20 September 2016

Three Kittens in Search of a Home

Living in a rural area, on 20 acres, we encourage cats to take up residence to keep mice and snakes at a minimum. We feed the cats outside twice a day so they at least won’t be hungry enough that they are forced to eat birds to survive. Occasionally one or more cats will decide that a human is useful for scratching those hard to read places, for first aid, and even help with kittens. Often, queens remain mostly feral, but we try to get our hands on kittens to tame them in order to give them away or have them neutered when they’re old enough.

Sometimes, kittens fall ill, or queens disappear and kittens are abandoned. Once, a queen gave birth to a large litter. She was black, and all her kittens were black but for two. These were tuxedo cats, a chip off the old Mr. Mistoffeles, cats that are black and white, often with white toes or feet and white chests. After the litter was a couple weeks old, I watched the queen carry one of the black and white kittens out of her hiding place under the house and dump him on the sidewalk. He sat there wailing, and she didn’t return to fetch him. So we scooped him up and took him inside to raise through his kitten-hood. Two days later, mom carried his black and white brother out to the sidewalk and abandoned him, too. So we rescued him. They became Gerbil and Hamster, the Rodentia Brothers. The queen continued to raise her all-black offspring to weaning age. Once the Rodentia Brothers were old enough, they wanted to stay outside, and after a couple years, they disappeared. The life of an outside cat can be very, very short.

Rhino, the blogging cat
This brings the story around to Figaro, a very prolific tuxedo queen, who would allow us to pet her but never get close enough to arrange for her neutering. She could be counted upon to give birth to two litters every summer, and one of her first litters included Rhino, for those of you who know me. One of her last litters (she eventually disappeared) included a little runt female we called Socks. She was very thin, but Figaro raised her to weaning age, and we could never catch her to tame her. Sure enough, early the next spring, she was grossly pregnant. I worried that she’d survive the birth, she was such a little thing, but she did. She had about four kittens, weaned them, and went on to have two more litters that summer. By the next summer, we had several female cats, some that we’d raised in the house and were hoping to neuter. (This all takes time and money, folks, and we’re poor teachers.) One of our house-raised queens (a calico named Bailey) had a little of about five around the same time Socks gave birth. We weren’t sure how many kittens Socks had, but she’d been bigger than ever before, and as usual, nursing was stripping all the fat off her body, no matter how much we supplemented her food. She’d had a bad experience in her usual birthing den, so she was hiding the kittens under an outbuilding, and we couldn’t see them, even to count them.

Meanwhile, Bailey disappeared and her five kittens were hungry. Feeding five kittens every two hours for a week or more is quite a chore, and we were living in a little 14 x 24 cabin after our house burned down, with a dog (Cocoa) and the cat, Rhino. Knowing that cats can be like four-legged hippies and sometimes take care of one another’s kittens, I placed the five kittens (two black, two calicoes, and a ginger kitten) near the opening of the out building where Socks was. I went back into the house and checked about every 10-15 minutes. One by one, each kitten disappeared, having been adopted by Socks, except the ginger kitten. After an hour, she still hadn’t accepted the ginger kitten, and it was getting dark, he was howling with hunger, so I took him into the cabin and started to feed him. That was Wally.

Socks raised nine kittens that round, and luckily didn’t have any more kittens that summer. She was terribly thin, and we didn’t want her to have any further pregnancies, but we tried in vain, all though the following summer, to tame her enough to catch her and take her to the vet. But she always trusted up with her kittens, so many of them were tame.

As if she knew she was getting to the point where she needed help, she brought one kitten, a survivor
out of about four, up to the house this spring. We named her Peaches, and the dog, Madra, was obsessed with her. But a few weeks later, she disappeared. We’d been noticing that few kittens made it to weaning age, and many suffered from eye infections and upper respiratory infections that ultimately killed them. We rescued one of Sock’s kittens last summer (2015) that was so sick, we took him to the vet. He’s become a house cat, along with Tippy (probably also Socks’ because he’s a tuxedo cat), Timmie, and Frances, a rescued kitten that had been abandoned in one of our boats sitting in the yard.

Socks immediately became pregnant again, and she was huge. She gave birth near one of the out buildings, but armadillos, raccoons, and possums have taken up residence around there, so she moved all five of the kittens to areas near the house. She had them hidden in the weeds next to the cabin, but it was in the roof’s drip line. One night, after the Food Guy had gone to bed, April (cabin resident) informed me of the storm, and we dashed out to put the kittens somewhere dry. Socks let me pick up her and a kitten, which would have been a good thing, until I slipped on the wet concrete on the porch and they both went flying. We still managed to move all five kittens to the porch and dry them off. Then Socks moved them out to the out buildings.

Socks and the torments of motherhood
However, the next day, they were back in the weeds in the drip line, so the Food Guy managed a kind of shelter from both the rain and the sun, and this is where they stayed until the kittens became more mobile. Socks was letting us pet her and pick her up occasionally (mostly to show her where food was), and the kittens were all becoming tame. They all had names – the three tuxedos, Snip, Zorro, and Grits; the tabby, Nancy; and the grey and white echo of his relative Rhino, whose name is Kevin. We watched them carefully, and when it became apparent that their weaning was nearly complete, we managed to catch Socks and take her to the vet to be neutered, feeling happy that we could at least let her live the rest of her life in some kind of kitty retirement and not sacrifice her health raising three litters every summer. We carted the kittens off to be vaccinated and wormed, and congratulated ourselves on a plan well executed. Then Grits became ill. It wasn’t the usual upper respiratory infection, but she was listless and wouldn’t eat. He was vomiting and losing weight. The vet gave her an antibiotic injection and a supplement to build up her nutrition intake.
Chitlin, when we didn't
 think he'd make it.

She rallied for about a day and then fell ill again, but now, all the tuxedo cats were exhibiting the same symptoms. Perhaps this was a virus they were passing around? I decided if they weren’t better, after the weekend, I would take them all back to the vet. By Monday, Zorro was fading fast. The only one that didn’t seem affected was Nancy. Even Kevin seemed a bit listless. I had an 8 o’clock class 40 miles away, so I decided to drop the kittens off at the vet when they opened at 7:30 and make a dash for Waco. I had a flat tire along the way.

They vet called that afternoon, and it wasn’t good. We’d lost Zorro, and Snip and Grits weren’t looking good. Kevin and Nancy had fevers. They had all tested positive for Feline Immunodeficiency Virus (FIV). They couldn’t be outside cats, and they couldn’t live with us for fear of infecting our four house cats. We’d try to find them homes if they survived. The immunizations had probably zapped their immune systems to the point that they became susceptible to some virus that wouldn’t have even bothered them, if they weren’t FIV positive. They could live relatively normal lives, just not with us.

The next day, Snip died. I thought we’d lose them all. But Nancy, Kevin, and Grits made to through. We kept them at the vet clinic for the weekend because we were going away and there’d be no one to care for them. I tried to find them homes. So now, they live in the dog’s kennel, and sometimes they go out and hangout with their mother, who recovered from her neutering fine. She probably caught the virus from some roaming tomcat. It’s possible that Chitlin, from one of her litters last summer, as well as one of our yard cats, Fuzzy, who has never been able to raise a kitten to weaning age, are also infected. We’ll have them tested during their annual checkups. If all the big inside cats are sleeping, we let the little ones play in the living room. Kevin has a neurological problem I have yet to discuss with the vet, so she has trouble walking. It hasn’t slowed her down – she runs and runs until she falls down, and then she gets back up and runs some more. Nancy is a troublemaker, and Grits is a scairdy-cat. My dream is that someone would adopt all three of them so that they could all live together for as long as they can.

Kevin, Grits, and Nancy
FIV is not like human AIDS. It cannot cross species and infect humans or dogs or hamsters. It is classified as a lentivirus (or "slow virus"). FIV is in the same retrovirus family as feline leukemia virus (FeLV), but the viruses are quite different genetically, and the proteins that compose them are dissimilar in size and composition. The specific ways in which they cause disease differ, as well.

These three have the chance to live relatively normal lives, if they live inside and are neutered. They probably need to be monitored more closely for illnesses than most cats. They may be susceptible to illnesses as they get older. But we just couldn’t put them down because they might not live to be 18 years old. These are happy, energetic kittens who think they have the whole world ahead of them. I’d like to give it to them.

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