The babies came into our lives in a most tragic way. An acquaintance had been going through a very rough period and had expressed suicidal intentions several weeks earlier. He had asked me to take his animals in the event he was no longer around to do the job himself.
Joe and I arrived home about 7:00 that evening to find a very disturbing message on the telephone answering machine. It was the acquaintance. The emotionless message asked only that I come pick up the 'girls', as they needed "to be somewhere else for a while". I tried to return the call and got no answer. Joe wouldn't let me drive to the house alone, for fear of what I might find. When we arrived, Joe stayed in the car while I met the acquaintance at his door. His attitude was cold. I asked what was going on. He turned silently and led me through the kitchen to the livingroom where one of the cats lay dead on the floor. I asked what happened, and he answered icely, "I beat her to death."
To attempt to describe my shock, I must first explain that everything I had known and seen of this man before this episode personified the concepts of gentleness and humane, loving behavior toward his pets - his only family. I'm not sure I've ever seen a man more devoted to his 4-legged companions. He had adopted two female littermates a year earlier. The cats were familiar to us, as we babysat them for two weeks when they were adolescents. Now, they were young adults and had both recently had litters themselves, just two weeks apart.
And so, the scene which lay at my feet in this livingroom and the man by my side were beyond my comprehension. He told me I had to take the surviving female and all five kittens from both litters. I didn't argue. We found the other mother and her three kittens in one of the bedrooms. The mother was in deep shock, injured, and completely oblivious to being placed in the cat carrier along with her 4-week-old brood. We enlisted Joe's help to capture the two older kittens of the deceased mother in the garage. Their terrified spits, hisses, and growls told of their witnessing the horrendous scene in the house.
It was a long night. Joe rescued the felines and took them to our home while I stayed with the acquaintance (who had obviously been drinking prior to our arrival and who was now 'self-medicating' with marijuana) to attempt to prevent the gun tucked in his pants from being used to complete the death scene. Joe called in numerous sheriffs, and we spent the rest of the night traveling between home and crime scene trying to see that all survived the situation. All did, except the poor victimized mother cat.
Back at home, the felines were having a difficult night as well. The dead mother's sister was still in deep shock, panting heavily, and barely aware of her new surroundings. Her ear was badly torn, and she suffered a minor injury to her back - both apparently received in the battle to protect her sister from their owner's assault. I didn't dare separate her from the terrified kittens to take her to the vet. I was afraid the additional trauma would be the end of her in her fragile state, so I settled them all into an unused and very quiet upstairs bedroom - the same bedroom in which the mother and her sister had stayed months earlier as our safe and temporary guests.
Her young daughters were reasonably relaxed and easily handled. Thankfully, they were too young to understand what had transpired. The one tiny female's inability to use her hind legs properly was, however, a worrisome legacy of the earlier event.
Lamie (named after her kittenhood injury) and her sister, BooBoo
The third sister, Pretty, with The Moondog
The third sister, Pretty, with The Moondog
The little boys weren't nearly so fortunate. Being a couple weeks older, they were fully aware of the violent and deadly episode. Having lost the comfort of their own mother, they were left scrambling, spitting and growling, under the bed in terror each time I came upstairs to check on them.
Noddy and Capri - The Boys
By the next morning, the surviving mother had recovered from her shock and was quietly nursing all five kittens. She ate and drank readily and gratefully accepted all the love and comfort I could supply. The little girls were content to spend most of their time snuggling against their mother's warm belly, while the boys still proved invisible to me in the darkness of their under-bed kingdom. It was weeks before they would venture forth in my presence.
Meanwhile, downstairs, the Queen of the Domain paced unhappy through her previously one-cat territory. Pea was the reason we never dared adopt another feline into our family. She simply wouldn't tolerate it. She was also the reason I tried to find acceptable homes for the babies and their mother. It didn't seem fair to expect a nearly-20-year-old solitary and chronically dissatisfied feline to suddenly accept the onslaught of a bevy of misbehaving babies and their potentially violently protective mother. So I called everyone I knew. Amazingly, I couldn't seem to find a soul who met my adoption criteria and was in need of a feline child. ;-)
This was a problem. We lived in a small house with an even smaller upstairs area. The only way we could keep the felines separated was to shut the door to the stairwell - Pea downstairs, mom and kits upstairs. It worked out well until the babies were old enough to be weaned, and it was time to have their mother spayed. At that point, we ran out of options. We couldn't very well put mom back in with her kids who would still insist on suckling immediately after her abdominal surgery. So we pleaded with another animal-loving friend to adopt the mother after her spay. Although being relocated to her third abode in less than a year, the mother moved right in and proceeded to attempt to eat all of the resident cats out of house and home.
Back at the homestead, I now had five rambunctious kittens left with no mother figure. Clearly, Pea was not interested in applying for the job, so I assumed a new role in their young lives. Although the babies had become quite accustomed to my presence by this time, they had not realized the merit in forging a close relationship with me. The girls had continued to be perfectly comfortable around me, but the boys were still very timid and untrusting. Losing their aunt-mother forced a reluctant and slow truce.
Over time, the babies grew to love and trust me. They also grew increasingly more mobile and mischievous. On more than one occasion, tall stools would be shoved across the floor and tumbled unceremoniously down the stairs to crash against the door at the foot. And of course, anytime I opened the door to come upstairs for a visit, several tiny bodies would attempt to scoot past me to explore the territory of the Queen of the Domain. Clearly, something had to be done. I was growing tired of hearing not-so-little voices admonishing me from behind the closed stairwell door and seeing little feet tearing at the edge of the livingroom carpet from underneath.
I knew it would be necessary to introduce the babies to Pea, since it was now apparent the babies were here to stay. I also had to answer their increasing demands for attention and constant contact. I decided to allow them visual access to the happenings of the household. I replaced the stairwell door with a ladder of baby gates filling the height of the doorway. Though inconvenient for me to remove and crawl through several times a day, the set-up worked quite nicely to appease the babies and allow Pea to exert as much harmless dominance as she felt necessary over the youngsters. Every time the Queen of the Domain would enter the livingroom, she would yell something extraordinarily nasty at the babies. They learned soon enough who was boss.
A good thing, too, because soon I started allowing them to stage brief forays into the Domain. I permitted downstairs access for fifteen minutes at a time, much to Pea's extreme disapproval. The old cat would beat a hasty retreat to the great outdoors, while the babies would occupy themselves in a lively game of 'Seek and Destroy' in their new, expanded territory.
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