Life and Death
On the highway in front of our house about two hundred feet before our driveway there was a dead cat laying in the middle of the road when we went home last month. I see dead animals on the road all the time, but it still makes me sad to see a dead cat or dog. It is a classic case of wrong place wrong time and always seems like such a waste. So as I drove down the driveway I was feeling a little melancholy about the cat.
When we parked the truck and got out we were greeted by five tiny little kittens poking their heads out from under our next door neighbor’s storage shed and meowing wildly at us. This was less surprising than you might think since for at least a decade wild mother cats have been slithering under that shed to bring their offspring into the world. I suppose that they feel safe under there because it is raised up off the ground enough for them to fit under easily, but it’s tight enough that other animals would have a hard time getting under it. I don’t know how they all find out about the place, but I think they leave little signs scratched into the wood like hobos used to do at houses that gave them food.
Anyway, there were five brand new little lives greeting us as we pulled the big truck into the driveway. There’s not much better at lifting one’s spirits than tiny kittens so I perked up right away. We stopped for a moment on the deck to admire them, and then headed on into the house to begin our glorious hometime. I assume they went on about their business, too. Didn’t really think about them any more that day cause it wasn’t exactly an unusual occurrence or anything.
The next day Stace and I spent most of the afternoon over at her Mom’s catching up with all her relatives that we hadn’t seen in far too long. That evening, when we got home, a few of the kittens peeked out from under the shed but immediately scooted back into the depths of darkness and safety when we headed toward them. Taking the hint, we went on in the house. We were chatting about how cute the little kittens were later that night and we suddenly remembered that we had seen a dead adult cat on the highway. We said in passing that we hoped it wasn’t the momma cat, but didn’t really make any connections at that point.
On Friday we planned to spend the entire day with LittleOne and Chaos so we left quite early. When we headed to the car that morning three of the kittens poked their heads out from under the shed to see us off. I still hadn’t seen a Momma Cat running around the yard, and was starting to get concerned that maybe that really was her up on the highway. But then on the other hand we did have Maggie outside so I wasn’t too surprised that everyone of the feline variety with any sense was making themselves scarce. Besides, I was excited to get on the road to go see LittleOne and just didn’t really think much about it.
Later that night, on the two hour drive home from Chaos’ house, Stace and I agreed that if we hadn’t seen the Momma Cat by the next morning we were going to have to figure out a way to get all the kittens gathered up so we could take them to a shelter Monday morning. I have to admit that the idea of trying to corral five scared kittens seemed kinda daunting, but if they had lost their mom we didn’t really have any choice since we couldn’t just leave them there and our stupid neighbor certainly wasn’t going to do anything about them. We didn’t see them Friday night when we got home, but it was very late so we just went on in the house and went to bed.
Bright and early the next morning I started my campaign to earn the kittens’ trust. Obviously my first plan of attack involved food. I poured some milk in a paper bowl and headed out the door calling, “Babies” in my most non-scary-trustworthy-good-human voice. Two of the kittens immediately rushed out from under the shed and took a couple of steps toward me meowing. I considered that a pretty good sign. They immediately turned tail and ran back under the shed as I got closer, but I figured that was to be expected. I sat the bowl of milk down not too far from the edge of the shed and removed myself to the neighbor’s porch about 10 feet away to watch.
For a little while they just sat there under the edge of the shed and stared at the bowl, then two of them finally started creeping toward it. They didn’t seem too sure about the whole idea at first, but once they figured out the bowl contained food they were all over it. This was going to be easy. I sat smiling and watched them for a while. Then it hit me.
Oh. My. God. Where. Are. The. Other. Three. Kittens?
I rushed over to the shed and flung myself down at the long edge. I meowed loudly. I meowed softly. I squirmed around trying to see under the shed, but I couldn’t see anything at all. I ran and got a flashlight out of the truck and tried again. Nothing. I thought maybe the other three were under the neighbor’s house so I ran over to the hole in their skirting that cats have been using for ages and tried meowing again into the hole. I listened intently. Nothing.
Oh no. Come on. Oh shit. This can’t be. Where are they?
They were gone. Oh my god. We let those poor kittens starve to death. I mean I know that we had had no idea how dire the situation was, but still… Why didn’t we feed them when we got back from Stace’s Moms? Or before we left for Chaos’ house? Or when we got home twelve hours later? Oh my god. We could have fed them a little milk fifty different times for Christ’s sake. I thought I was going to puke.
All day Saturday and Sunday I worked on building up the relationship between me and the two remaining kittens. I fed them about every three hours and took the bowl with me when I left so they would think of me as the food giver. That worked like a charm and they were running to meet me after a while when I walked out the door carrying that bowl. They didn’t take too long to get comfortable with me and Sunday afternoon they started letting me pick them up and cuddle them.
Since we had to leave at 6:00pm sharp Monday evening, we couldn’t afford any we’ve-changed-our-minds-we-don’t-want-to-come-near-you-now shenanigans so we decided to go ahead and get them secured Sunday night. We borrowed a cat carrier from a friend and I put them in it after their last meal. We put a fluffy towel in the bottom for them to snuggle in and put the carrier in the truck for the night. We didn’t want to bring them in the house because we knew Maggie would get excited and worked up and we didn’t want them to be freaked out by her thinking they were new squeaky toys.
Bright and early Monday morning I hit the phones to find a shelter that would take them. No luck on the first call as they were full to bursting. She said they had a long waiting list. No problem. On to the second call. No luck there, either, as they wouldn’t even answer their phones. Their outgoing message just said they had a huge waiting list and not to bother calling them back. The third and forth calls didn’t go any better.
Hmmm. This wasn’t going well. We live in a rural area and there simply aren’t that many shelters around. I was burning through them all in short order. I had been slightly concerned that they might not get adopted right away, and that they would be scared and lonely in a shelter, but it had honestly never occurred to me that we might not even be able to find them a place at a shelter. What were we going to do? We couldn’t keep them. We couldn’t just leave them. We couldn’t think of any friends that could take them. Finally in desperation I called our Vet to ask if we could pay to board them there for a month. I figured that if we could buy them a month then we would have more time to figure something out. The Vet said they couldn’t do it. But they did give us a couple more numbers to call.
It was now about eleven o’clock and things were getting desperate since we had to leave for the month in seven hours. Dialed call number five. Disconnected phone service. Tried the other number the Vet gave us. The lady who answered said she didn’t have any way to take them but she suggested that we call the Joplin Humane Society. Joplin is about an hour away from our house so I hadn’t tried them yet. Desperate times and desperate measures and all that so I gave them a call. Call number seven.
The Joplin Humane Society said we could bring them up there. Whew! Finally! The babies would have a fighting chance for a good life. Surely they would get adopted cause they were at that perfect age and cute as could be. I could feel the relief starting to course through me when the lady continued, “Now you understand that we are only able to give strays 24 hours and then they will be put down humanely. That’s simply the best we can do.”
24 hours? Seriously? What the hell? I told her I would have to think about it and might be up later then hung up the phone with a desperate sense of failure. We were not going to save those kittens. We had tried everything we could think of and it just wasn’t going to work. The best we could look for was to have them put down humanely at the very beginning of their young little lives. Oh my god that sucked. I was on the verge of a major meltdown.
Only one number left to call. I picked up the phone and dialed the Carthage Humane Society. Spoke to the lady who answered and explained the situation. She said they had had a couple of adoptions over the weekend so they had room available. We could go ahead and bring them up. She said they would be there about two weeks. I told her I would be there in an hour and twenty minutes and to reserve the space for them. I hung up the phone as relief poured through me. Told Stace the score and we agreed that two weeks was obviously the best we were going to be able to give them so we had better take them there. I grabbed the kittens and hit the road.
When I got to Carthage, I filled out the paperwork and paid the intake fee, and found out I had been mistaken about the two weeks thing. She was simply saying that in her experience it would take about two weeks for them to be adopted. Then she told me that they are a no-kill shelter and that as long as they stay healthy and happy they will have a home there until they are adopted. Oh happy day. I had to work hard to hold back tears of relief as I dug in my wallet for some money to give them as a donation. No good. All the stress and fear of the last couple of days broke over me and I handed her the money with tears streaming down my cheeks.
We lost three of them due to utter stupidity and that’s going to take a while to get over. But we saved the other two through sheer stubbornness. The other two babies were safe. They had a chance. They would find a good home and lead happy lives. Whew.