At the end of October someone reported into the rescue group about a kitten seen under a dumpster at a restaurant in a suburban/rural area, a little mangy-looking orange one. Everyone discussed when and where to stop and check, and Margo ended up there in the evening. First there was one kitten, then another showed up. Driving around she saw adult cats as well, and talking to the hostess in the restaurant she confirmed the two kittens. Stopping back the next morning, and seeing one was injured and limping, she posted in the group about what she saw and devised a plan to trap them that night.
But days went by and no kittens or cats were trapped. They showed up at night, disappearing off into the brush and woods behind the parking lot, four kittens, two orange tabby, two brown tabby and at least two adults. She had a chance to speak to the people at the restaurant who said the kittens were somewhat friendly, they saw them frequently and fed them when they could. The cats and kittens had been seen in the wooded area behind the restaurant and even crossing a road at a distance, but showed up under the dumpster or the wood pile.
Feeling some urgency to get them, Margo asked if anyone else could help with shifts to sit and watch the traps overnight. Several other rescuers did take shifts watching and waiting and reporting what they saw, but no kittens or cats went into the traps. Finally, after a week of watching and setting traps, success as Margo caught two kittens, then another, and another, so all the kittens she’d seen were caught, as well as a small adult who was likely the mom, and thinking that was everyone, prepared to leave.
But she saw a tiny black kitten she hadn’t seen before, outside the mom cat’s cage, pawing at his mother inside. He ran away when she approached so she set another trap, and though he went into it and ate it didn’t close when he stepped on the trip plate. She set the trap again and sat in her car waiting, and finally two hours later the trap door closed behind the little black kitten. In over a week of sitting and watching she hadn’t seen him before that moment, and if he hadn’t come to be near his mom she would have left without him, never knowing he was there. She packed them all into her car and took them home.
They all went off to be spayed and neutered the next morning, and the veterinarian found ringworm on two kittens, including the little black kitten. While their mother went off to slowly settle into life in a barn (though she ended up in the house), and had her treatments there, the kittens would be fostered by Margo. Care and treatment with ringworm, which is a highly contagious fungal infection of the skin, meant wearing a surgical gown and gloves, and handling them as little as possible to prevent spreading the illness. That meant no cuddling and no kissing of the kittens who were already somewhat friendly but needed socialization, and it also meant baths and medications, both oral and topical. Hopefully they’d understand it was all for their own good. She named them all “J” names: the little brown tabby girl with the limp was Josephine, and the other brown tabby girl was Jezebel, the orange tabby boys were Jeffrey and Jimmy, and the little black male she named Johnny.
Not thrilled with being handled they were not unfriendly, and it was clear they were familiar with people in a way that meant they had lived with people for probably most of their young lives. But she was concerned they didn’t play; setting up a wildlife camera in their cages she discovered they played madly when she wasn’t there, including little Josephine with the limp, whose x-ray had shown a horribly dislocated elbow and shoulder. It didn’t stop her. Little Johnny seemed to have the worst of the cases of ringworm, the base of his tail so thickened with the infection it was nearly twice as thick as a tail should be. Her veterinarian debrided the area and cleaned it, giving her cream to cover the area.
A week passed and the kittens played more and more, except Johnny who played less and less and had less of an appetite, and then he began mewing, just little cries, that were difficult to determine. A few days after that she noticed labored breathing. A panel of blood and medical tests showed a list of numbers that were too high or too low, an issue in his liver, anemia, frighteningly fluid in his stomach, but nothing cohesive. More test results would come back over the next few days. Margo took him home and continued with his ringworm treatments and also gave him supportive fluids and foods, but saw him deteriorate over the next few days. He ate regularly, but he quit all activities and his labored breathing became more pronounced.
But still she held out hope, as did we in the group, that the veterinarian would find something and hope to cure it for the little guy. His siblings were thriving, he had just begun his forever life with humans, no more dumpster diving, running around in freezing rain, dodging whatever evils were out there waiting to capture kittens. Surely her veterinarian would find something and work on fixing it. As the days passed and he continued to deteriorate it became a race with time to find a solution before his condition couldn’t be reversed.
On November 28, just a little less than three weeks after they’d arrived, Johnny’s breathing was so labored it was frightening, and even though he ate he was very weak. Despite all the efforts and hope, there was no stopping whatever was taking him away. That night she knew he was suffering too much and she decided to let him go.
The veterinarians are not sure what it was that took Johnny, but suspect feline infectious peritonitis looking at the cluster of symptoms, and if not that then some congenital condition that would have taken his life no matter the conditions. The fact no one had seen him meant he was likely hiding or not well enough to show up with them, and his condition was present and preventing him from thriving already. Nothing wins with FIP or many congenital conditions, but it’s hard to give up on a young kitten, no matter how dire the diagnosis. Kittens have such a life force, an audacity that makes them fearless, it’s impossible anything could take them down though they are hardly more than a handful of fluff. But over all the populations of kittens, from those on the street to those in the best of homes, they still only have about a 50/50 chance of survival from congenital illnesses, birth defects, viral and bacterial infections, injuries, poor nutrition. And even in a litter of kittens like the Juniper kittens, four social and healthy, active kittens, one who lost his battle was hard to accept. They should all have lived, all five in this wonderful little litter, so lucky to have been brought inside, to ultimately find loving forever homes.
But those are the ones we remember the clearest, the ones who come and leave too fast, and take a bigger piece of our hearts in the process. So many live and die outside, somewhere away from the care of humans, but at least Johnny and his family were rescued, not left to suffer in the coming cold and ice where he would not have survived. And so glad he came out of hiding at the last moment, not unintentionally left alone, without even his siblings to cuddle with, and we all had the chance to love him for the brief time he was with us.
Read more stories in my weekly Rescue Stories series
and read about my Rescue Stories series.
Can’t adopt? Foster! Can’t foster? Donate or volunteer.
There are so many ways you can help cats who need homes and care. You may not have room to adopt another cat, but can foster a cat or kitten for a few weeks. If not that, you can volunteer at a shelter or with a rescue, or donate. You do this because you love your cat, and by doing so you help all cats. No matter which of these actions you take, you help to save a life, and make life better for all cats.
- Adopt one of the cats I’ve posted here, or from any shelter or rescue near you, or from Petfinder, to open up a space for another cat to be rescued and fostered.
- Offer to foster cats or kittens for a shelter or rescue near you.
- Volunteer at a shelter or rescue.
- Find a group of volunteers who work with homeless cats and help them with their efforts.
- Donate to a shelter or rescue near you.
If you can foster kittens or adults cats to help prepare them for a forever home, please run to your nearest shelter and find a cat who needs you! Anyone can help with this effort at any level, even if all you do is donate to a shelter or rescue so they can help to pay for the food or medications needed for their foster, or the spay/neuter/veterinary care during a clinic.
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Weekly schedule of features:
Sunday: Essays, Pet Loss, Poetry, The Artist’s Life
Monday: Adoptable Cats, TNR & Shelters
Tuesday: Rescue Stories
Wednesday: Commissioned Portrait or Featured Artwork
Thursday: New Merchandise
Friday: Book Review, Health and Welfare, Advocacy
Saturday: Your Backyard Wildlife Habitat, Living Green With Pets, Creating With Cats
And sometimes, I just throw my hands in the air and have fun!