(The kittens are at the “most work” stage; running around, eating real food, but they don’t have complete mastery of the litterbox yet! Not enough time to write, so I’m digging into my drafts folder.)
“There’s a cat with kittens in our backyard and I think your black and white cat [ed. note: Tavi, the spayed female who never crossed the street] is the father.”
Thus began the saga of Gus and his family and my first adventure with trapping ferals. The neighbour across the street had approached me and, despite the accusation, wasn’t unfriendly; just appealing for help. So I went out and rented a trap. “You’ll never catch cats in that. They’re too fast” advised the equipment rental clerk. But I had to try. I got a few cans of tuna and used the first to bait the trap. In less than an hour, one of the kittens was caught. (He’d turn out to be Gus; more on him later.) I made a temporary pen out of the old, unused free-standing shower stall in the bathroom (This was during the time when I was living in my workplace!) A while later I caught two more kittens. They were all scared and feisty but small enough to be socialized. Then next day I caught the mom. She went straight to the vet for evaluation/vaccination/spaying. The vet told me she was very underweight; that everything she had was going to the kittens! Now I was frantic; there were still two kittens left who had no mom to protect them. Imagine my relief when the next day they, too, were caught.
Now I had five kittens living in an old shower stall. But they were healthy and able to eat on their own. At first, they were reluctant to have anything to do with me. I let them be for a few days but then took a hard stance; the food was going to be beside me. They had to come up to me to eat. Once again, Gus was the first to break the barrier. It had nothing to do with bravery and everything to do with his love of food! Eventually all the kittens were fine with being handled and, of course, had plenty of socialization from the rest of the people at work. I’m still amazed that I managed this. I knew nothing about feral cats and socialization techniques. I just got lucky.
In the meantime, the mom was recovering at the vet. They had assured me she was feral and too old to be socialized. I was desperately trying to find a place for her to go. The neighbours didn’t want her back and I couldn’t just let her go in the neighbourhood. I was asking everyone I knew about farms/barns/anywhere. By now she was living in a crate and it was cruel. Finally, one of my sisters took her out to a rural area and let her go near a farm. She was healthy and spayed and would only ever have to look after herself. I still feel bad about it, but it was the best we could do for her at the time. This was well over twenty years ago.
As you may have guessed, I adopted Gus. He was just such a funny little guy. One of my co-workers adopted another. I can’t remember about the other three except that we found them homes. Tavi and Jenny were none too impressed with this new family member. In the first few weeks one of them bit him on the leg and he got a terrible infection. I was so scared I was going to lose him. But he pulled through. I had him almost 14 years when he died — very suddenly — one Easter weekend. He woke up unable to walk. I took him to the emergency clinic where they insisted nothing was wrong. (That’s a whole ‘nother post!) The next day he was worse and I rushed him to my own vet. She fought hard but he was in shock and she just couldn’t stabilize him. We never knew what it was. Her best guesses were a tumour she couldn’t locate or possibly pancreatitis (there are acute and chronic versions). An autopsy would have told us but when I asked her if she’d be able to learn anything from it she said no and I decided against it.