I had feline sisters in this strange place, as it seemed most of us were girls of various ages. I was frightened at first and confused by their sudden outbursts at each other and sometimes at me though all I did was try to get enough to eat and drink and to stay warm as it grew colder, but eventually I learned the way they communicated and what my place was in the group.
By that time I had seen a certain pattern in the other girls, the sudden yowling and extreme physical activity which was often quite entertaining even if it was a little frightening. I heard what I learned were male cats who sometimes entered our little place and while I ran and hid and covered my face and my ears and nearly fainted from fear of all the scrambling and screeching and what sounded like killing, I came to understand what was happening. And there were the swelling bellies, the births, somehow it was all connected.
I had watched kittens nurse and grow, and noticed that, even though the mothers found a protected space away from the group at first the other mothers would sometimes help with them, both mothers nursing and cleaning all the kittens even of different ages, and as their kittens opened their eyes and began to walk and tumble about even those without kittens would help to keep them safe, if at all possible, as it sometimes was not.
Watching this, I remembered being with my own mother and the feel of her tongue combing through my fur as she had bathed me while I nursed and we all purred together, how comforting that had been and I unknowingly cuddled close to a big tabby cat as I swam in this sweet memory. She tolerated it for a bit, then swatted me.
But this odd physical affection grew in me and soon I was prancing around and while I talk all the time I was singing now. The sisterhood was comforting and nurturing if still a little rough when to my surprise I came into my time and suddenly became emboldened and wandered, had experiences with violent male cats which were at the same time horribly frightening and more exciting than I can explain; I still bear a few scars on my neck from this time. I had no idea it would lead to my next life experience…my own babies.
My body knew just what to do when I gave birth, and the experience was very natural for me. I kept my babies clean and happy and had the same help from my sisters, but while I was busy being a momcat other things were happening. The weather was turning warmer and suddenly we heard people around the outside of our building and while we couldn’t understand human we didn’t have to—we knew they meant us harm. Some cats ate some food they’d left even though it tasted funny, and later they grew sick and died right there among us. Then a human pulled out one of the windows and pointed something inside, making loud popping noises and I just rolled in a ball and trembled with my babies until it stopped, and some of our sisters were injured and crying afterward.
I never saw the human who had always brought the food that had first attracted me, but many of my sisters did and were actually friendly with her; while I watched from a safe distance, humans were just a bunch of noisy stomping feet with long frightening legs and I never looked any farther. But when this human brought the food for us and discovered what had happened I understood the sounds she made were sorrow. She actually picked up as many cats as she could get from the outside and took them away. She came back later and took as many more as she could catch.
Later that day and the next, more people came, many footsteps and lots of human sounds and shadows outside, then inside above us, then in our very space, humans were among us! They were a very quiet sort, not the stomping, yelling sort, but I trembled again. One of them saw me with my babies in our little nook and came toward us, I could tell they were cautious, I remembered nice humans, a warm hand stroking me, a soft voice, falling asleep on a comfy lap—but I was overcome with the memory of the loud pops and the stomping and the death and I ran, I ran from the human and tried to get my babies to run with me, they were old enough, but they weren’t fast enough and the human threw something over all of them.
Hiding in the shadows with a few other girls I almost ran back to fight, but I saw the human uncovering my babies and petting them the way I remembered being petted, nuzzling each of them before putting them into a box. I could hear their familiar little mews, now frightened and again I started forward, especially when the human came quietly walking toward us with my babies and making strange little sounds of her own. We understood this human was safe but none of us would move. Eventually the human backed away, I heard my babies’ little voices fading farther, and all the humans left. All was quiet, the cats who had died were gone, things had been moved, everything was different.
But somehow I felt my babies were safe, and I decided to stay.
The small group of us who were left continued on but the humans, the nice ones who gave us good food and spoke in soft and comforting voices, visited more often and tried to make friends with us. They did make friends with a few of the other cats and took them away. From the number of cats who had once lived there, just a few were left.
But soon enough I found myself with babies again as did a few other girls. We grew accustomed to the humans coming in and feeding us inside, leaving bowls of water and now and then walking off with one of us, but especially paying close attention to the kittens. They even petted my babies—they were very young and couldn’t run but I ran a safe distance away and they never touched me. I was certain they’d take my babies again and couldn’t figure out why they didn’t.
Then one day one of them, who had been visiting me and my babies nearly every day, did a very strange thing, and everything changed forever. She approached us as usual and I ran off to where I always waited while she petted my babies. Then she put a wire thing next to my babies and put them in it! And then she left! My babies were in that horrible wire thing and I could see them but I was so frightened of the wire thing I just crouched in my corner and looked at them, pacing now and then. But soon they began crying, crying for food and for me, and they had to be cold and I knew I had to be brave for them. The room had grown dark when I approached the wire thing, much less frightening without all the light shining all over it, walked around it and smelled at my babies, then around again. They could smell me and hear me and began crying to break my heart and I forgot all about how frightening the wire thing was, I had to get to my babies and ran around and on top of the thing, trying to figure out how to get to them. I found an opening on the opposite end from where they were and ran inside, hardly noticing when a loud “snap” sounded behind me. I squeezed over something to get to them walked around and purred and curled around them, lying down so they could nurse as I nuzzled them and licked them as my own mother had all that time ago. We were all exhausted and soon they slept, while I worried, vigilant, in that wire thing, frightened that something awful would happen.
As soon as there was just a bit of daylight I heard the human quietly enter. One of my sisters, more frightened than me and quite wild, ran silently for her hiding spot. A light shone in my eyes and I heard the human making quiet noises, coming toward me. I got up and flattened myself against the wire when I realized I had no room to run, leaving my babies just awakening and moving around. She made what felt like comforting noises and the light went out, then the cage began to move and I realized she was taking us in the cage. I looked up at her hand and trembled where I was as we moved through that dark space that had become so familiar, up and into the early daylight on a sweet spring morning, all was still quiet except birds singing their morning songs.
I was frightened, I would not look at the human and I didn’t make a single sound, but though I had no idea what would happen next I knew this was better than staying in that place, for me and for my babies.
This portion of Kelly’s story is pieced together from notes in her file that had been related to the woman who eventually adopted her; I filled out the details from my own experiences with rescues of stray and feral colonies who were in danger from human activity and had to be evacuated.
We knew that Kelly had given birth to at least two litters of kittens though she may have had others as well, that the first litter was taken to a shelter though they could not catch Kelly. The woman who had regularly fed the cats had found them after the rat poison and BB guns then watched the colony closely and continued to rescue as many cats as she could. Eventually it was down to Kelly and a few other cats. She caught Kelly only by “using her babies to lure her”; I described what I had once done to catch a stray momcat.
The building had been condemned and was demolished, and I have no idea if the other cats were ever trapped and removed, but I am glad that Kelly managed to find a moment of trust and allow herself to be caught. I am also grateful to the woman who cared for them and saved so many, not just for Kelly’s sake but for the sake of all stray and feral cats who do their best to live in a world that is largely hostile to them. This would have taken place in late 1995 and early 1996 when TNR was still fairly new in many areas and colonies were often rounded up and simply euthanized.
But Kelly is still a few experiences away from the happily purring Kelly on my lap right now as we have two more chapters to go in her rescue story. Kelly has been the sweet, quiet presence you don’t see as often as her more outgoing housemates. I’ve long tried to condense her story, but decided that didn’t do justice to a kitty who’s been through a lot. Because her story is long and involves details of the story of a stray and feral colony along with Kelly’s own long path toward learning to trust humans, I’ll be telling it in several parts over the next few weeks for my Tuesday rescue feature. She has traveled a great emotional and spiritual distance to be the kitty you see today, and who is right now curled in a happy purring ball on my lap, head turned upside down and hugging all her legs together.
A magical kitty like Kelly in touch with a deep contemplative side, and I treasure the poem of that nature she inspired, “Pawprints and Raindrops”, which I featured yesterday.
Read the whole series:
Kelly’s story was so popular that I decided to take it from a five-part series to a book telling more of the story and more about the other cats Kelly met, and filled with the photographs you see here as well as drawn and painted illustrations.
And you can find Kelly in photos and sketches and stories all over The Creative Cat.
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.