Back in early November as I was just getting back to walking distances after my hip surgery a month before I decided to walk for a late-afternoon errand. It was about a quarter-mile round trip, a good, gentle workout to help me regain my balance and gait, though I still carried my cane with me in case my hip fatigued, or I did, but I didn’t have to use it. The temperature was in the 40s, which felt excellent after the heat that extended into October, but rain was forecast for later that night and the next few days, with dropping temperatures. I was happy to get a walk in before I had to stay inside.
I ended up talking to a few friends who asked what my cane was for and when I left it was full dark and the rain had begun. I was glad I kept a small umbrella in my purse, and even with the cold and the rain I enjoyed my walk, watching reflections on the wet streets and sidewalks. Walking had been very painful for months before my surgery, and there was no pain in my hip, so walking even in the rain on a cold night was a joy. I took my time.
As I rounded a bend in the street and began to head uphill to my street I suddenly heard, “Mew! Mew! Mew! Mew!” So many little mews, overlapping, I stopped and began turning my head to see the kitties or catch the direction of the mews in the damp air, noise from the wet streets diffusing it.
I knew it was the mewing of several very young kittens whose mother had just returned to them to nurse them. That sudden happy mewing of reunion was unmistakable to anyone who has fostered cats with kittens or cared for a mother cat and her kittens outdoors. There was a litter of kittens somewhere at this bend in the street, outside, in this weather, in November.
The street and the neighborhood around it are very familiar; I’ve driven, walked or biked around this bend for decades. There were a few small industrial businesses that were closed, houses a few doors away and a large empty parking lot at the busway.
There was no traffic on the street I was on, nor was there likely to be much, but there was also very little light. I shuffled through my purse for the small but bright flashlight I usually carried—because you never knew when you’d be looking for a cat in the dark—but it wasn’t there, and I knew I’d taken it out when I went to the hospital because it was kind of heavy, and not put it back.
And by that time the kittens had stopped mewing. All was quiet except the swish of tires on wet pavement a street away, and the patter of rain all around.
I stood in the middle of the street at that bend trying to sense anything my senses could perceive. The tapping of rain on my umbrella and on the street around me enclosed me in a curtain of sounds. But if I couldn’t hear them I still had to look for this little family. Mom cats can stash their kittens in the darnedest places, and without a flashlight on a rainy night, knowing it was unlikely the kittens would mew again for hours, or their mother leave them with the rain, poking around would be the only way to find them. If someone stopped me or called the police, it wouldn’t be the first time.
I had gotten a sense the sound came from one side of the street, so I began walking slowly along to the entrance to one business. They had a fenced yard around the sides and back of the building, neat piles of wood and other materials for construction. OMG, a kitty could be anywhere in there, but though I could walk I knew my hip wasn’t ready to climb a fence taller than me. I walked around the perimeter slowly, looking for any sign of movement, any cat-shaped or patterned items in the shadows, any glint of a far-off streetlight on reflective eyes, and any sign of feeding—empty cans, dishes, bowls. I was also without cat food or treats. I called for a kitty a few times, you just never knew if a mom was friendly or feral and the smell of food for a hungry mom might at least have her show her face or produce just the slightest movement. This was just blocks from my house and a group of us keep track of as many of the cats we see outdoors in our neighborhood as possible. I didn’t remember talk of a kitty down this way, but if a new mom with kittens, or a pregnant cat, got tossed outside, it was just as likely she was friendly, though might be frightened. I didn’t detect anything in the fenced yard.
Then there was the business across the way from it that had dense bushes trimmed into shapes down to the ground on a protected side of the building, and next to that a house with a backyard that still had tables and chairs and lots of planters and decorative things where kitties could hide, and a business across the street from those that was unoccupied and had brush growing deep in some architectural indentations in the building. I checked every place I could walk, but heard and saw no cats at all.
I felt it was too late by that time to knock on doors; most of the houses looked as though people were getting ready for bed or were dark. And I had no business cards, no notebook to write a note, no doorhangers* with me, I was disappointingly totally empty-handed in the face of a kitty who probably needed to be rescued.
I stood at the bend in the road where I’d first heard them for a while, just hoping I’d hear one little mew, but heard nothing. A cat’s nature is to completely disappear for security when it needed to rest, and they had disappeared into the cold, wet night. I hoped they were dry, and there was a way for mom to keep warm.
Now I’d been on my hip a couple of hours longer than I’d intended, so I started on the five blocks back toward home.
In the morning I walked down to the area and looked around, and stopped in the businesses. I had actually rescued a kitten in that fenced yard years before and knew they were generally animal-friendly, though I didn’t know about the other business. I explained to both what I’d heard and asked if they’d seen a cat outside, explained the sound of the kittens and asked if they’d heard anything. They had both seen a cat, but there are a few outside cats there, and they do cut through the yard and walk around the buildings. No one thought anything of it.
I explained that a nursing mother would be hungry and might approach someone who had food, and had chosen this area because there was some sort of a food source. With her kittens stashed somewhere she would be frequently traveling along the same path from her kittens to her food source because she was very hungry with nursing, so they’d be likely to see her more regularly than another outdoor cat. I explained what I did with rescue and said I’d help with the situation if we found the mother cat.
They took my doorhangers with the information and said they’d let me know if they saw anything.
I left notes on a few houses and let my cat friends in the neighborhood who are likely to look for cats know the situation. I was concerned that if the mother was friendly someone might take her in not realizing she had kittens, or if she was feral or frightened people might try to chase her away so she couldn’t get to them, or even trap and remove her.
The businesses did email or call to let me know they hadn’t seen any cats around their businesses, only a couple of neighbor’s cats, and I got the feeling they’d actually gone out and looked for themselves as well as watching. I did walk down there a couple of times in the early evening in the following days when things were quiet and cats are likely to be active, and just waited and listened. I never heard them again, nor saw a trace of them, though every time I’ve walked or driven through that area since I’ve slowed down and looked again. I just hope they found a safe place to go, that the first place mom had chosen was okay when October was warm and dry, but with the rain and temperatures sometimes near freezing she’d found a better place that night or the next morning. And I’m glad that a few more people down that way have contact information if that mother cat or any other cat in need shows up. Sometimes that’s the best you can do.
No, the cat and kittens at the top are not the cats in the story. They are the beautiful mom cat and the incredibly fluffy kittens from a TNR project in May 2019. I just couldn’t figure out what to use as a photo for this story aside from a rainy dark street. Even unrelated cats are better than just a rainy street for a cat rescue story.
*In 2015 I designed doorhangers for volunteers for HCMT to use to communicate with people in the area where they would be or were trapping. I carry them with me and have used them in many of the TNR projects I’ve done, or when we’re trying to find out the identity of a new cat.
Read other stories in my Rescue Stories series.
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