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SAVING A WILD MAMA CAT

By Caroline Corser

Cheerleader for Positive Lifestyles

 

Iíve always believed that there is a solution to every problem, and if you ask enough people and keep plugging away, everything will work out in the end. I had the chance to put that to the test when I discovered one spring that a mama cat had given birth to a litter of kittens in my attic.

I discovered it one night when I heard tiny mewing sounds from above the corner of my bedroom. I was dumbfounded! I could not imagine how they got in there. It seems that she had entered through a metal flap that covered a vent for the attic.

Now I had a real dilemma! I didnít want my attic to become a hideout for stray cats, but I had no idea how to get them out of there. My mind pictured all sorts of solutions, none of which seemed feasible. Maybe I could look up there and see where they were. After searching ceilings in every room, I found a square opening covered with a board above the closet in my office. Ok, now how to get up there. I removed the magazine files from the top shelf, got a ladder, climbed up, removed the board cover, and put my head up in the attic. Eeuw! I decided immediately that I was not going to climb up in that dusty, low-ceilinged, dark space and crawl over mounds of insulation on wide-set rafters across three bedrooms to ferret out that little, carefully hidden family. Besides, I couldnít see or hear anything of them from where I stood.

Not knowing what to do, I told everyone I knew about my problem. I had to find a way to get them out of there. The more I talked to people, the more I realized I couldnít just leave the mama and her babies to their own devices. The stray cat population would soon explode and become a terrible neighborhood nuisance.

Then came a suggestion that made sense. One cat lover told me that when the babies were old enough, the mama would take them out of the attic, and if I was feeding her regularly, she would bring them to her feeding place.

Now I had the idea for a plan. As soon as I got home from work that day, I set out to win the mamaís confidence. I cleared off the closet shelf, took a partial can of tuna from the refrigerator and headed for the closet. I climbed up on a chair, pushed the lid aside, and started calling her, "Here, kitty, kitty." I held the tuna can up in the opening, hoping she would smell it and come to eat. Pretty soon, I heard her meow. Then a gaunt and hostile face appeared. Her eyes narrowed, and she growled menacingly. She crouched, ready to run, as I talked to her in a soft voice and held the tuna up for her to see. I set the can on the closet shelf and backed off a little bit, still talking and encouraging her. Finally, she jumped down on the shelf and looked around warily, ready to flee at the first sign of danger.

She tentatively tasted the tuna and started to eat, still poised to run, flinching and growling at my slightest movement. What a sight! The poor thing was starving. She was so thin her shoulders jutted through her drawn skin, and her matted, dirty fur clung lifeless to her emaciated body. Her head seemed too big for her skinny neck to support. My heart went out to her. I kept talking, and when I reached up to gently touch her back, my fingers felt sticky and dirty.

I could see that the little half-can of tuna was not enough to fill her, so I dashed to the kitchen, found a can of salmon, cranked it open, and dumped some into a little bowl. When I returned, she was about to jump back up into the attic, but stayed when she smelled the salmon. She still growled a warning, though, when I reached out to take away the tuna can. As soon as she was full, she backed off, sprang up into the attic, and disappeared without another look in my direction..

Pleased with my success on my first try at making friends with this pitiful but fierce mama cat, I immediately set out to win her trust. Armed with a supply of canned cat food, I started feeding her twice a day until she grew to expect it and would sit by the trap door meowing and waiting for me to bring her food and water. Sometimes she was sitting on the cover, and I had to bounce it up and down to get her to move off.

At first, she ignored me and went straight for the food, but I persisted, petting her and talking to her while she was eating. Before long, she began purring in response. She gradually began to appreciate my attention and arched her body, enjoying my caresses. Her fur was looking healthier, too. In fact, it became soft and lustrous and felt clean and fluffy to my touch. I was proud of our friendship and her obvious response to my care and attention.

Then one day, she didnít jump right back up into the attic. She started looking around my office from her perch on the closet shelf. She walked back and forth, and I could see she was getting ready to jump down into the room. I didnít want her to make herself at home in my house, though, (Iím allergic to animal dander) so I told her she couldnít stay and shoved her back up in the attic. She resisted, but I firmly shut the lid and decided that it was time for the next step in my plan.

Now I had to find a place to feed her where she could bring her babies. That night I set up a nest with towels along the far wall in my garage. I thought this would be a place she could bring the kittens.

The next day, I put her food dish next to the nest in the garage and opened the garage door just enough that she could leave and find her way back up into the attic. Then when I opened the closet lid, I picked her up and carried her into the garage, talking to her all the way. She was comfortable in my arms and quickly proceeded to eat her food when I put her down. Then I left her to find her way out. It apparently worked because when I looked later, she was gone.

She kept coming to the trap door in the closet for the next few days, and each time I would carry her out into the garage. I checked back with her one day and saw that she hadnít left the garage. She was exploring under the table between my washer and dryer and looking the whole place over. Since she seemed so comfortable there, the next time I fed her, I put the food in its usual place and called to her from the garage door. She came running. We now had achieved another success. She was coming straight to the garage for her meals.

By this time, we had a comfortable routine of feeding every morning and evening with a permanent dish of water available and the garage door left ajar for her convenience. Then one day, I noticed a sudden movement under the table. Peering over the back of the washer, I discovered kittensĖeight of them. Apparently preferring a more secluded hiding spot for her babies, she had brought them down during the night.

Now my life was in for another big change. I, who didnít keep pets, was buying a litter box, bags of litter, kitten food, water bowl, and feeding dishes. I cleared the tennis rackets and soccer balls from under the table and put the litter box and an old blanket under there, since that was obviously their home now.

The family required a lot more attention than mama did, too, but I was so determined to carry out my plan that I didnít mind the extra work. The kittens quickly learned to use the litter box, and they repeatedly scattered their food all over the floor. That meant daily clean-up under the table. I realized, also, that if I didnít start holding them and getting them used to humans, I would have a hard time finding homes for them. They had already become pretty wild, but every day, I would scramble to catch one and hold it for a few minutes while it screeched and clung to me with its sharp claws. Mama always looked at me anxiously, but I reassured her that I was not hurting them.

By that time, it was late June, and summer heat was increasing daily. My garage faces west, and it was getting pretty hot in the day time. I could see it was time to find homes for them. I called the SPCA, but they said they had more cats than they could handle. I found out about a group called The Cat People and called them, but they were already full. This was the time of year when every unspayed female cat gives birth. I was getting very worried. Those kittens would soon be old enough to go out on their own if I didnít find a home for them first, and I could not bring myself to have Godís innocent little creatures killed.

Then one night on the evening news, I saw a piece about a woman who had built a "cat heaven" at her home out in the desert to rescue the horde of stray cats that had swarmed around the nearby oil refinery. I immediately called the TV station to get her name and phone number. They told me her name and the town she lived in, but they didnít have a phone number.

I tried phone directories and information for every phone exchange in the area, but no luck! Now what was I to do? If I didnít find this woman, I didnít know where to turn. I decided I would just have to go blindly out there and take the cats to her. I didnít know if she would accept them, or if I could even find her, but I had to try.

Whenever I have a difficult or unusual task to perform, instead of thinking of it as a dreadful inconvenience, I tell myself it will be a new adventure and set about finding something fun or interesting in it. So I told myself this trip would be my "Saturday Adventure."

I borrowed a large dog carrier from a friend, lined it with a big, soft towel, and put it in the passenger seat of my car. I reasoned that I would have to put mama in the carrier first. Her presence might calm the kittens when I put them inside. I waited until she was finished eating her morning meal. She was comfortable with me and didnít protest when I picked her up, until I shoved her in the carrier. She resisted fiercely and, once inside, meowed at me with alarm and indignation. I explained very calmly that this was for her own good, and that she would thank me for it in the end.

Then I started grabbing kittens. Crawling under the table, I tried to speak calmly as I latched onto one writhing, scratching, screeching body after another as they darted between the washer and the dryer. Pushing them into the carrier was another ordeal as each one struggled and fought against the door, and the others tried to get out. Half an hour later, I finally cornered the last one, the really wild kitten that I never had been able to get hold of earlier.

When I got in the driverís seat, harried and disheveled from all that scrambling and scrapping, I was met by a very unhappy mama cat. She meowed pitifully and looked accusingly at me with her paws gripping the edge of the little window in the carrier. She clearly told me I had betrayed her. A pang of guilt washed over me, but I told her I was taking her to a safe place and that she was going to be ok. I talked to her and put some soft music on the radio as I drove out of town. I couldnít believe it, but within a few minutes, she and the kittens were all sleeping soundly. Relieved, I spent the next hour enjoying a pleasant summer drive through the mountains and out into the desert.

I found the town with no problem, but I still didnít know where to find the cat lady. I just kept telling myself that there was a solution here somewhere. I saw a couple of cars, parked in front of a restaurant on the main street and guessed that some local people might tell me where to find her. Itís kind of a funny feeling walking up to a table of strangers and starting to talk to them, but I did, and they knew immediately who she was and where to find her.

When I got back in the car, mama cat meowed questioningly. The babies were still asleep, thank goodness! I told her we were almost there and drove on out to a motor home situated on sprawling, fenced property with grass and trees and several small outbuildings. When the lady came to the door, I told her my mission. She looked at me like she thought I was up to something and said firmly that she didnít take cats from private individuals, but she did offer to show me around. I worried a bit about her flat refusal , but I gone too far to give up now.

Following her directions, I drove around to an area the size of a school playground, enclosed by a wooden fence and shaded by many small trees. Inside, wooden boxes with doors cut in them were scattered around the perimeter and clustered in the open areas. Cats appeared from inside the houses and wandered here and there throughout the enclosure. Afternoon shadows gave the whole scene a pleasant and peaceful air.

Ok. Now was my chance. I started talking. I told her the story of my mama cat and her babies and explained that I couldnít find a place that would take the kittens. When I told her that I couldnít keep them in my condo, and that the garage was over ninety degrees in the afternoon, she started to soften. But she pointed out that it cost a lot of money to feed all those cats. I described the kittens lying spread out flat on their tummies trying to cool off on the garage floor, and I offered to make a donation for their upkeep. I told her I just couldnít bring myself to have them put to sleep. I think that really got to her.

She looked at me in amazement when I told her I had them with me in the car. "You brought them with you!?" she said. When I said, "yes," she finally relented. "Well, I guess I can take the kittens to the feed store. The owner gives them to people who promise to have them neutered. Iíll take her to the vet and have her spayed. Go ahead and bring them in here."

Whew! My insides were churning with relief as we took the carrier into a fenced-off area and let them out on a boxed-in work table. They immediately started exploring, including Mama cat, who never once looked back at me. I gave the lady a check, thanked her profusely, and drove off with a feeling of accomplishment, mixed with pangs of loss. I would have liked to say "goodbye" to mama cat, but she either didnít need me any more or was angry with me for dragging her through this ordeal. Nevertheless, I felt that I had done a good deed in saving the mama and her kittens from a life of struggle in the wild.

I took the long way home through hills and past a beautiful lake, relaxing and remembering the nice bond that mama cat and I had built between us. I felt a little bit of the "empty nest" loneliness when I got back home and started cleaning up the remains of their stay. That feeling soon passed, though, and I realized that even seemingly impossible situations can be resolved if you break them up into little tasks and take on each task ... one at a time.

 

Caroline Corser, Cheerleader for Positive Lifestyles, speaks to baby boomers and seniors about filling your life with laughter and play. She can be reached at 661-871-9201 or    caroline@AwesomeAging.com

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