Raising a kitten the easy way
I’ve always been pretty bossy about raising kittens. In a house with six to ten adult cats, my adult cats long ago let me know through some undesirable behavioral activities that they didn’t care to share their space with kittens 24/7—but they’d be glad to share the kittens’ food. So kittens always had their own room, allowed out under supervision for longer periods as they grew older. Often the kittens have been somewhat wild or even feral, and this confinement helped to tame them, and it also ensured they had food available all the time. My adult companions knew that the annoying little furballs would eventually be removed and that their overnight sleep on my bed with me would not be interrupted. Peace was kept.
But Lucy was by herself, and though I’d usually looked for another foster kitten or two to keep a lone kitten company in confinement, I just didn’t want to add to the situation. I confined her only to the upstairs during the day, the spare cat room only overnight, so the older cats could still come and go upstairs.
But Sophie kept knocking down the barrier, and I’d turn around to see little Lucy cautiously tiptoeing down the stairs to my office.
Why not? I thought, and let her explore the house. She would return from the basement with big eyes and cobwebs tangled in her whiskers and wrapped around her ears and long, long tail. The cubbyholes of my house hadn’t been explored by a cat for years since all mine had grown older, and apparently I needed a kitten to do some deep cleaning. I knew there were no accesses to the outdoors or to the walls or ductwork she could get in trouble with, so I let her have fun.
Lucy, in turn, “did everything once”—she climbed every screen once, then never did it again, clawed furniture to try it out, but preferred the tree trunk, and so on. I was concerned that I had little time to interact with her in the middle of all the declining health, but she was so refreshing to watch scampering around and exploring her home as if it all belonged to her and seemed to enjoy playing on her own, then checking in with me. Most of the adult cats ostensibly ignored her, Stanley was confused by her—poor guy, he’d fostered so many kittens—but she came to adore Namir, following him around and imitating his every move like a typical little sister, and in big-brother way, she got a little mock-annoyed swat now and then, but he tolerated her adoration.
So I confined her only at night, and in January when Stanley needed to stay upstairs for his last days I let her out entirely; actually, I hardly noticed, and tried to make sure she had kitten food several times a day.
Time for falling in love
I walked the final path with Stanley, one of my oldest friends, giving him and his final passage the dignity and love he deserved. In my sorrow at his passing, I could turn to Lucy to help ease my grief.
The rule for me in fostering is that any member of my household, up to a certain point, perhaps a year, was up for adoption, and this had included Lucy as it had all the others in their time. I hadn’t had time to look for a home for Lucy with caring for and losing my seniors, but I still raised her and thought of her in the context of joining someone else’s household some day.
And in all my years of rescue and foster, I have rarely had a cat from its kittenhood. Most of mine have been adults, or at most older kittens, near one year old.
I fell, really hard. It was my pleasure.
Anyone who’s ever fostered or adopted a kitten will agree that they totally occupy your entire attention for a while, not because they need so much care but because they are so darned cute! Everything they do is cute! I think it’s often what saves their little lives when they are found in the outdoors and crammed into shelters, that they are cute and irresistible and helpless people will do anything for them when they are young, active, playful, friendly, and CUTE!
So Lucy came to symbolize what I’d held in my heart and visual imagination about kittens from years of fostering. It was in the next few months that I began visualizing the illustrated story of the petite black kitten, the silhouette with yellow eyes and a long tail, turning everything she did into another image in the book: tossing the toss pillows, throwing the throw rugs, getting into everything possible so she’d know every inch of her little world. That unrestricted kitten-raising method was the very thing that led to this process.
And it grew from illustrating not only the cuteness of an active little kitten but also explaining to readers that this is what kittens do, look forward to it, enjoy it, understand it, prepare for it if you are considering adopting a kitten.
But if this level of activity and curiosity is not something you want to deal with, then just enjoy the book and adopt an adult cat or a different pet entirely. I’ve always been realistic with people when they consider adopting a kitten, so Lucy could help me make that point just by being herself.
The Ball of Purple Yarn
And the yarn ball illustration actually inspired part of the educational idea of the book. When Stanley was in his last few months, I decided to pull out my yarns so that I’d have something to keep my hands busy in the time I sat with Stanley. The first time Lucy met “yarn”, I thought by her reaction—big round eyes, puffed tail, stiff legs, big interest—perhaps there was a squirrel hidden in the box (it had been in the attic).
Apparently Lucy had a special love for yarn that she had for no other toy ever, and really did go digging in my yarn bag and pull out the purple yarn from all the other colors, and played with it. I took it away from her, knowing yarn can be very dangerous, even fatal, to cats if they eat it. I kept my yarn bag buckled and actually put that ball of purple yarn in a box and folded the flaps shut so they wouldn’t be able to open.
But I returned home one afternoon to find purple yarn rolled out all over the house—I mean all over from the basement through the first floor, up the steps, even over my bed and into the bathroom, the whole ball was unrolled, and Lucy was sitting in the middle of the first floor looking very excited.
“I chased and chased and chased it until it went away!”
Of course, that will be another illustration. Of course, it also taught me another lesson about kittens that I’d forgotten—never doubt the ingenuity of a developing mind! Just like children, they’ll figure out how to get something they want, and they may not always make the best decisions. Because she loved the ball so much, I rolled it up and stitched it so the yarn couldn’t unravel, except for a long tail with I crocheted into a chain stitch, much safer to play with, and she loved it just as much.
And just a few notes on this illustration—I really need to change some of the colors–too much yellow! I had also drawn in her slightly open mouth in the original sketch, but painted over it for this color sketch. These illustrations are by no means done, but they are my process for finding my palette and style, the text, and all the details of Lucy that I’d sketched out three years ago. It’s starting to come together in my mind, but not yet on paper!
In the next installment I’ll talk about her diagnosis, what symptoms I saw, the prognosis, and how I treated her for three months afterward.
All images and text used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used in any way without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in purchasing one as a print, or to use in a print or internet publication.