Life With Cats contributor Nicky Westbrook tells the story of the litter of kittens dumped near her rural TX property last fall. After her time caring for and trying to rehome them, she says she has renewed admiration for those dedicated rescuers who do this work all the time.
On Sunday, October 23rd, I got a call from my neighbor: “I was out jogging and it looks like someone dumped a litter of kittens in the woods. What do I do?” My neighbor (and dear friend) is a man in his mid-50’s whose tough biker exterior nicely contrasts his soft-hearted “in touch with his feminine side” interior. I said, “If you can catch them, take them to Mom’s and she can put them in a carrier until I get home.”
We are cat people. We live in a rural area of Texas, west of Fort Worth, and I share 14 acres with my parents who live in a separate home. Behind my parents’ home there is a wooded creek. Over the years various stray cats have wandered into their lives and formed what at this point is a small feral colony (all cats have received the usual TNR treatment via Dallas-based Feral Friends and a charitable local veterinarian). However, these kittens were about two miles away, abandoned in the woods on a country road.
When I got home several hours after my neighbor’s call there were three kittens in a large dog crate waiting for me. My neighbor told me there was one left in the woods he couldn’t get and he took me to the spot so I would know where to go to try and capture this last one. Subsequent visits to the site revealed there were actually two more. I was able to go out one morning after dropping my kids off at school and sit patiently in the woods with a carrier, two cans of Fancy Feast (Turkey and Giblets) and my pepper spray (to ward off any creepy hillbillies I might run across alone in the woods on the side of the road). It was like taking candy from a baby. I opened the cans of food, put them in the carrier and then sat at the end of a long string I had tied to the door. It was really too easy and confirmed what we suspected, which was they probably were indeed dumped and not feral.
I created a pretty nice set-up for them on my back porch. They had the huge dog carrier and to give them a “porch” of sorts I tied a large rabbit cage to the opening of the carrier so they had more room to move and so they could get some sunshine, etc. My plan, now that I had all five, was to take them to a shelter or hand them over to a rescue group; until then, I would keep them on the porch.
And so began a routine. In the morning I would clean the carrier, feed them, clean the litter box, then tie the rabbit cage to the entrance of the carrier. And to the rabbit cage I would tie toys for them to bat about. If it was sunny and nice I would put the rabbit cage in the grass so they could get some sunshine. At night I would move the rabbit cage aside and close up the carrier and tie the door shut and cover them with sheets or blankets depending on the temperature. This was all okay because it was only going to be for A FEW DAYS.
I had immediately taken photos of them and emailed two local rescue groups. One I never heard back from and the other was full and I would have to wait for them to make room. The county animal shelter was full too and, while they were very nice and willing to work with me and take them, they admitted they would only be able to put the friendliest ones up for adoption which meant those they deemed “too timid” would most likely be put down. Only two of these kittens were what I would call pretty friendly. The other three were very timid and none of them acted like they had had a ton of human interaction. There were all somewhere between feral and socialized. One thing was for sure, they were all gorgeous. I knew I just needed to get the word out. My sister works for a large company and they have an employee classified ad network online. I sent her some photos and we immediately got inquiries.
The first to go was the only male. His name is now Kitty Cat. He was named by the three year old boy with whom he lives. Kitty Cat was the largest and friendliest of the litter. He was also the one we knew was still left in the woods (before we knew there were two left in the woods). He has a great home and I get pictures now and then from them. It chokes me up every time to see the child and kitten so happy together. Every picture the mom sends is of this cat just glued to this sweet boy. Here is Kitty Cat watching his boy work on a puzzle.
The next two to go were the short-haired tabby and one of the white girls. This home was also the result of my sister’s ad at work. A very nice woman wanted two kittens as a surprise for her 12 year old twin girls, one of whom has aspirations of becoming a veterinarian. This home seemed as perfect as the one for Kitty Cat. These two girls are now named Baby Girl and Pearl Snap, and they are thriving. Baby Girl was just spayed and Pearl Snap will soon follow. I just received this photo of the girls a few days ago and the family reports being thrilled they took both kittens, and says that everyone is in love.
By now my FEW DAYS of keeping the cats on the porch had turned into a week and a half. Still not too shabby. My new plan was to work with the remaining two kittens on getting them friendly, and not stress out about them. My mother and I discussed the option of TNR and letting them live with her colony, but with one of them being white we figured a coyote could make quick work of them and, as beautiful as they both were, there still was a good chance of getting them adopted if I could find a place to take them. I personally couldn’t keep them as I have an elderly, cranky, diabetic cat and an elderly dog. Both of my animals have been quite expensive lately because of health issues and I was just not in a position financially to take them. Here is a video of my cranky cat being annoyed with them.
On November 9th, I got an email back from a third shelter I had recently contacted. It was from a wonderful gal by the name of Ro Williams with cattailz.org who said they would be able to take them at some point but I really needed to work on getting them super friendly. Cattailz.org does TNR work and holds adoptions at a Petco in Fort Worth. They would ultimately be going to Petco so they needed to be super okay with people. I moved them inside and what followed was about three weeks of getting them used to people, other animals, house noises, kids storming in and out. During this phase, we had to deal with an abscess from rambunctious kitten play that ruptured on Thanksgiving Day (thanks).
At last we decided upon a date for the handover. The morning of December 1st I met Ro at an old convenience store parking lot and handed over the kitties. I didn’t think I’d cry but I did. She took them to the vet that day where they were spayed and given shots. My neighbor who’d first spotted the kittens donated some money to the cause.
It was my hope to include photos of these last two kittens in their forever home but they are still under the wonderful care of Ro at her home. She has named the white one Paris and the tabby, GiGi. It turns out GiGi doesn’t do well with change and regressed a bit in the little social strides she had taken and it was decided she wouldn’t do well in the Petco setting. They are available for adoption to the perfect home via the cattailz.org Petfinder page here. They will be adopted together and will need someone with lots of love and patience.
In all, I had the kittens only five and a half weeks. What I learned in that short time, is that I just don’t think I could do rescue work on a regular basis. I have a GIGANTIC NEW RESPECT for those who do. Just keeping two kittens clean and safe and fed on top of my duties to work, home, family and my own two ailing pets was tiring. The stress of organizing adoptions and meetings and donations and animals coming in has to be overwhelming at times. God bless the people who make this their life’s work.