Gateway Gazette

Kittens are for Keeps

“The greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.”

~ Mahatma Ghandi

One of the kittens. Do you have room in your home and heart?
One of the kittens. Do you have room in your home and heart?

Submitted by Susan Deike

Southern Alberta, the foothills region in particular, has often been described as a land of plenty, a place where people are generous and caring…where folks have big ranches, big hearts and big wallets. One has to wonder though, what Ghandi would think if he knew about the number of cats and dogs that are driven out into the country, dropped off and left to fend for themselves.

Hard to know where the strays come from – since they can’t tell their stories. Some may actually have wandered away from homes where they were well-cared but others, certainly, get dumped. People have all kinds of excuses. Maybe that cute puppy has grown up and the children aren’t playing with it or helping take care of it. Perhaps the owners are too busy with work and have no time to clean the cat’s litter box. Or maybe they’ve lost their job and can no longer afford to feed and care for their family pet. “It’ll find a home in the country. Someone will take him in,” they say to themselves.

Well, in most cases it doesn’t turn out that way at all. Our driveway west of Millarville is not far off Highway 549 and I swear there is a sign at the end of it that says “Drop your cat here, we’ll look after it.”

The big, friendly tabby with no tattoo was lucky when he showed up at our doorway a few years ago. We were in a cat-less phase at that time and he adopted us, walking our daughters to the bus stop and meeting them again when they came home. He was so friendly that you would trip over him when you tried to go out the door. We put a red ribbon around his neck, brought him inside, paid to have him neutered and he’s now our lap cat.

Then there was the skinny yellow tabby who moved so fast that nobody could go near her for weeks – until one day she was so sick and thin she could no longer run. “We caught the cat,” one of our girls yelled from the garage. This one weighed under four pounds at two years old, when we took her to the vet, who told us the cat probably wouldn’t live. She spent her first month in our house lying on the heat vent and eating canned food. Spayed and healthy now, she’s ours too, and has finally decided that people are good – and is starting to warm up to humans.

Our third resident cat came to us as a little black kitten who showed up last summer out of nowhere when we were on holiday. Our house sitter said our dog (who came to us via the pound) had already adopted her so in she came.

This August, my daughters and I were picking raspberries (hoping to get to them before the bears did) when we heard a soft hissing. “It’s a cat,” said one girl. “She has kittens!” her sister added excitedly. Hiding in a den of fallen logs was a tabby and four kittens. The kittens were so young that it was easy to transfer them from their nest into our cozy cat carrier the next morning. We nearly got the mom but she ran off into the woods. After several hours of sitting on cold ground, we managed to entice her into the carrier with her youngsters and a can of cat food. Hard to tell which she wanted more because she was so incredibly thin.

There are coyotes, cougars, owls and other predators where we live. We found these kittens at about a week old and they avoided becoming some animal’s dinner. Right after we brought them in, there was a week of cold rain, followed by our September snow storm. They likely would have succumbed to the elements, if not to a wild animal.

The mom, the vet told us, is only about eight months old herself – a kitten with kittens. We wormed and quarantined this new family so they couldn’t get near our own cats and my girls have spent the last eight weeks looking after them, socializing the babies and preparing them for new homes. Two kittens have now been adopted; the other two and their mom, “Raspberry,” remain with us until we can find them good homes. Raspberry has been someone’s pet, is used to a litter box and purrs up a storm when she’s cuddled.

The day Raspberry’s first kitten went to his new home, we found another cat on our property, a thin black and white one, busily hunting mice on our lawn, running away when she saw us and hiding in the hay shelter at night. “Maybe she’s a mom as well,” I laughed. And a few days later we saw them – two more kittens – somewhat older than the ones in our house. We watched from our living room window as the mom came back with a mouse and dropped it at the feet of a spotted kitten who gobbled it up in seconds. The second baby, a little gray one, snuggled up to her mom, even though there was no food for her. Nobody has been able to catch this little family and even if we could, we have no more room for them. The last time we saw them, there was only the mom and the gray kitten. We are hoping the spotted youngster is still ok. We’re putting food out for them but the nights are getting colder…

Spaying and neutering would help – no animal we’ve rescued has ever had that all-important operation. And of course there are many shelters where people could drop off animals they no longer want. But we suspect things won’t be changing anytime soon. In the meantime, we’re looking for safe, indoor homes for Raspberry and her two remaining kittens. One person volunteered to take the kittens as barn cats, after their own cats were taken by coyotes. My girls said a distinct “no” to that offer as they’ve put too much love and care into raising these little ones.

Animals aren’t disposable. They aren’t “for a while” – they are for a lifetime. Maybe we’ll call the next stray Ghandi.

For information on the kittens, please email susan.deike@gmail.com

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