The Four were born on July 26 but July 29 is the day Mimi and her babies joined my household. Of course, some of my favorite rescue stories are the ones closest to me and the felines who came to stay, in part because all the members of my feline family began as rescues or fosters. I’ve never actually adopted a cat except for my very first cat, Bootsie, when my parents took me to the shelter to find a replacement cat for the kittens who hadn’t survived. I’ve always said the universe brought me the cats I needed, for the lessons I’ve needed to learn and the love and care they deserved.
And while we did indeed rescue four newborn black kittens that day, the day is really a celebration of Mimi, the little momcat who ran the streets giving birth to 24 kittens and finally being able to relax and just be a happy housecat.
I’ve told the story of Lucy, who led them here, a number of times in Lucy and I Fought the Good Fight and continued it in Mimi Mewsing and what it all meant to me in my annual presentation for Pet Memorial Sunday, My Loss and Redemption: The Joy of Pets. In short, the moment they came to me was a very low point for me because not only had I lost Lucy at 15 months old, but immediately before her I had lost my four oldest cats, one after another, in the space of a year. After losing them, Stanley at 25, Sophie at 18, Cream at 15 and Moses at 19, I had turned my heart to my kitten, happy to start over after all that loss and watch the mentoring of my other four, Peaches at 17, Cookie at 15, Kelly and Namir at 13.
With Lucy’s loss, my household suddenly reduced from nine to four and all of them teenagers, Namir with a serious heart condition, I looked at the four who were left, their losses imminent, as potential sources of pain and something began to unravel in me as my life with cats began to look like one long parade of loss that I did not want to follow any more. It was only the arrival of Mimi and her kittens who healed that over and reminded me that living with animals is about the love we share.
Here is the rest of that rescue.
Planning and preparations
My memories are usually tied to the season and the weather. July is often quiet, in business and in life, and each July I remember the long quiet sad days at my desk that July in 2007 after we lost Lucy, my four sweet understanding teenagers joining me at my desk for long sunny days with the windows open, this quiet neighborhood peaceful and still outside, the garden producing my food, flowers blooming at every window and birds singing in the trees.
It sounds idyllic and in many ways it was. I had worked very hard to make it that way over the years I’ve lived here. That was part of what sustained me in my sadness, not being able to appreciate the quiet beauties of summer days but comforting that they were there for me nonetheless.
Here it is July once again and the quiet days bring back that magical time of transition years ago, between Lucy’s last day and Mimi’s first day. Cookie, my rock, was as solid as ever, always near me, now and then her soft warm paw on my arm, and her sweet head tilt and sympathetic expression when she caught my eye; she understood exactly how I felt, I could see it in her eyes, she knew about loss. Kelly was overflowing with happiness in her security with us, loving me and her fur family, purring and talking. Peaches as sweet as her name, happy with whatever we were doing, never forgetting that she had narrowly missed this chance to live and be happy with her fur family and me, always content in her decision to choose me as her person. Namir was just as sensitive as Cookie and gave me lots of slant-eyed blinks with his tourmaline eyes, and in the way that Kublai had done looked at me and waited for just the right moment for me to see him resting with his legs tangled and twisting on his back in some bizarre position that would always make me laugh. They slept in tightly curled balls on my desk, vigilant. They followed me around, a little clowder of gray and peach and white and tortie, from the desk to the kitchen to the studio to the basement to bed, tucking themselves in around me at night.
Letting them in
After I had seen Mimi in the garden, saw she was pregnant again and knew I had to take her in, I had consulted with my veterinarian and the others who had helped me with Lucy about preparing for new arrivals. I had taken the time to thoroughly clean and scrub my home after we lost Lucy on July 10, though FIP is not itself contagious and the coronavirus that would have infected Lucy was most likely long gone, if there was a genetic link to FIP and any possibility there was a molecule of it here I was taking no chances.
I finally had my home and their foster area ready. Mimi on her own would have been housed in the studio but my neighbor had come over to tell me the kittens had been born so plans had changed. Honestly, I have spayed pregnant cats and considering the risk of FIP and the fact that Mimi was very small and had already had a number of litters, a spay had actually been recommended by a couple of veterinarians. Mimi would arrive on a Sunday and see a veterinarian on a Monday to determine that, but I guess it wasn’t part of the plan.
I had decided to use a large dog cage to contain Mimi and then the little family, sure that their mom would want to move them behind something in the studio/spare cat room and I wouldn’t see them until they were eight weeks old and lost in the wilds of all the boxes and stuff in there, and I also felt the need to observe them all from the very beginning for any signs of illness.
Also, you may not realize that Mimi and I had a somewhat difficult relationship when she lived outdoors as she was timid of other humans outdoors and always ran from me when I found her in my garden. I really wasn’t sure if she’d perceive me as a threat, and even without kittens I wasn’t sure how friendly she would be. I couldn’t know how protective she might be of her kittens in a new space, and how threatened she might feel by the smells of other cats and the presence of them outside the door. I anticipated trouble.
The day came, my neighbor came over and asked if I was really taking the cat, who she called Maia, and she would go get her and the kittens. I had everything ready, all I needed was the cat and kittens, but was hesitating, that fear of pain from loss, the mother and all the kittens might be sick, it might be a mess, I might put the rest of my cats at risk…but I told her to bring her over.
Meeting Mimi for the first time
She appeared back at the door with a smallish square box with the flaps folded shut and handed it to me. Was this just the mom cat? No, the kittens were in there. She left.
I was terrified! They were newborns! The mom could step on them and kill them! I could feel her shifting around in there. I didn’t want to open the box right there and possibly have her escape, Namir and Cookie and Kelly and Peaches were right there stretching their noses toward me, ready to see the new additions, but I had to walk up the steps with this box! Well, I could do that, and began slowly walking toward and up the steps, into the studio, and shut the door behind me with my foot, right in four curious faces who knew exactly what was happening.
Slowly and carefully I put the box down on the stool I had next to my work table and opened the cage door. The blind was pulled because the day was hot and sunny and I wanted the room cool and dim and protected for the new mom and kittens.
Only tiny scuffles came from the inside, but no other noise. I had no idea what to expect when I opened the box. Would she spring out and run and hide? Would she leap at my face? Would she crouch down and hiss at me and smother her kittens? She had been less than friendly, she had just been put in a box with her kittens and carried around, she was a new mom in a strange place, there were cat smells all over, she would have no idea they were behind a door and she was safe.
I carefully slid the box flaps apart and peered in the little square of darkness so I could see what the cat’s reaction was. One round softly glowing eye appeared at the opening. Curious, not angry. I opened the flaps a little more. She looked up at me, calm, calmer than me. I opened the flaps all the way and folded them back. Her head periscoped up to see over the edge of the box as she looked around. So this is what it’s like in here, she seemed to say, then looked back at me.
I instinctively reached to touch her, just lightly touch her head. She sat up taller to meet my hand and looked softly at me. I forgot any doubts. She then began to climb out of the box and stepped onto the edge of the worktable and I could see how very small she was as she walked toward me for a sniff of my hand and another pet, and it was then the rainbows appeared as I sensed the sun streaming in the open door and envisioned Lucy walking in the room behind me. Rainbows? The blind was pulled almost all the way down and the window crystal was nearly on the windowsill where the sun could barely reach it. Of course, when I turned around, the door was closed, and Lucy was not there…but she was, and as the rainbows slowly spun around the room from the chance of a tiny sliver of afternoon sun on the window crystal as it twirled in the slightest breeze, Lucy became a part of this family forever.
Maia and I looked at each other and observed the moment, then I remembered her kittens and she needed to explore her new space. I looked in the box at the little fuzzy black objects squirming just a bit—really, newborn kittens don’t look like much, especially black kittens when you can’t even see features. I considered leaving them there for her to move, but decided I’d rather put them in the cage and cover them while their mom explored.
One by one I gently lifted the nearly weightless warm little bodies covered with soft fuzz and laid them on the fleece in the cage, then held my hand over them just feeling their little lives in their tiny bodies. Who knew what they’d grow up to be like? I pictured them in stages as they’d grow, remembering other kittens, seeing them tumble around and play, and walk and pounce and give themselves baths. And here they were at their beginning.
Their mother stretched out on my drafting table, relaxed and confident. I knew we would be fine. I had the feeling she’d known all along this would happen.
Later, she settled into the cage and nestled with her kittens to nurse.
And those sweet little fuzzballs…
I sent out a birth announcement and immediately began soliciting homes. Right away a friend was interested in the mother, sight unseen, because they are often left behind after the kittens are adopted. Another couple for whom I’d done a portrait expressed interest in two of the kittens when they were ready. I thought I’d probably end up keeping one, or preferably two so they’d each have a friend their own age in a house full of seniors.
Fostering a litter of kittens isn’t cheap. Lucy’s illness and treatment in the previous months had been a little over $2,000. Namir had had his annual echocardiogram and checkup with the specialist and also had a trip to the emergency room for congestive heart failure. The end-of-life care for four senior cats had been heavy in the previous year. Finances were another consideration in this venture, and while the mom cat would be feeding the kittens for a few weeks, they’d soon need food, and she needed a good diet as well, then all the exams and vaccinations, spays and neuters, and lots and lots of food.
I’d loosely fostered and worked with the Western Pennsylvania Humane Society for years and I’d likely adopt any who were left through them, and a friend there gave me a huge donated bag of kitten food for the mom, and continued to help me. One of my long-time customers and friends, Carolyn Kozlowski of My Three Cats & Co., Inc., offered to cover veterinary exams and vaccinations as well as some food and, later, KMR when I needed it.
Naming rights, and getting to know each other
You can read more about how they got their names in Mimi Introduces Giuseppe, Mr. Sunshine, Jelly Bean and Mewsette, but I always named litters of kittens after groups of some sort, colors, characters in a novel, seasons, and initially they were going to be days of the week, Monday through Friday. Then they would have the mythological names that created those day names, Moon, Tyr, Odin, Thor and Freya.
But first I knew the mom cat needed a new name. She had a new life. I had recently seen the opera La Boheme, and once again was touched by the story of the creative souls living life in 19th century Paris, and the delicate Mimi who created beauty through her embroidery, so Maia became Mimi. Within a week the kittens’ personalities were evident and I could at least tell them apart and they became Rodolfo and Musetta for the two whose genders were more evident, but I was unclear on the other two, though I loosely called them Marcello and then Luciano because there wasn’t a male lead whose name I wanted to use and Luciano Pavarotti had sung the lead, and that was close enough to Lucy for me.
However, before even those names were the color names. Because I was looking for any sign of illness, but they were virtually identical at that age, I decided to identify each of them with a dab of water-based non-toxic tempera paint on the tip of their right ear, well, mostly.
I color-coded three of their ears because I couldn’t tell them apart and for the sake of their health I needed to. Kittens often develop conditions and all too quickly they are ill and it’s passed around. If I had to tell my veterinarian about symptoms I’d seen, I’d have to know them apart. This was especially critical because of the awareness of FIP in their half-sister Lucy, though nothing concrete ever developed in these guys.
I arbitrarily chose the colors: red for Mewsette, green for Giuseppe and yellow for Mr. Sunshine, or Luciano as he was then called; Bean was blue until I realized I could see his white bits nearly all the time. I began the paint when they were about two weeks old when the water-based tempera paint lasted on their ears for a couple of days, until they reached about seven weeks when it didn’t last even a full day from bathing themselves and each other and Mimi bathing them and their level of activity, and I swear they began to grow so quickly they just burst the paint off as their ears grew.
Giuseppe actually got his name from his color—Giuseppe Verdi, or Joe Green (famous Pittsburgh Steelers player) if you’re not speaking Italian, and since Verdi also composed operas, though not the one in question, that worked fine.
Mr. Sunshine was actually Marcello, the male second lead in La Boheme, until he reached about four weeks old and I decided he had Lucy’s eyes; when I looked at him, I looked at Lucy. Being a boy, I called him Luciano. In time I caught myself singing “You Are My Sunshine” to him, then remembered I’d sung that to Lucy all the time, and I began to call him Sunshine, then Mr. Sunshine as his mancat status as an engineering supervisor was apparent at an early age. Then I realized his color was yellow.
I kept Mimi in the room with them, though I let her out of the cage for a rest. I knew she didn’t like them on the table though it was dark and protected, and once I’d left the cage door open and she moved the kittens way back in the corner on the floor where I had to move everything to get them. She looked at me incredulous as I tore the room apart and moved them back. “I did that on purpose, I wanted them there!” and then the first time I saw her “Calm down human, don’t have a fit,” expression. But then in late July and early August we had thunderstorms and Mimi was terrified of storms. She actually woke me up during a storm rattling the cage door in the next room with the door closed, and when I came in to open the door to reach in and pet her she took off for my bedroom and tucked herself in the tiny space under the chest of drawers, “I’m staying here, you’re in charge of the kids.” I let her stay there, and each time it stormed after that she ended up there.
Her vet records showed she had been tested for FIV/FeLV and had also been vaccinated for them, so I could be reasonably certain she wasn’t carrying either one. I kept her separate from my household and carefully washed up each time I came out of the room for the first two weeks, then saw the toll the stress of the heat and nursing was having on this little cat. She had actually had a litter early in the spring that year, and this was litter number six in just under four years. I decided to let her out of the room for a few hours each day, just to see how she reacted with the household. Then when the kittens were moved to the bathroom I set it up so she could come and go but kept her in there at night.
I remember how quiet and sad my home had been for the weeks after Lucy died, loving my four, they doing their best to comfort me and each other, but feeling incomplete. Now, even though Mimi and the little family made practically no sound and were in a room by themselves, we were still grieving, but our empty spot had been filled.
Mimi was completely friendly, as if she’d always been here. I realized that she’d probably met my cats through the years at the basement door, so she was no stranger and the four acted as if they knew her well; as I got to know her later I realized this was also part of her personality. She apparently felt no threat to her kittens from them. And I will always remember working at my desk downstairs in the heat and quiet of an August afternoon. I would sense her coming down the stairs as she made no sound, then see her slowly walking toward the front door with its screen all the way to the bottom, not to ask to go outside, but to lie down and nap, and cool her belly after nursing her kittens. She would sleep there for a while, then silently jump up on the desk and tiptoe among Namir, Peaches, Cookie and Kelly, each scattered in sleeping postures on my desk as in the photo above, and choose a very tiny spot among them just for her, curl up in a ball but remain awake, one eye watching me and looking around the room. I can only imagine her thoughts.
The friend who’d been interested in Mimi rescued two cats from the woods near her, and they turned out to be FeLV positive but she was keeping them, so her home was out. I had wanted to keep the kittens until they were a year old under the guidance of veterinarians because, if they had developed FIP, it would most possibly begin to show in their first year as it did with Lucy. It wasn’t foolproof, just a safeguard, but I’d rather have me lose another cat young than some other unsuspecting person. I knew what I was getting into. The friends who’d been interested in two kittens also rescued two other cats in the meantime.
And, of course, you know they all ended up staying here. Perhaps that was in the plan from the beginning. The Curious Quartet have always been a close group and while I have a friendship with each of them I’m always aware that their siblings come first in their hearts, and that’s okay.
And for all the mother cats and kittens I’ve fostered Mimi had one more lesson to teach me. Mother cats identify so completely with the role of motherhood that they often lose their own identity and not the least because of the existence of cute kittens are often overlooked. From the very beginning Mimi was so sweet and so fully a mom, even after she was spayed, that I called her “my little Honeymom” all the time, even two years after she’d come here. I sensed she was a little tired of that identity and wanted to give it up. After all, she was spayed, and the kids were grown up. At some point I told her I would no longer call her that, her name was Mimi and she was my girl, and that was that. She is still very sensitive and nurturing, and we always see her grooming her children, but they groom each other and her too. It’s a mutual thing. And while I can act like a big baby sometimes and get the feline eye roll and her “get over yourself, human” expression, she no longer feels the need to be anyone’s mother.
Mimi was always a little distant though, as if she wasn’t ready to let go and trust me. I think another kitty who wasn’t ready to let go and trust at first counseled Mimi for quite some time until one day she looked at me and let me know I was her human. It’s nice to know the generations are there for me.
Mimi’s life would no doubt have been very different if she had not joined our household. My life would be very different right now if I had never known her. We truly rescued each other.
From Mimi’s point of view in Mimi Mewsing.
For my first annual presentation at Pet Memorial Sunday I told the story of My Loss and Redemption.
And how They Rescued Me.
Read more of my stories from decades of rescuing and fostering cats, with a few from other rescuers mixed in: Rescue Stories.
Art and Gifts Featuring Cats You Know!
Feline Images from Portraits of Animals!
It was a scene I loved for my love of my garden, my appreciation of Mimi relaxing in a place she’d once hunted for food to feed her kittens, and the memory of the generations of cats before her who enjoyed that very spot, this little patio and the verdance of my garden. Read more and purchase.
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