In the center of our town there is a 60 acre nature preserve where people go, stealthily by night, to dump the cats they no longer want. Conditions on the preserve are not particularly conducive to a happy, healthy cat life. Not only is it blisteringly hot in the open desert with clean water in short supply but coyotes, rattlesnakes and not-so-nice humans are the primary predators the formerly pampered house cats now need to beware of. Then again, the preserve was not created to provide a home for unwanted cats. It was created primarily as a water ranch to process reclaimed water.
Since most of these cats were not spayed or neutered before being dumped, they did what cats do, which has resulted in a population of approximately 60-75 feral cats and kittens who roam the desert conditions, birthing in sewers and relying on a group of people who go out into the preserve twice a day to leave food at designated feeding stations. It was being two of these people that led us to find Jack, Samhain and Nyksa.
The day was particularly hot, in excess of 110 degrees, when we spotted a black kitten whose right eye was sealed shut with blood. He was at the last feeding station, hanging back in the brush with his litter mates, mother and the rest of the group waiting for us to leave so he could get his fair share of kibbles and bits.
We couldn’t just leave him there, but people had warned us not to try to take in kittens over 6 weeks old. “They’ll never be tamed,” people said. “They can’t be indoor cats,” they said. Whether he be tamed or not, indoor or returned to live out his life on the preserve, he obviously needed medical attention so we set up a homemade trap and tried to entice him into it with delicious wet food.
We waited. He waited just on the perimeter of the trap. A different black kitten went in, but we didn’t spring the trap. Then a grey kitten joined the black one, both feeding happily, but still the injured kitten remained outside, wary, watching us. Finally, his stomach spoke louder than his brain, and he cautiously entered the trap, making sure to keep his good eye toward us, but the other two were still feasting happily beneath the unsprung trap.
What to do? Spring it and have three feral kittens to deal with? Or risk losing the injured one by waiting too long?
We’d never done this before but decided to spring the trap and take our chances. Sprung, the kittens turned into pinballs, bouncing manically around the cage until we got a sheet over it. Now we had 3 feral kittens stuck in a trap, silent but pretty well peeved and waiting for a chance to strike. We took them home.
We cleared out our bedroom, and our dog sacrificed his crate to provide a safe home for the new kittens. Transferring them from the cage to the crate, we were again thrown into the role of Pinball Wizards. They bounced around the empty room, clawed desperately at the window blind and scratched gouges in our walls until we figured out to turn off the light. Using towels, in almost pitch blackness, we managed to wrangle the lot and get them into the crate where we had placed food, water and a towel for bedding.
Now what? We couldn’t imagine how we were going to get the injured one out to help him or even to find out what was wrong with his eye. After recuperating and regrouping, I finally decided to just go in there and grab him with a towel. I did just that, wrapped him in the towel and held him tightly on my lap. Within minutes, I felt his body relax, his breathing calmed and he let me look at his eye. He allowed me clean it with a damp washcloth and apply topical antibiotic to the infection without fuss or muss.
Two days later, One Eyed Jack, as he is now known because he is permanently blind in that eye, was chilling on the couch with me and getting eye medication twice a day. His sisters took longer to come around but they each did in their own time. Samhain took the longest, a little over a month and the key to turning her was singing to her! Now, three years later, they are happy, chubby, pampered, altered house cats who, I hope, have forgotten their difficult early months.
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