A box of kittens adopted me while in isolation, and taught me a valuable lesson
Cats are highly political beings, but even they know that new life and hope trumps everything
I have been a lifelong feeder of stray animals (my nickname at college was Mother Aphid), and I have always worked on the basis that if a stray is prepared to approach me, it must be hungry.
This works at home, too, so if a street cat is content to run the gauntlet of my dog and numerous other cats to get to some food in the garden, then it must be hungry enough to warrant feeding.
As I sat watching Netflix, a stray cat strolled through my living room without a care in the world. My cats and I exchanged glances. 'Not with me', they shrugged
Given my propensity to offer up food, new cats appear in my garden periodically, so I was not too surprised to see a scrawny stray last week saunter into the garden at dinner time and sit in hope of some scraps. I fed her. Next meal time, she was there again. And again for the following breakfast.
That evening, as I sat watching Netflix, she strolled through my living room without a care in the world. My cats and I exchanged glances. None of them admitted to knowing her. 'Not with me,' they shrugged. Thin and sort of ugly looking, this little stray was clearly a mother, and heavy with milk; she walked bow legged, like a cowboy.
Obviously, she had a litter of kittens stashed somewhere, so none of us begrudged her the time out.
The next day it was raining, and there she was again. As I went indoors to start work, she followed me in, and spent the rest of the day moving from chair to chair, snoozing contentedly. 'Ah, her kittens are older and driving her crazy,' I thought. 'She is here to get away from them.' How could I object to a tired mother catching up on lost sleep? I left her to it. It carried on raining.
Later that same evening, I was watching Netflix (again: it's a bit of a theme at the moment), and it was gone 11pm, and suddenly the stray was in the living room again. Something was squeaking loudly, and with a sense of horror I figured it must be a mouse. As I got up and moved towards her, I realised it was not a rodent but instead a tiny kitten.
Barely 3 weeks old, this was not a sturdy little cat, but a delicate, fragile newborn the size of a sausage, and mewling in tiny high-pitched squeaks. As I got closer, she panicked and disappeared back out of the dog flap into the pouring rain.
My cats watched silently as I set about making a warm "den" in the spare room for her and her tiny cargo. I fashioned it out of a towel and a cat box, at the bottom of a cupboard, knowing she would be looking for shelter and privacy.
The dog was looking nervous. He isn’t a big fan of cats, regarding them as evil tempered, scratchy things. He already shares his house with too many of them (all rescues) and was looking none too pleased at the prospect of more arrivals.
Slowly she came back in with her precious bundle. I coaxed mother and baby into the den. The kitten was cold and wet, so I gently dried it off with a tea towel while it wriggled in protest. As mother and baby settle down, I felt content. It was 2am. We all went to bed.
The next morning the rain had gone, and the sun was shining. I tiptoed into the spare room to check on the mother and child. As I peered into the box, I was surprised to see an additional three kittens all heaped in a corner.
Judging me to be an adequate safe house, the little stray went and retrieved the rest of her litter in the middle of the night, through the pouring rain. Feeling a little honoured, I organised breakfast.
Now, three days later, and the new little family are still here. Sadly one of the four died, but the remaining three are healthy and robust. Sharing my house with the mother, I am coming to realise that, while she is looking after them well, we have very different parenting styles.
She likes to leave the kittens for hours, flopped on chairs sleeping, while I hover nervously, checking on them (and her food bowl) every hour.
She randomly deposits one of her brood in the middle of a room, until I find it, looking small and bewildered, and take it back to the den.
Last night, just before dinner, she was adamant that the best place for one kitten was the kitchen doorway, through which every one of my animals passes to get food. Realising this was not her best move, I put it back in the den.
She brought it out again. As the hoards began gathering in anticipation of food, I moved the kitten again. She put it back.
Eventually, she realised she would have to fight every animal in the house to stop the migration past her baby. I moved it. She let me.
Today, the young family are still in the spare room. I have perfected my den-building technique, so that while they are out of the cupboard (I think she found it too hot) they are nested in the cat box, under a sheet 'tent', with a cardboard box extension. The only entrance is via under the bed, and she seems content that, finally, her family is safe.
As anyone living with multiple animals can attest, at times it feels like living in a centre of great political intrigue. Fights and squabbles are commonplace, as the cats in my house jostle for power in a hierarchy I will never understand.
The valuable real estate of the garden table is fought over repeatedly. Already masters of social distancing, cats sit exactly two feet apart – no more, no less – as a fragile truce settles at meal times, and any incursion is considered an act of war.
Yet, even as these stand-offs and screaming matches are going on, when the stray mother appears, everyone lets her pass in peace. It's as if, despite the politics and the power struggles, some things in this world are simply more important.
New life and new hope overrides everything, making other matters dissolve away.
Perhaps there's a lesson there for all of us.
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Updated: April 20, 2020 06:23 PM