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Lion Taming

On Thursday evening my wife ask me to come outside. There were two small kittens under our cars. They looked about 4 or 5 weeks old. We have a barrier across our driveway to keep the neighbor cat from annoying our two 17 year old cats. Our cat Maggie used to keep the neighbor cat in check but she passed away last spring. Maggie would have never tolerated the barrier as she lived to hunt but our cat Kelly seems to be content to stay inside it as long as we take her out for an occasional walk around the yard. Walking with Kelly reminds me of the character Monk from the TV series by the same name. She has to stop and rub against every stick she passes. The barrier consists of six 4 foot by 4 foot PVC pipe frames with deer netting on it. Because it is flimsy, cats don’t try to climb it and although they could rip through it, they don’t seem to try.

a sleeping kitten

My cat Amy rarely goes outside but she was out at the time and was hissing and growling at the kittens. Kelly was a little more restrained but obviously irritated. The kittens were trying to find a way through the barrier so I initially thought they were tame and someone had dumped them. After ranting about people not being responsible with their animals, we decided we needed to catch them. This town is pretty overrun with wild cats. While I have never looked out the window and discovered a pile of puppies in my yard, kittens seem to show up semi-regularly. We put our cats inside and opened the barrier. The kittens backed off under the cars and seemed pretty shy. By then the neighbors were out and said they had seen them the night before. They seemed healthy and we wondered what happened to their mom and other siblings. We set out some food and they ate but when we approached, they dashed back under the car. We got some string and the urge to chase overcame their fear of us. Once they were in a corner of the barrier I grabbed them. They went crazy trying to defend themselves. It’s amazing how tough the little things are at such a young age. I managed to get the black one into a box suffering only a couple scratches but the blond one bit through a leather glove and into my finger.

kittens and flowers

Now that we had them in a box we needed to give them food and water. We decided to put them in a larger box. When we went to give them food, they showed us we haven’t had kittens for quite a while and had forgotten how high they can jump. Blackie took off for our garage which is full of places to hide. My wife managed to grab Blondie but she was wearing the gloves and my hands took some more damage. After realizing the futility of trying to get the black one at that point, we decided we would leave the barrier and the garage open for the night. I just let the blond one go figuring the two siblings would reunite under the cars where they had been living.

two playing kittens

The next day I discovered I was right about the reuniting but wrong about the location. Now I had two kittens living in my garage. In the mean time, our neighbor had been on the phone and had surprisingly found someone to take the kittens. I went off to the hardware store and purchased a box trap. At least this time I won’t be spending money getting the Humane Society to take the kittens, but I’m still spending money. We set the trap up in the garage but it was getting late. We ended up just setting out food because we didn’t want a kitten to spend the night in the trap.

a kitten with a silly look on its face

By Saturday I was pretty sure Kelly knew there were kittens in the garage. It’s starting to smell. Amy seems pretty much oblivious but as I said she doesn’t spend much time outside. We set up the trap and within minutes we heard the sound of it going off. We had practiced a mock transfer into a cat carrier. Unfortunately the trap is just slightly larger than the opening of the carrier. We went into the garage and the black one was trapped. It was understandably scared and throwing itself against the doors. We put the trap against the carrier, opened one door and the kitten ran into the carrier. So far so good, but when we tried to remove the trap and close the door the little creature once again showed us how hard this was going to be and squirmed out to once again disappear into the garage.

more kittens playing

We reset the trap and a few minutes later it went off again but this time there was nothing in it. Two more times it went off and again nothing. They were learning fast. It was a hot day and Kelly decided to sleep inside so we sat out with the garage door open. The black one wanted to play string while the blond one was off sleeping somewhere. I was amazed that within an hour or so I had the little guy (girl) playing right at my feet. After a really long nap, the blond one got up and although it seems a little shyer, we eventually had them both playing within reach. By then it had cooled off and our cats wanted out so we decided to just close up the garage.

a cute blond kitten

Sunday I went out to find them using the litter box I had given them. As the momentary sense of pride passed over me I realized this bonding process was going both ways. By now I was starting to really think about their future. What kind of life are they going to have? Will they be indoor or outdoor cats? I figured since we have found a home for them we might as well enjoy having kittens for a while. We played string a good part of the day. The kittens began to relax in their environment and explore. We sat there looking at all the dangerous, precariously stacked stuff in our garage, the pitch fork hanging from a couple of nails, the trimmers, and the sledge hammer. Suddenly my garage reminded me of that scene from Twister when they look for refuge from a tornado in a barn full of cutting tools. This is no environment for babies.

A black kitten on a ladder

While we worried, the kittens showed us how much fun lawn mowers can be as cat toys. They climbed on a leaning snow shovel to the ladder to body slam each other. They also wandered outside. I had forgotten how entertaining they could be and shot video of them leaping, pouncing, and playing with each other.

two kittens on a mower

Watching them play I had the thought they are so cute but also this was preparation for serious business. Amy is a domesticated cat. She mostly wants to be in your lap. She doesn’t hunt much and what she catches she lets go. One night she caught a mouse, brought it to bed with us and dropped it, quite unharmed, on my wife’s head. On the other hand, Maggie was sweet to us but deep down she was a cold blooded killer. I calculated after she died, she was probably responsible for the death of over ten thousand critters. In summer, she had a 5 or 6 mouse a day habit and still begged for food all the time. If you have ever watched a cat eviscerate a rabbit, you never look at them the same way again.

a kitten hunting a bug

Sunday, toward evening, I really thought they were getting close to letting us touch them. I held my hand out and the black one started to come to me. It came close but at the last minute scampered away.

two kittens sleeping

Yesterday I finally pushed the issue and tried touching them when they chased the string near me. We seemed to make progress as each time they ran away but less far away and came back quicker. We had a feral cat come live with us when I was young. I remember it took a long time but eventually it was pet-able. I’ve never worked with wild kittens and I’m thinking this is going to take longer than I hoped. Maybe we should just grab them and send them off to their new life. I suspect they will be indoor cats from the neighborhood but the family has a screened in porch. I hear they have two 7 year old kids, an older cat, and the father said the kids will learn or get scratched. I guess that means they will keep their claws. If I had retractable claws, i sure wouldn’t want to give them up.

three kittens sleeping

I hope their lives turn out to be as good as it was for these three kittens. That’s Amy on the left, Maggie on the right, and Kelly in the back.

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