In the middle of the summer 2012, one Sunday afternoon I arrived home to find a cardboard box sitting outside my front door. Curious to see what was inside, I hesitantly started to lift the flaps. The worst was flooding across my mind, but my positive anticipation was that my landlord had left oranges, or some other delicious trifle, as was the custom when a bill was due. That pleasant expectation soon disappeared and was replaced by my worst fears as four furry balls came into view. No more than a few weeks old, their eyes were open but their legs could barely hold their weight to allow them to walk. They must have very recently been ripped away from their mother. A little disappointed, I watched them scramble over each other with feeble squeaky meows. That disappointment soon washed away, and was to be replaced by panic and shock horror. I immediately understood I would come under the blackmail of a compassionate heart. I really had no idea what to do, even though the year before I had three kittens born inside my flat. They had a mother to provide them with milk for the first couple of months of their lives. These had no mother, only me, and I do not produce milk.
I let loose a string of abuse at the unknown individual who thrust this burden upon me. The box did not walk here all by itself. A little later, after giving the kittens a home for about a month, I discovered that a similar box of four kittens had been dumped in a small complex of apartments only a few hundred metres away. The occupants had given the box to a local Greek, who promised he would take them to the vet. It appears that vet was me. He simply walked around the corner and dumped them on my doorstep; this is the way it is here. Many of the locals know I have a heart for the strays, so I became their best bet. The real vet would have had no interest in their welfare without payment. The Greeks themselves do not have the sense to get their animals neutered, or if they did the cost was too high for most. Passing the buck is a common practice here, if not a traditional unspoken rule.
There is a cattery which I am acquainted with, so after settling them in, I phoned and explained the situation. I could take them the next day at about 11am for a health check. There was no room to take them in for at least another three weeks, so the responsibility was going to fall on me. Tomorrow I could get all the information needed to keep them alive and turn myself into a kitty foster daddy.
I had a single bed in the living room at the time, which I had converted into a large lounging piece of furniture. Throws and multiple piles of soft cushions covered up that it was a bed. I was quite proud of my thrifty ingenuity, which had saved a bucket load of dosh. So I gave way to the invading horde, removed the good stuff and proceeded to cover it with old sheeting. I then constructed cardboard makeshift sides all around, hopefully to contain any measured attempt by these intruders to escape. Young kittens are very resourceful at devising escape plans; I did not want them exploring my apartment doing their own thing whenever and wherever they pleased. I then placed the box they had arrived in at one corner on its side, lined it with a soft towel for a bed. I filled the cat litter tray with torn shreds of old newspaper and prayed they would catch on quickly. This will have to do as I did not at this point have any cat litter. I additionally placed my cats scratch pole in the middle. It will not take long for them to work out that they can climb to the top, then leap the short span and scrabble over the restrictive sides I had erected. I did not want to make it too easy for them until I could come up with a better plan. I also provided a feeding and water bowl, a board to run up and down and some play toys. From these first three painting type images, you will get the idea of the construction.
Immediately, this setup became an annoyance to my two feline cat’s Dodo and Doodle. Both responded from the invasion of their territory with hissing and long periods of disappearing. Becoming a little concerned with the disturbance, I constructed an outside dwelling place for them. Below is where they spent their time over the next several months until homes were found for them.
I did not really need to go to such lengths to keep them warm and dry. I would shut them in every night to keep them safe. If I had put a large insulated container in the same place without all the fencing, they would have been OK. It is best just to let them free to do as they please, at this age they will not venture far away. In fact, I had quite a job to entice them away to expand their knowledge of the surrounding area. They are no predators that might view them as a tasty meal. I learnt this lesson for the next year when I took on five. If you have read those pages already you will be able to reflect on the different type of strategy I employed there.
The trip to the cattery the next day was very constructive for the parental learning curve. At this point, they were all still residing in my living room; it took a few days to get their external home fit for habitation. I arrived a little after midday after a twenty-minute drive up into the hills. Needless to say the little ones were quite noisy in the confined space of a cat box. They were inspected; all seem to be in good health. I was given a packet of nutrient-rich food to feed them with. I had to turn this into a fluid type of mixture that would flow out of a syringe with ease. At only a few weeks old, they had not yet learnt to eat, lick or lap up any type of nourishment; definitely, they could not handle solid food. They should be feeding from their mother’s teats; they would have learnt to suck almost immediately. That was not to be the way as they had been yanked away from her too early. Once the women realised that I needed instruction on how to feed, she inquired when they were last fed. As I had now had them for nearly twenty-four hours, and they had not touched the dried biscuits or canned meat I had provided for them. She proceeded to take their temperature by sticking a thermometer up their rear end. Thirty six degrees, that is not good. I had it explained that the normal temperature should be thirty nine degrees. Thirty six was dangerous, and the kittens could die if it was not quickly raised to the correct level. The big danger is overnight; this is when most kittens die. Their temperature drops down to this lethal level if they are not kept warm and well fed. The answer was to get food into them quickly. A lukewarm sorcerer of high-octane kitty nutrients, in a liquid form, was placed on the table for them. I think only some if it was getting to their stomachs; they seemed to understand it was food, but licking, slurping and swallowing was new to them, and they struggled to understand how to tackle what was in front of them. However, chin fur, paws and even the back of the neck managed to get a covering. This demonstrated the reason why I was going to have to syringe feed; it was of a vital importance that I mastered this skill. All four needed a clean with a damp cloth after this scrum like feed; the liquid feed would quickly dry into solid clumps in their scraggly coats.
I was supplied with a water bottle to put under the soft towel in the box to keep them warm at night. It would be several days before the cattery could get them to a vet for a thorough examination; I had to look after them until then. It would be another three weeks before they could take them off my hands. Actually, it ended up being two months. Two eventually went to the cattery, and two were found private homes. So off I trundled home, with the addition of two feeding bowls, cat litter tray, water bottle, high nutrient feeding sachets and some worming tablets as well as the four noisy kittens. The equipment was only on loan, and had to be returned when finished with.
I could spend a lot of time and go through the feeding ritual, and all the other time consuming jobs that I had now committed myself to. However, I will keep it short. Feeding time for such hungry demanding fur balls happened every four hours, or as close to four hours that could be slotted into my day. Meal times were always messy, chaotic and frustrating. Each kitten took to syringe feeding differently, from easy, too difficult. I grasped the loose fir behind the neck with a firm grip and positioned the syringe to the back of the mouth. Trying to keep an even flow into the throat was not easy with a wriggling, squirming infant. I found that just keeping the rear legs in contact with a surface, but the front up in the air produced a more stable kitten. The vertical drop for the liquid food would ensure gravity played a useful part in helping it slide into the stomach. A horizontal kitten just resulted in a larger percentage spilling out onto the table.
One sucked away enthusiastically as though it was its mother’s teat. The liquid stuff guzzled and slid downwards into the stomach with minimal spillage. Two others struggled to grasp the process and the fourth, well, if it could speak it might say something like this “I am not into this, put me down! Stop sticking this thing into my mouth.” I learnt to be forceful, and prise the plastic end through tightly closed teeth. Once in, quickly and as smoothly as possible fill its mouth so it had no choice but to swallow. They all invariably ended up in a mess, and a damp cloth bath always preceded my clumsy catering services.
I decided that this must end, and the kittens had to master self-intake as soon as possible. I produced a saucer of liquid feed, placed it on the floor and watched. Each would stick its nose or paws in with little understanding of what to do. Once food stuck to the paw, it would end up on the back of another as they scrambled over each other. One eventually got the idea after the stuff had got stuck to its chin; the obvious was to lick it off. Licking the bowl seemed like the next-best idea. One down, three to go. I watched hoping the others would learn from the one. No such luck. I grasped one of the others behind the neck, held the head firmly and gently pushed nose and mouth into the liquid delicacy. Now covered with its dinner, it had no choice but to lick itself clean. It worked, after several forced helpings it got the idea. After some time, all four had progressed to self-intake from my somewhat unorthodox help. Remember, they are still only about three weeks old, and should be suckling from their mother a least for another month. Nonetheless, bath time was still required to supersede meals, the feeding scrum around one bowl ensured paws and chins were well caked from the banquet content. Within a week they had moved to soft canned cat food, which I had introduced gradually. They had just enough tooth growth to crunch through dried food. What a relief, so I only had to endure syringe feeding for the best part of one week. Not bad I thought for a first-time single kitty dad.
There is a lot I could write about parenting these young kittens, I am going to let the images speak for themselves. After a while I stopped shutting them in at night. Using a bit of logic, it seemed reasonable to assume at this young age they would not stray too far away, and they did not. I took this opportunity to photograph them as they grew up. It had not dawned on me to make a photograph record of Delilah and her three kittens the year before. It was quite late in their development before I got that together. So that shortfall in images could now be made up from this crew. I staged managed a few, like the one in the tube. I had to sprinkle a food reward at one end, then place a kitten at the other and entice them through. Eventually, they did it quite naturally as a game. I expanded their territory as quickly as possible with walks down to the beach. It took a few days to get them to follow me, but once they had the idea it became a daily routine with little prompting. This adventure for them and for me served as grounding for dealing with five kittens the next year.