw me, she sat back on her haunches, looked at me and meowed. The clear message “your problem now.” She kept meowing until I had every kitten secured and the fence adjusted so they couldn’t escape again.
5. Newborn kittens are boring…and then suddenly they’re not. Seemingly overnight the kittens went from being content to sleep their days and nights away in the crate, to exploring the limited area fenced off for them. There was no in between. One day they could barely walk, then next day they were running. They soon learned there was a cool hiding place between the dog crate and the wall. And the dogs became great play toys…as long as they didn’t move too fast. And if they got too close, those little balls of fur would rear up and hiss with all their might. I think I saw one of the Danes snicker. The water dish became great amusement, as one kitten after another dunked their entire face in and came up with a start. Food was meant to be played with, and the litter box made a great place to dig and scratch.
6. Motherhood makes you neurotic. In the first few days of kitten independence Missy was distraught. She wanted nothing more than for them to go back into the crate and take a nap. By the end of their third week of life, she was resigned to the fact you cannot put the genie back in the bottle.
7. Mother knows best, pt. 2. One day I headed downstairs after working in my office all morning. I did a quick check on the kittens, and realized we were a few short. Three to be exact. I hunt, I search, I make stupid meowing sounds, but I can’t find them anywhere. Figuring Missy has moved them, I search the entire house to no avail. I close all the doors, hoping sooner or later she’ll hang out at whatever door the kittens are behind. I take the other two upstairs to my office and close that door. A minute later, Missy is meowing at my door. I let her in, figuring she wants to move the other two to join the others. Instead she heads into my closet. While I’d been working all morning, she’d carried her kittens through the entire house and upstairs where, without my noticing, she put them in the closet right behind me. The funniest part is she had to go past the Danes who make it their habit to hang their heads off the top step and observe their domain. Later that night I moved everyone back to the crate. A few days later, it became apparent the kittens had outgrown their fenced corner in the family room, so I relented and turned my entire office into a nursery. Missy’s plan all along.
8. Any time is a good time for a nap. I love the fact that in the midst of a good romp, when sleepiness hits, kittens sleep. Seemingly dropping in their tracks to nap. I found one half in and half out of the crate sound asleep.
9. Kittens make great neighbors. From the day the kittens arrived, my doorbell would ring two or three times a day. All the neighborhood kids wanted to see the kittens. By the time they were 6 weeks old, parents and other neighbors were arriving as well, deciding if they were going to adopt or not. Always spending 20 or 30 minutes on my front step watching the kittens play as we talked and shared and became better friends. One day, I was walking down the street with two of the kittens, to show one of my neighbors, and by the time I had walked the half block, there were 12 kids following me.
10. Kittens do the darndest things. One morning I peeked in, before coffee no less, to find that during the night they’d dumped my paper shedder and proceeded to play in the confetti until it was all over the room. That’s just one of many adventures they had.
11. Electrical outlet covers aren’t just for kids. If there’s a hazard, the kittens seemed to find it. Including chewing electrical cords, playing with the electrical outlets, trying to eat philodendron leaves and climbing to the highest point in the room and leaping off.
12. Kitten, kitten, where is the kitten? One of the boys took to hiding, a lot. One night I couldn’t find him anywhere and I was afraid he’d figured a way out of the room. It was late and I wanted nothing more than to go to bed. I did one last sweep of the room, all the others were accounted for, when I heard scratching. I followed the sound and a bit incredulously opened my bottom desk drawer, and there he was looking at me like, “tag, you’re it!”
13. Kitten, kitten, where is the kitten, again? The little scamp hid several more times in my bottom drawer, I’m assuming he can’t teleport, so there must be some way from the bottom that he could climb in. If I couldn’t find him, I’d head for the drawer and there he’d be. Except one day he wasn’t, I presumed he’d found a new hiding place and I’d find him eventually. I sat down to work and opened my top drawer to get something and had to stifle a scream, because there he was. I still don’t know how he does it. Dang, maybe he can teleport. (Editor note: Not long after that, all the kittens followed him and found their way into my desk drawers. They loved to pop up when I opened a drawer, like it was the best game of hide and seek ever).
14. Herding kittens, pt. 2. Though the office was fairly secure, the kittens were bound and determined to find a way out. After all, I could leave, Missy could leave (and did quite frequently), and the dogs could leave. So why shouldn’t they leave? One morning, when they were 6 weeks old, I’d just gotten out of the shower (why they choose to run for it when I’m in the shower, I don’t know), when I heard Missy meowing like crazy. I figured we’d had a breakout; it wouldn’t be the first time one had escaped. But it wasn’t one; somehow all five were out and in a playful mood. They’d see me, pause for a second and then dart off. We were definitely playing a game of “catch me if you can.” It took me 15 or 20 minutes, but I finally had them rounded up. Or so I thought. A quick head count and I knew I was missing one. That’s when I heard the plaintive cry. I couldn’t believe it; the most adventurous of the girls was downstairs, directly beneath the open balcony. I can only assume she fell through the open railing…I can report she’s fine, but only has 8 lives left. After that, I made an extra effort to secure the office and for good measure blocked off the open railings.
15. I am not a climbing tree. They only think I am. I almost gave up working in the office, because from the moment I arrived I became the favorite jungle gym. At any given point there would be one climbing up my leg, one in my lap and one climbing up to my shoulder. I felt like Gulliver. It’s not easy to type with one kitten going after your fingers and another one clawing your leg. (Editor’s note: one of my favorite memories is of my giant harlequin Dane lying on the office floor and the kittens would crawl all over her, she loved it. One time she stood up and all five were hanging from her – shoulder, tail, feet – so cute and I wish I had a picture of that).
16. Match.com. The kittens’ personalities developed early. Each one is distinctly different from the next. The best part for me has been matching families up with a kitten. They almost choose themselves, as after a brief conversation with a family, the right kitten jumps to mind. And the very best part is, after a family chooses them, they get a name.
By the end of eight weeks, four of the kittens had good homes and it was clear Missy and Jake would stay with us and we became a home of 4 cats. Missy really taught me everything I needed to know about cats. Wouldn’t change a moment of it….
Please spay and neuter your pets people.