Thursday, February 29, 2024
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Rescue Story: “My First Litter”, Part One

quince blossoms with snow
Quince blossoms with snow, from just a few days before (and a little more to that story).

You may have read a story here on The Creative Cat that begins:

One night in early April, 1988, still with patches of snow on the frozen earth, a very small, very pregnant cat politely but confidently asked me if she could come into my home to give birth to her kittens. Of course I said yes, and I witnessed the entrance to this life of four independent and individualistic progeny. The last one born stayed with me after the others were adopted; the “runt of the litter”, the little cat with the big attitude, a torbie, my Fawn.

Here and there I’ve written pieces of the story of the mama kitty and the special gift she gave to me—her confidence and trust, two cats who became part of my life, and a friendship that began before the adoption but endures to this day in part through the bond of that mama kitty.

. . . . . . . .

quince with snow
Quince with snow, just a few days before

Even though there was still snow in patches from a surprise late snowfall and the air was cold, I was ready for spring, and Saturday was and still is my traditional gardening day. I spent the entire afternoon in my garden that Saturday in April, turning soil, rebuilding my raised beds, tending to seedlings in my cold frames, and talking to my cats through the windows. I was still living in the house I’d rented before this one, twice as big with more rooms, but a much smaller yard.

Then at dusk, not ready to end the day, I sat on the concrete steps to my porch looking over what I’d done and visualizing my summer garden. Just as I was about to get up and go inside to feed the five cats anxiously watching me from the windows, fearing I’d lost my mind and was not planning to come in ever again and they’d starve, I heard a cat singing, not yowling or calling or in any distress, just making pleasant conversation with sweet high-pitched melodic meows. At first I ignored it, thinking it was one of the clowder at the windows calling me in.

But my hearing is better than that and my outdoor senses sharp enough to know the cat was somewhere out in the dead-end alley that ran at the edge of my yard. I stilled myself to watch and listen, and there, in the space between the hedges at the end of my walk, a tiny feline silhouette ambled by in the light of a distant street light, then turned and ambled back in the direction it had come. This was repeated, though the silhouette stopped to sing its little song, tail up.

This house was where I learned to rescue cats, situated above a single rail line, and that adjacent to an older neighborhood with mixed industrial buildings and older run-down houses where many cats lived, indoors or out, some pets, many not, few spayed or neutered, and many kittens. Cats walked through my yard all the time, looked in my windows, came up to my doors, but few sang to me as sweetly as this kitty, nor acted as demure and social. I knew this kitty wanted my attention, and I had learned by then that a cat will tell you if it wants to be rescued, and for all the cats I saw everywhere I looked this was how I decided whether to pursue them or not.

“Hello, little kitty,” I said.

“Meowow,” it answered softly.

I had also learned, unless a kitty was in imminent danger, to just wait and be patient,  not to pursue. This could, of course, take all night, and at the casual rate this kitty was approaching me I might not get inside until breakfast.

forsythia with snow
Forsythia with snow, from just a few days before.

But the kitty came to the end of the walk and was then in the darkness of my yard. We continued our conversation, me asking silly questions and she answering melodiously, and I followed the slightly darker form of her silhouette moving down the lighter concrete walk, moving from side to side, sniffing plants or a little bit of a fence or a rock I had placed on either side, obviously in no hurry. I was getting chilled sitting with only jeans between me and some very cold concrete in the dark, but I was not about to move until this kitty decided what it was going to do. Relaxed and pleasant though the cat might seem, one false move and it would all be over, and a cat who possibly needed something would be out on its own again, or come back, less trusting next time.

The shape moved close enough to be illumined just a bit by the light from my kitchen shining through the window of my back door. A little tabby, I saw, petite, tiny paws, thin tail, young perhaps, stopping, looking up at me and blinking. I didn’t yet know this was the  long-distance signal of feline affection, the kitty blink, though I’d seen it plenty, but this kitty was giving me so many signals that all was okay I could figure it out.

Then kitty turned a bit to one side and took another few steps toward me and I could see kitty’s sides were bulging. Oh, I thought, I understand now. A little homeless single momcat, and you need a place to have your babies. She’d probably been watching me outside all day. She’d probably been watching me for a while, and communicating with my cats through the windows. She had it all figured out. “Sucker!” was written on my house and on my forehead.

She eventually came up the three concrete steps to me, smelled my hand and rubbed it, purred, put her tail straight up again, then stepped up next to me. No, I wasn’t going to have to work for this one, no ambushes in the dark of the neighbors’ yards or sitting with my lights out waiting for kitty to come around again. I petted her and she stepped on my lap. I nearly cried.

After petting her for a bit, I slowly made a move to get up, not wanting to scare her off. She got off my lap and went to my door, waiting for me to get up and open it. Oh, really, I was so totally “had”. And she looked like a football walking on toothpicks, her belly was so huge and her legs so tiny. I knew enough about feline gestation that the uterus turns sideways in the days just before birth so the belly changes from hanging down to bulging out to the side. I knew she was close.

The problem was that I no longer simply opened my door to let kitties walk in—Stanley had been the last of those. I’d steadily learned about diseases among cats, and FIV and FeLV were rampant at that time. Standing there with my hand on the doorknob, trying to decide if I should go in and get a carrier to carry her into the house and up to the the spare bedroom as I’d had some literally hair-raising experiences carrying a cat through my house with my group following close at heel.

She looked up at me, puzzled. She had done everything right, why was the door not opening?

I reached down and gently picked her up, holding her upright so she could sit on my hand and I had the other just under her arms. She was so tiny with that huge belly and I was sure I’d hurt her, I hadn’t handled a pregnant cat in a very long time. But all went well as I opened the storm door and opened the interior door and waltzed in with her, kicking the interior door tightly closed behind me with my foot, then continuing on through the kitchen to the hall and stairs as if nothing was amiss, while five cats looked shocked that I’d walk past without: 1) acknowledging them; 2) petting them; and, 3) feeding them. I’m sure they saw the kitty too, and I’m sure they knew all about the kitty, certainly more than I did, but I was well up the stairs before any of them recovered from the indignation of it all to come after me.

tabby cat
Phurson, several weeks after the kittens

Into the spare bedroom I went, closing the door just in time. The room already had a litterbox and water bowl in it because Moses, just rescued as a feral the previous autumn, still felt most comfortable staying in that room, though she’d been venturing out now and then to be near Stanley, and had been near the kitchen waiting with the others when I came in.

I settled the momcat in, washed my hands and went to feed the crew in the kitchen, who could care less about a new cat upstairs. They’d seen that before…and several of them had been the “new cat”. Moses was a little confused when she went back upstairs later and her door was closed, but she immediately adopted my bedroom and from that time on slept with me and on my bed.

I fed the new kitty and called my veterinarian, which also had a 24-hour clinic, and described her condition. Yes she was lactating just a bit and it seemed delivery was imminent. As I sat with her thinking she’d go into labor any minute and I wanted to be there she made the most of her new home, walking all over me and purring, eating, drinking, smelling things then starting over again. She was very pleased with herself. I named her Zosia (pronounced “zosh-ya”), a Polish nickname for Zofia or Sophie, which had been my grandmother’s name, but I had developed a habit at the time of naming all my male rescues Stanley and females Sophia until Stanley came and stayed, and then Sophie.

We actually waited several days for kittens, and next week I’ll tell the frightening and funny story of their birth and development and their adoptions.

Don’t keep yourself in suspense! Read ” ‘My First Litter’ “, Part Two”!

. . . . . . . .

The very first photo of the snow on quince flowers may seem somehow familiar. That photo was the basis photo for my block print “The Spring Kitten”, although it was taken later in the spring. Click the link to read the story.

Read more of my stories from decades of rescuing and fostering cats, with a few from other rescuers mixed in: Rescue Stories.

Browse some rescued cats and kittens!


All images used on this site are copyrighted to Bernadette E. Kazmarski unless otherwise noted and may not be used without my written permission. Please ask if you are interested in using one in a print or internet publication. If you are interested in purchasing a print of this image or a product including this image, check my Etsy shop or Fine Art America profile 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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From health and welfare to rescue and adoption stories, advocacy and art, factual articles and fictional stories, "The Creative Cat" offers both visual and verbal education and entertainment about cats for people who love cats, pets and animals of all species.

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