When my son Joel was about 12, our neighbor Sue asked me if he would be interested in cat-sitting for her. I asked him, and he asked me how many cats she had.
“Just one,” I said.
“That’s good,” he said. “Because if she had a bunch, she would be a crazy cat lady.”
I didn’t think I ever really wanted a cat, although I did state in a recent blog that perhaps, I was closer to getting one than ever before. Somehow, with age, I was becoming softer toward cats, and I maybe I would get one someday.
We grew up with multiple cats on the farm, and they were just that: farm cats. They stayed outside, reproduced and gave birth outside; lived and died outside. If I were to get a cat, it would be an outside cat.
In January, a gray tiger-striped cat showed up at our back door. I didn’t see it; I heard it. My head was in the refrigerator, and at the very same moment I was smelling the milk to determine that it was indeed a few days sour, I heard the meowing at the back door.
Here’s your sign.
I gave the milk to the cat, and the saga began.
In honor of my love for all things Abilene and Eisenhower, I wanted to name her Mamie. My husband, however, with his unique sense of humor, did me one better: Katleen.
We had many farm cats, but none as memorable as Goldie. She was the matriarchal family farm feline; having given birth to eighty-some kittens, at our last count. She had one back leg accidentally shortened by a farm mower, but this didn’t stop her. She even went missing several weeks, and we all missed her. I had a dream one night she came back, and the next morning she did. She disappeared another time, and she never came back. Without providing too much detail, we found proof that she was gone forever.
I remember that Suzanne had a favorite farm cat she named Ashley. I also remember that she dressed her up in doll clothes. Suzanne doesn’t have a cat now, but she says she would like one again someday. When she lived in Osborne near our parents, she had Donnie and Salem. When Gail’s kids were younger, they had a housecat: Bojangles. When they found out Bojangles was female, she became Belle Jingles. She hasn’t had a cat since, but hasn’t ruled out another one someday.
Our parents had a very special cat that first belonged to Suzanne. Blackie was adopted by the wonderful people who moved into their house, because she refused to leave. (The Luckiest Black Cat, August 23rd, 2020).
Katleen became a shop cat; my husband’s workshop became her new home. It was heated, and she was happy there. We were happy to have her there, too. She was a nice cat, very friendly. Clearly, she had been loved. No one local claimed her, and she didn’t show any desire to leave us. She was clean and tidy, using the litter box without any training.
In short order, Katleen became pregnant. Knocked up. With kittens. This wasn’t what we signed up for, but, recalling how farm cats take care of this business without any help, I wasn’t worried. She would simply give birth on her own terms. She would take care of the kittens until they were weaned, and we would find homes for them, just like we did with the dozens of farm cats that were born. Easy peasy. Mother Nature would be the only midwife and nurse she needed.
Katleen continued to grow; appearing to be ready any moment, but she just kept growing. And growing.
On Tuesday, April 13th, I went in the shop early in the morning to check on her, just like I had every morning lately. She didn’t spring off her favorite chair to her food bowl, like she usually did. She had been known to sneak around behind the workbench, prowling in and out of the nooks and crannies. She always showed up, so I knew she was in there somewhere. I looked around, but didn’t see her. Then, I heard it: a tiny little mew. Not a big meow, but the tiny little voice of a new born kitten. I traced the sound, and found it coming from behind the workbench, behind the trashcan. I didn’t move it; I knew it wasn’t my place. I needed to leave them alone; I would be a hindrance to what happens naturally, without the need for human intervention.
When I came home that afternoon, I decided it was time to take a look. It was feeding time, and I knew she would be hungry. Like a steak dinner for a new mother in the hospital, I opened a can of tuna for her. I didn’t hear any more mews; perhaps they were all resting. However many there were. Four-five is an average size litter, I found out soon thereafter. I pulled the trashcan out, and found her nest:
She had apparently drug plastic bags back there, knowing she would need something between her and the floor. She got up and went right to the tuna in her dish. It was relatively warm, but I knew her babies needed something softer than the plastic bags on the concrete floor. Hearing Mom’s advice in my head–don’t touch the kittens when they are new, the mother won’t like your scent on her kittens, I put on rubber gloves and put them on a softer bed of rugs and old towels. Katleen didn’t mind. She was hungry; gobbling her food. She did turn her head and look behind her a few times as she ate to check on her babies. She was doing well; the kittens were doing well. All seven of them. The Magnificent Seven–just like our mom called us. They looked like little mice, squirming and wriggling, but always heaping themselves together on a pile. I tucked them all in (figuratively speaking) and left them alone with each other for the night.
All eight felines were doing well the next morning. By afternoon, however, Katleen had stopped eating. She wasn’t interested. And, there was no water gone from her dish. I thought this was strange, but I learned from local experts that she may need a day to rebound. We gave her that day.
She didn’t bounce back. By Thursday morning, all her food and water remained. She was minimally responsive, but lied quietly and nursed her babies. She was losing a bit more afterbirth, and the smell coming from her was awful. My neighbor Sue–the not-crazy-cat-lady I mentioned in the first paragraph, was very concerned. I was, too, but in my state of denial, I heard myself say “She’s a tough farm cat. She’ll be okay, just like all your farm cats from years past.” But deep down, my voice of reason said: “She’s not okay.” I knew of a great local vet from a friend’s recommendation and he wanted to see her right away. Sue, being the stellar neighbor and friend she is, stepped in and stepped up to take her in, because I had to get to work. We loaded up Mama and her babies–the vet said to bring them along, but the babies came right back home.
She went into surgery shortly thereafter to remove her uterus, as it was “full of gunk” from the placentas that didn’t pass, and this material was becoming toxic to her. She was given a 50/50 shot at survival. She wouldn’t have made it much longer if he hadn’t performed surgery, he said.
“This is rare,” the vet told me on the phone when I called that afternoon. “She made it through surgery, and she is starting to wake up. We’ll know in the morning if she’s okay. If she survives, she may not produce enough milk right away, and they may still need to be supplemented.”
He kept her overnight. Sue had brought the kittens back, and jumped right into lifesaving mode. She procured the necessary powdered formula, made two trips back into town to get the right supplies, and, with her partner Rick, they syringe-fed the first feeding. More would need to follow every two hours until midnight, then about every four hours.
My husband was at work, and I got another patient added to my list before we could come home and launch into kitten caregiving. This was not turning out to be a good day, but my faith in my local circle of humanity would soon be enriched.
When we both got home, we went across the road to Sue’s house. She had a highly efficient system set up, and showed us how it worked. We all jumped in and got in the groove of the next feeding.
It was about four o’clock, and they would need to stay on this schedule until about midnight, according to the vet’s recommendations. Then, every four hours would suffice.
This schedule, however, would be daunting for all four of us together, let alone any one of us. I knew it wasn’t feasible for me, as sleep is my highest priority after ten p.m., it is my lifesaving medicine.
Enter Annie–Angel Annie, as she deserves to be called. She came highly recommended from a friend, and she was home from college just a few miles down the road. She loved cats, and was up all night anyway, she said, as many college students are. She came over with her dad, completed Sue’s crash course in syringe-feeding two-day old kittens, and took them home for the night. We were in one-day-at-a-time mode.
God bless her.
I called the vet at 8 a.m., hoping and praying for good news. He had it. Katleen was awake, recovering well and eating. We could pick her up anytime.
God bless him.
This left the weekend. The weekend we had planned to go to Kansas City to celebrate my birthday, which was Saturday. We had big plans with friends, and taking care of seven kittens and their mama–as lovable as they all are– was not in my plan.
Enter more angels. Mark’s brother and his wife agreed to take all eight cats, at least for the weekend. They knew that they would likely need to be fed with a syringe, or, if they took it, a bottle with a small nipple. They stepped up and accepted the challenge.
Mama and her babies were seamlessly reunited, and they all appeared happy to be back together. We delivered the eight felines, and were able to hit the road for Kansas City by noon, as planned.
God bless them.
They kept us updated via text and videos/pictures; all eight cats were hanging in there. Even the lighter-colored runt–Slim, as they affectionately named him/her.
When they got up for a 3 a.m. feeding, there were five kittens in the box, and no mama cat. They searched the house for about half an hour, but no luck. Knowing they were somewhere in their house, and the other kittens were fed and quiet, they went back to bed. In the morning, he found Mama and the two biggest kittens hiding in the back of his closet. She had apparently separated them from the smaller kittens, likely instinctively knowing that the bigger ones may compromise the smaller one’s ability to get enough milk. She knew what she was doing. He put them all back together, and she separated them again.
We arrived Sunday afternoon to pick them up. They were all doing well, and only one–Slim–appeared to need extra milk that morning. And, when they tried, Mama cat wasn’t too happy about it. She apparently wanted them to know she had it under control.
The spring weather still wasn’t very springy last week, as evidenced by the snowfall Tuesday. I don’t ever remember snow like this after my birthday.
So, instead of returning them to the shop–it was warm but not as warm as the house, we welcomed them into our guest bedroom. I set them up in a cardboard box on one side of the bed when we got home, and within ten minutes, Mama had relocated them to a spot under the bed. They stayed there for a while, but then Slim, who has wandered away since day one,
tried to wander away again. I put them back in the box on the other side of the bed, as far away from the door as possible. They have stayed there since. I tried to help Slim along with a supplement when we got home, but again, Mama got mad. I took this as a sign she did indeed have it under control, so I let Mama cat and Mother Nature rule.
Now, one week later as I write, it’s apparent that she did indeed have it under control. All seven kittens are growing, eyes are open, and they don’t scream out much, if at all. They nurse, and fall asleep satisfied in their pile.
She is eating and drinking well, and producing ample milk. The kittens are contained in a cardboard box, but not for long. They will be exploring their world on their own very soon. Mama gets out and naps alone sometimes, and enjoys roaming around outside for a bit every day.
We left the house overnight last night to hang out with the grandkids, and with Sue checking in on them several times. They continue to thrive.
It has taken a village to do what one creature normally does. If not for the help of Sue and Rick, the fine folks at Sunflower Veterinary Clinic in Minneapolis, Kansas, Tori–a local vet-tech in-training, Angel Annie, Mark’s brother and his wife and anyone else who played a role, these eight creatures likely wouldn’t be with us still. Mother Nature is infinitely wiser than any human, even when we think we know it all. Our efforts to help when they weren’t necessary were well-intentioned, and we didn’t yet know what was necessary for their survival, and what wasn’t. I like to think we did the best we could, and we did keep them alive. Remember, we are not cat people. At least, we didn’t used to be.
We went from a “no animals in the house” policy, to “we have eight cats in our guest bedroom.” Secretly, I think both Gail and Suzanne are jealous, although they would never admit it. I offered them each a kitten, but they politely declined. At this time, I think all seven kittens are spoken for. That is, if we can let go of them. We are both feeling a little attached to Slim, perhaps his/her underdog/undercat status has created a soft spot within us.
For his valiant and selfless efforts, we gave Mark’s brother the privilege of naming these kittens, and while Slim and Wolfman are perfect for the two smallest ones, and Shaq and Barkley are perfect for the two largest ones–that’s all the further he got, I have been thinking of them as our parents’ Magnificent Seven: Gary, Gail, David, John, Kathleen, Suzanne and Ryan.
And, in our parent’s litter of seven, I was the runt. Still am. Perhaps that’s why I feel a special bond with Slim. And, according to my son’s definition in the first paragraph, I am now an official Crazy Cat Lady.