I drive through an intersection pretty regularly and each time I pass the apartment building on the bend at the top of the hill I think of the little orange kitten I rescued from in front of it some time in 1986 or so. In fact, I look for kittens each time I go past, as if the place is a kitten magnet and chances are good I’ll see one or more. But I’m glad the need to rescue there only happened once. Because I pass it so often and remember this little orange kitten, I remember unexpectedly catching it too.
Last weekend I drove around that bend and the temperature, the bright sunlight, and the big russet leaves fallen from the chestnut tree on the sidewalk in front of that building on the corner made me turn around and find a place to park one more time, though this time not to rescue a kitten but to take photos and finally write up the story.
I was on my way to my parents’ house in the afternoon, not sure of the errand but it was in the days either just before or after we’d moved my father out of the house and eventually into a nursing home. My mother was alone in her house and did not drive. My father might have still been home, or in the nursing home, or in the hospital as he didn’t adapt well to the move and his dementia worsened in a strange place, his immunity was fading and he picked up every infection that came along, and the COPD following his lung cancer surgery kept him from moving himself very much. I know I was headed there with a purpose, but can’t remember what it was.
As I rounded the bend at the top of the hill, likely planning out a move or how to calm my mother when I got to the house, I saw, out of the corner of my eye, a tiny orange kitten in the shadows, somewhere in my range.
I shook my head and tried quickly glancing around to see if there really was a kitten and as I was driving around a bend in traffic. There, I saw it, in the corner of the sidewalk between the apartment building at the top of the hill and a wall built to keep people from falling a full story into the side yard.
The speed limit is only 25 miles per hour and we were all headed for an intersection with a traffic light so I did my best to track the scene. The kitten was hunched in the corner, hissing at traffic, obviously very scared. Oh my goodness, what if it ran out into traffic? I thought as I continued past with no place to pull over or stop. Coming around that bend, no one would see it. How had it gotten there?
Here is the approximate view of the scene from my car that afternoon. The bench and trash can are recent, otherwise it’s as it was 30 years ago. I used the photos I recently took and added an orange kitten from my archives. I remember there was enough light on the kitten that I could see its face and enough light on its body that it stood out in the shadowed corner. It also mixed in with the russet chestnut leaves fallen on the sidewalk so my first glance was a little confused until I found the familiar shape and face.
I know the situation I was headed to was urgent or I would have just found a place to turn around and gone back to get the kitten right then. Instead it was later that afternoon, at least three hours, before I came back to that spot from the opposite direction, slowing down as I came to the house. If you rescue animals, you’ll understand checking the road…whew, nothing on the road.
I came around the end of that wall from the other direction and there it was, a little orange kitten still backed into that corner, still hissing at traffic.
This is pretty much what the intersection looks like. The building is off the right edge of the photo. Below the fenced wall, parallel to the street you see, is another narrow street that comes up from below to a T with the main road right next to the apartment building.
I had a second to think about whether or not my pulling over onto the top of that street would scare the kitten out into traffic before I actually tossed on my turn signal and did so.
Holding my foot on the brake I looked down the sidewalk in front of the building at the kitten. It didn’t seem to notice me, still looking at the street and hissing at passing cars. Likely other cars had pulled into this little street already. Likely the kitten was frozen in fear and giving the only reaction it was able to.
I put the car in park, turned off the engine, put on my flashers, and watched the kitten for a few seconds, then slowly opened my driver’s side door, on the side away from the kitten, quietly closed it, and began walking around the back of the car and along the outside edge of the sidewalk in the direction of the kitten.
I did not expect to catch the kitten. Did I think about feral kittens? Didn’t even know there was such a thing at that time. Did I think about rabies? Never crossed my mind. I only saw a frightened kitten that no one else seemed to notice. I had no blankets or boxes or gloves or anything with which to trap, subdue or wrap the kitten, just a plan to come at it from the street so that if it ran, which is what I expected, it would hopefully run sideways, along the front of the building and run behind the shrubs growing there in the little bit of the yard. At least it wouldn’t be at risk of immediately running into traffic in that space.
Finally in front of the kitten, it only seemed to look at my feet. Today I understand a kitten or cat frozen by trauma and fear and at that time I’d seen it frequently enough but didn’t know it was a common reaction to a situation the kitten had no idea how to deal with. Without a reaction from the kitten I had no idea what it might be planning, and how to react, so I just stood still, considering my options. I considered leaving it there until traffic died down and there was less danger of it being hit if it ran into the street. Then I thought what might happen if the wrong people came along, or someone walking their dog that might bark at the kitten. I had no idea how long it had been there already. I stopped reconsidering. I only hoped I could react quickly enough to save its life if necessary.
I crouched a bit, talking softly to it, coming forward one soft, small step at a time. It was looking right at my feet, it was in my shadow, and yet it wasn’t reacting to me at all.
Leaning over, just as I began reaching my right hand slowly up and over its back, slowly lowering it so I wouldn’t startle it, I remember seeing the kitten bunch its legs to jump or run, not at me, but still facing forward possibly out into the street. I quickly lowered my hand and grabbed the kitten around the waist, hoping to hold it tightly enough that it couldn’t swing around to bite me or get those tiny claws hooked deep into my fingers. I was wearing one of those oversized 80s t-shirts and pulled up the hem, stuffed the kitten into it, and rolled it up so it couldn’t move, an early kitty purrito.
Those weren’t reasoned decisions, those were reactions. I hadn’t been rescuing cats for long, but I guess those reflexes develop quickly.
And there I was standing on the sidewalk at a busy intersection holding the front of my t-shirt rolled up to my waist and gently holding the thing inside. What a sight that must have been. But I really don’t think anyone paid any attention to me at all, no cars slowed down, no pedestrians came over to see what I was doing. I really was glad for that, except my car was at the end of the sidewalk with the flashers going, all the windows open. How the h*ll was I going to drive with this little maniac in my t-shirt?
I just remember grabbing the kitten and walking back to my car, I don’t remember how I drove home, but I’m sure I had those familiar heart palpitations and that hot rush of adrenaline from the rescue. I still lived in the house I rented before I bought this house, and at that time I had only five cats, imagine that. But I had room to keep it for a bit and used the bathroom as a foster room.
I do remember that after the kitten had a full belly and was in a quiet space it was very friendly. A friend agreed to foster it and it was she who named the little one Peanut. If I took photos of this kitten they are long gone, but I know that I began asking around for a potential adopter. One of my co-workers volunteered at one of the shelters and was also on the board. She ended up taking him with her to surrender and watch over him. I remember her telling me that he was adopted easily, back in those frightening days of 1980s shelters where spay and neuter had to wait for six months of age and shelters tried their best with little money or staff to review adopters. I hope his life turned out better than its beginnings.
Peanut wasn’t the only kitten I rescued in circumstances like that, close to traffic either on a street or parking lot or drive through. Or living under a bush, or someone’s porch or window well, or other places kittens find that feel safe enough to stop and defend themselves. Lone kittens his age, about 6 weeks, are not typical, often sick or injured like the kitten in “What are the chances?” Usually there’s at least one more, often an entire litter, as in “Kittens in the Night”. Kittens that age haven’t been nurtured long enough and have no idea what they’re doing. Some of them remained traumatized all their lives and finding understanding homes was difficult. We still find kittens like this today, and sometimes it seems as if the numbers haven’t decreased at all. And it’s still just as important to try to bring each one to safety.
And driving past that building every few days reminds me of Peanut, and all the other kittens like him I’ve rescued and loved.
. . . . .
I first published this story in September 2018. The season and sunlight brought this kitten to mind again.
Read more of my stories from decades of rescuing and fostering cats, with a few from other rescuers mixed in Rescue Stories.
Help me illustrate, anthologize and publish my poetry, rescue stories and essays.
I’d love to publish an anthology of my own rescue stories entitled, What Are the Chances? featuring this story, and others including the element of pure chance at finding a cat in need. This anthology and others are on my list of Patreon projects because it would take place over time, and support through Patreon would help to support me while I worked. You can read about it here or visit my Patreon page.
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Each month features one of my commissioned portraits of a feline or felines and their rescue story along with a kitty quote on the left page, and on the right page the month name with enough lines for all possible dates, with standard holidays and animal-themed observances and events. Great Rescues also includes a mini cat-care book illustrated with my drawings including information on finding strays or orphaned kittens, adopting for the first time or caring for a geriatric cat, a list of household toxins and toxic plants, or helping stray and feral cats and beginning with TNR.
Each book includes also 10 sheets of my “22 Cats” decorative notepaper with a collage of all the portraits in black and white so you can make your own notes or write special notes to friends.
The portraits in this book, collected as a series, won both a Certificate of Excellence and a Muse Medallion in the 2011 Cat Writers’ Association Annual Communication Contest, as well as the 22 Cats Notepaper mentioned below.
All images and text used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission, although links to your site are more than welcome and are shared. Please ask if you are interested in using and image or story in a print or internet publication. If you are interested in purchasing a print of an image or a product including it, check my animal and nature website Portraits of Animals to see if I have it available already. If you don’t find it there, visit Ordering Custom Artwork for more information on a custom greeting card, print or other item.
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