So, I was very excited about getting on board with this season’s new babies (when am I not?). This year is especially difficult due to the very few foster homes available, so I felt it was important that I get on the bandwagon sooner, rather than later. I received an e-mail about a group of feral females living behind a house in a not-so-nice and rather noisy area of downtown. The owners of the house and the caregivers to these girls found a litter of ~5 week old kittens living in the colony’s “home”, which was basically a huge pile of leaves, tree branches, and large pieces of trash (old tables, TV’s, etc). It wasn’t ideal, but it was safe and surrounded on two sides by fencing. The area was so full of loud cars, screaming children, and loud adults, which had me thinking that socializing to noises would be a breeze. The e-mail and pictures suggested that these kittens allowed human contact and seemed like they had the potential to be adopted out to good homes. I thought, “Okay, this won’t be so bad!” Silly me.
Needless to say, I’ve never had to raise kittens from a feral colony before. I usually get my kids when they are a few weeks younger from hoarding situations or those that are affectionate, have already been caught, and kept inside by a good Samaritan. This was a new experience and I always say that I learn something new from every litter I take in. This year’s lesson is already promising to be a tough one.
So, I met another volunteer (who is working to TNR the adults) at the location and we went kitten hunting! I found a pair of babies within the first 10 minutes and used a trail of canned food to coax them towards me. The buff orange kitten got up and ran off, but the blue-pointed fluffball stood up and followed the food without much hesitation. I didn’t expect it to be so easy to scruff the little guy and put him in a carrier. We spent another 1 1/2 hours trying to catch the others with no luck. I’d figure I’d come back for the rest in the next few days until I was able to catch them all. I was oh so naive.
I brought the one male home and set him up in my kitten bathroom. He was cautious at first, but he warmed up quicker than I had hoped! Within an hour, I had him purring and asking to be rubbed. I was able to give him his first dose of dewormer and do a decent exam on him (which, he seemed thin, but rather healthy). This got me thinking that as long as I could get my hands on his siblings soon, that this process would be simple. The next day, I was able to give him a bath** to wash away the fleas that I could. He cried most of the first two nights because he was alone, which didn’t aid in my sleep, but as I always say, it’s worth it. It did, however, prove that he was quite the social butterfly.
Within 24 hours, he was head-butting, purring, and absolutely adoring all the attention! The next day, he took a field trip to my family’s 36 acres and to the large camper my parents’ are living in for the time being (its where we go every weekend to see the progress of the new house). My sister brought him since I was pet-sitting elsewhere and before I could get there, they had let him have free reign of the camper, including access to the Greyhound and Pomeranian. I panicked, thinking he was going to get eaten or be terrified. That was pointless, because the little fearless bugger was running around like none of it was new or scary. He was dashing right up the dogs I was caring for (and brought with me) and began to nose them and play with their feet! This little baby was surely something else and he was going to need a big name to match his big personality.
I took him to work with me the following week (everybody always gets excited to meet my new kittens) for socialization to noises and constant stranger handling. Everybody instantly fell in love with him, but it’s hard not to with that gorgeous coat and blue eyes. By the end of the week, I had my friend/veterinarian seriously thinking of adopting him and another friend of a friend on the wait list. Names were thrown about, but nothing seemed to fit him. That is, until another DVM suggested Baker due to his excessive, almost constant kneading or “making biscuits”. It definitely stuck. Baker it is then!
Baker was definitely not an issue, but I was quickly becoming aware of the fact that his siblings would be. Each day that goes by, is another day without human contact. A kitten’s window for human socialization is small (weeks 3-7) and the window was closing fast! They were reaching that 6 week mark that would make more work for me. Two visits to the property were unsuccessful, but the third was definitely the charm. I brought along my fellow cat lady and co-worker and after spending probably 1 1/2 hours coaxing kittens out from under the house (where they had been moved to) we finally got our hands on two more males. Sadly, we ran out of light and made the executive decision that this was our last attempt and had to leave two other kittens behind with the colony.
When I got them home, I instantly realized that these guys wouldn’t be like Baker. They were pretty much fully feral, not allowing me to touch them at all. I spent about 2-3 hours every night just sitting in the room with them. I only saw progress when I used friendly Baker to demonstrate that I wasn’t a threat. Only then did they start to approach me or sniff me. They even began to play by the third day. However, this progress is still very slow. They still hiss and run from me when I come into the room. They still back away when I attempt to touch them. This morning, I was forced to pick them up in order to deworm them since they had started having diarrhea and vomiting up roundworms. It’s a bit stressful and frustrating, but patience is the most important thing about working with ferals.
It’s only been four days and I will give these guys a full two weeks to get used to people. However, I will have to make the serious decision come day 14 about whether or not they are adoptable. It is not fair for me to spend so much time and effort with these two kittens when they may not ever grow to be normal, social cats. Nor is it fair for me to try and adopt out two kittens who are skittish and fearful. Therefore, I will try to test them for FelV and FIV and if they are negative, they will be neutered and returned to their family. If they are positive, the most humane and responsible thing to do is to euthanize them. Trust me, this is not what I want, but I need to think of them and the cats of their colony before myself.
Like I said, the lesson this year isn’t going to be easy.
**Bathing a kitten isn’t always easy! It’s a good idea to wash away the filth of living outside and some of the parasites, larvae, and eggs. However, I don’t recommend doing so unless you know what you’re doing! Every kitten must be “scruffed” because most of the time they are going to panic at the sight of water. This means scratching, biting, and trying to leap from your hands to the hard floor below. I typically use the kitchen sink and it’s extremely important to use only luke warm water and no soap! The younger the kitten, the more important this is. On top of that, you must dry the baby as best as you can and keep him warm until completely dry. Unless you are confident and experienced in properly and securely handling a kitten, I don’t advise anyone to do this. Getting bitten is a serious matter as well as the danger of that kitten getting injured when falling out of your hands.**