Chapter 1 in the tale of our kitten fostering adventure:
So I open up Facebook, check my alerts, and notice that I’ve been “tagged” on a comment. Usually, this is a well meaning friend tagging me on some random person’s post asking for free veterinary advice (Sidebar: phone or digital advice queries from non-friends are generally, shall we say, “frowned upon”. It’s a touchy topic. A vet pretty much nails an aspect of it in this article). I click on the FB post: it’s not a plea for a second opinion, but my friend Kat, looking for somebody to foster a handful of kittens.
Kat and her husband co-own A-Wildlife Pro humane animal removal service. This means that at any given time, you could find anything from a litter of baby skunks to a full- grown beaver in her house. Kat is a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, and her husband, Matt does the wildlife removal. They are a pretty spectacular team of animal rescue superheroes.
Anyhoo, it’s squirrel and bunny season, so Kat and other rehabbers are working day and night, bleary-eyed and frazzled, tending to the needs of all those babies that fall out of trees, get grabbed by dogs, unearthed by lawn equipment, or just plain kidnapped from their dens by well meaning, but clueless, lay people. It’s worth learning more about “orphaned” wildlife, often you can just leave them alone*. For more information click here.
Being overwhelmed with squirrels and such, Kat needed help bottle raising 4 kittens that were found in a client’s attic. Well, 3 in the attic, one in the bathroom wall, resulting in a high-sakes sheetrock-removal rescue. Hopefully the homeowners were already considering some remodeling. Efforts were made to find and trap mamma cat, because that’s a whole lot easier than bottle raising kittens! However, she never turned up.
In a moment of weakness and maternal “Oh! I have such great memories of raising random small animals as a child, my kids will love this!” I agreed to take on the kittens.
Now, in hindsight, we raised some baby birds, and my dog had puppies once, but I’ve never actually hand raised anything (minus my human children). Kat helped me get started and VERY kindly loaned me the necessary supplies, including a heating pad, “miracle nipples” and syringes, formula mixer, kitten milk replacer, and half a bottle of wine (for me, not the kittens). I felt adequately prepared for my mission.
Having raised two colicky human babies, I can tell you that in some ways, 10 day old kittens are easier. However, you don’t have to lick your human babies private parts to make them pee and poop. Granted, I don’t lick the kittens private parts either, but you have to stimulate them with a cotton ball to get them to go to the bathroom and that takes longer than the feeding part. I never thought I would have such an appreciation for the simple act of eliminating into a diaper, but now I do.
I’m sorry to report that, although I can make them pee like a champ, I am a miserable failure at kitten defecation induction (I even had to resort to little kitty enemas, to minimal avail). Fortunately, Dr. Cook came to the rescue yesterday and took the kittens for a couple days so I could get some sleep (we have joint kitten custody). Apparently she has super magic kitten powers and got lots of poo from our little kitten posse.
Oh, and another thing I’ve learned is that baby kittens stink! Who out there remembers the classic song “Smelly Cat” from the TV show “Friends”? If you haven’t, then, for the love of God, you must click here immediately. It’s pure Gen-X greatness.
My kids are pretty excited, particularly my 12 year old, Perry. The 14 year old feigns aloofness, but I have caught him sidling over to video and photograph the babies for his Instagram. He also casually wanders by to hold kittens at feeding time. Perry is my official cat wrangler and socializer. In case you don’t know, bottle kitties have a tendency to be total jerks at the vet. My theory, is that since they are raised by humans, they come to think they are human themselves. This identity crisis means that at the vets office, they are insulted by being treated like some common house pet, and express this, sometimes violently, with their very non-human teeth and claws. I have consulted with Dr. Amanda Florsheim at Veterinary Behavior Solutions so that we do our best to raise good kitten citizens through extensive socialization practices. Gosh darnit, my kittens will submit happily to physical exams!
I got the kittens on Monday, I haven’t written about them til today because a) I was exhausted, they are so much work, and b) I wasn’t sure they would live. Cats in general are notorious for dropping dead without warning, kittens are all the more fragile.
So far, everyone is alive and well. However, one of them has not been eating as much as normal today. I got some advice from a DVM acquaintance, who is a kitten rearing Jedi Master; so Dr. Cook will be employing some kitty support techniques tonight. With a little luck, skill, prayers** and not much sleep, hopefully they will all be ok.
My son has named them Branch, Holly, Berry, and Ruby. I think there are two boys and two girls, but I have a really hard time telling at this age, which is kind of pathetic, since I spend an inordinate time looking at their genitalia during pee-stimulation time. I’ll blame it on my old eyes. 😦
I’ll take more (and better) pictures when I start my next shift, and will keep you guys posted on the kitten adventure. Below are a few pics, including some “kitten selfies” by Perry.
* PS: For the love of all that is good (Kat & Dianne over at WildRescue are adamant about his) DO NOT TRY TO REHAB ORPHAN WILDLIFE ON YOUR OWN! These creatures are so very sensitive and you WILL kill them if you feed them incorrectly, and if you are NOT a LICENSED WILDLIFE REHABILITATOR, you are probably feeding them incorrectly. Kat told me some horror stories that will turn your stomach! Do not feed a wild baby: goat milk, cow milk, raw eggs, cat milk, puppy milk, breast milk (!) or anything else you read about online! Apparently these babies suffer horribly and die painfully.
**PPS: This is where you come in. Baby kitties are so fragile, we are working so hard to take care of them, but sometimes they just fade, despite our best efforts. Hopefully that’s not happening, there are a couple who are now eating less. Hopefully that’s not a sign of things to come. We’ve got some tricks up our sleeve, and wonderful vets and friends helping us, so with luck, they will be ok. You guys’ job is to send good vibes, thoughts and prayers out, if you’re so inclined, for these smelly little boogers, to grow and thrive and not get sick on us! (And if they do get sick…that we can pull them through!)