The woods around my parents’ house are filled with cats. This wasn’t always the case, but the feline population has been exponentially increasing in the past 2-3 years. Obviously this is the result of abandoned pets and lack of spaying/neutering. We have seen more hungry kittens this year than in the past.
The true extent of the “kitten problem” showed itself a few weeks ago. My parents were getting ready to leave for the grocery store. When they walked out to the car, it was surrounded by kittens. My mom ran back into the house for cat food. After serving plastic containers of dry food moistened with milk to the miniature army, my parents left for the store. When they parked the at Giant (it’s no Wegman’s), a little kitten walked out from underneath the car. This was Lars (he didn’t have a name at this point). They recognized him from earlier, outside the house. He had somehow hitched a ride underneath the car. This was at least a 10 mile ride! Needless to say, he rode inside the car–on my stepfather’s lap–on the return trip.
the hitchhiker, Lars.
One of my parents’ neighbors decided to do what seemed to be the “right” thing: she rounded up a group of kittens and took them to the animal shelter. We assumed that they would immediately be doled out to new homes. No such luck! All of them were euthanized because they suffered from various minor illnesses: eye infections, fleas, malnutrition. These issues are easily assuaged with food, water, and baths/flea treatments. Unfortunately the shelter in Central Pennsylvania does not have the staff or funding to provide these simple services. Even worse, there is a shortage of foster parents–animal lovers providing temporary care to animals until they are healthy enough for adoption.
After learning this, my parents and I decided to care for the kittens ourselves…or at least, the kittens brave enough to come into the yard with four dogs. We’ve been providing food in the woods for all of the other shyer, possible feral cats.
Four kittens decided to move in. The first was Nanette. She is actually living in the house, mostly because she was lucky enough to arrive first. She had the mildest case of fleas, so she also looked healthier. Several weeks later, she looks like a standard chubby kitten.
The next three arrived on the same day. Lars (or Larry, if you prefer) and Clancy are definitely brothers. They were hungry and covered with fleas, but these problems were easily solved. Within a day, they looked better. We gave them baths, flea treatments, and dewormer medicine.
left to right: Clancy, Lars.
The third kitten was in a very sad state. Moe was so skinny; every bone in his body was visible. He had fleas worse than anybody else, resulting in bald patches and countless scabs. He was severely dehydrated–evidenced by his weakness and his highly visible third eyelid. We forced him to drink a lot of water. He ate a little bit, but not nearly as much as his “brothers.” He spent most of the weekend sitting on my lap. I spent hours in the yard Saturday night being eaten by insects while he snuggled up inside my jacket. When I left on Sunday, I made my parents promise to give him a lot of attention.
I didn’t take any “before” photos of him, because I was afraid he might die. My parents were thinking the same thing, but no one said it aloud.
But guess what?! A week later, he is a new cat. His fleas are completely gone, his scabs are beginning to heal, and hair is slowly filling in his bald spots. He has virtually doubled in size. He is playing with his brothers and grooming himself compulsively (my kind of guy!). I have no doubt that he would have been euthanized if we took him to the shelter when he first appeared in the yard.
When he was at his sickest, I promised that I would take him to live with me in Philadelphia when he was feeling better. I am sucker for the underdog…undercat in this case, I guess.
When I arrived at my parents’ house last weekend, he immediately ran up to me. One of the ongoing issues was his inability to purr. I was worried that he had some sort of frightening underlying congential defect. But as soon as he settled into my lap, he started to purr! After that, I knew for certain that he would be moving to Philadelphia.
He was born to be a lap cat! Please ignore my bad sleeping clothes.
Moe will be coming to live with me in a few weeks. As for his brothers, we have built them a cathouse in the yard. We realize that the most ideal place for any cat is indoors (and never outdoors), but my parents’ house is already overflowing with cats and dogs. So, we want to do what we can for them in the yard. Nutritious food and flea treatments are just the beginning. We are looking for an affordable way to spay/neuter as many cats as we can. Additionally, we are working on providing vaccinations for all of them. Ideally this will give them all longer, healthier lives…while still attempting to reign in the cat population.