I came home from work one late summer day in 1993 to find a pretty, long-haired dilute calico cat sitting under the large spruce in my front yard, waiting for me to arrive. As I walked up the sidewalk from my driveway she gracefully stood up and waved her plume of a tail in greeting, as she’d clearly been expecting me.
At first I panicked, thinking it was my long-haired white cat Sally and she’d gotten outside, which meant others were outside too and were possibly long gone by now and it was all a disaster and all my fault, but coming closer I could clearly see this cat was built taller and longer than Sally, taller ears, longer face, and had those lovely big patches of peach and gray.
When I got to the spruce, she daintily picked her way through the myrtle to reach me and regally asked me to pick her up, which I did. Purring, she settled in, glancing up at me and blinking languorously. Her legs and belly were dirty but she looked overall cared for though slender. Draped on my left arm I stroked my right hand down her back, bony under the silky fur, and as I ran my hand down her side over her belly…oh, that was why she’d shown up. Unless she’d recently swallowed a small watermelon, she seemed to be expecting kittens, not today but in a few weeks, and was actually politely asking me if she could have her babies here.
It could be that someone had placed her in my yard, knowing I rescued cats; I’d already taken in plenty from the neighborhood, and the kids knew me from taking in Cookie. But I don’t know any cat who, when placed in a stranger’s front yard under a tree, will stay there, even if it’s just to be a little contrary. I think, rather, this kitty had traveled a bit and then observed the house with all the cats in the windows and found it acceptable, then chose a day to make her introduction.
I’ve come home from work with unexpected kitties before, like Sophie, and I’d even had cats show up under that same spruce, like Jack, and also kitties who asked to have their babies in my spare room, but this kitty had obviously been around for at least the day, and no doubt each one of my cats in the house had seen her, and the household had likely had a lively conversation about the kitty sitting out in the yard under the spruce. I’m sure I can guess what they decided, but I am the human and am highly predictable when an unknown kitty shows up in the yard asking for help. When I walked in the door and up the stairs with the kitty tightly held against my chest I was observed in near silence by eight pairs of feline eyes bearing a range of emotions from curiosity to disgust.
The next issue was that kitty had to go into the bathroom since the spare kitty room was already taken with another kitty at the time. I outfitted the bathroom with food and water and litterbox and hands washed before I went to the spare cat room to visit that kitty. But how do I wash my hands before I head back downstairs? Back into the bathroom without letting out the new kitty and without touching her, then finally down to the kitchen to feed the regulars.
Such is the kitty dance in a tiny house, and I knew no matter how honored I was the kitty had chosen me or how much she wanted to stay here, keeping her here would be difficult, especially through her gestation and kitten raising. I worked long days most days—she may have actually been around on other nights but I came home long after dark most of the time; I also left for work very early in the morning most days. The kitty in the spare kitty room was recovering from a deep upper respiratory infection and I didn’t want the new kitty and her unborn kittens anywhere near that. At least being inside in a safe place was better than nothing, but caring for them all plus my regulars was going to be difficult on all of them. There were ten cats in a six room house with two doors closed.
Over the next weekend I canvassed the neighborhood, carrying her with me because she enjoyed it and never tried to get away from me. I asked the children first if they knew her, but they discussed all the animals they knew and decided they didn’t know this cat. I then approached the adults who were outside or on porches, but none of the adults knew her either. She was such a congenial kitty I kept hoping someone would fall in love with her beauty and wonderful personality, but back home we went. I named her Ysabel after a character in the book The House on the Strand by Daphne du Maurier, as she needed a princess name for her regal and somewhat demanding bearing, yet also the mystery of her appearance.
I knew a number of other people who rescued and fostered, so on Sunday evening I began that good old-fashioned tradition of calling around and asking if they had any room at their particular inn, or knew anyone who did. In a few days a foster home was found, and the following weekend I took Ysabel to her new foster home.
Not the story we’d expected
I’d been feeling a little guilty I’d betrayed her since she’d chosen me and was obviously comfortable with me, but if she’d given birth while I was away for 15 hours, or her kittens needed the attention they’d received in the foster home, I would not have been there to provide it. Because the birth was soon and somewhat difficult, she rejected one or two of her kittens outright and over the next two weeks she lost all five of them one by one, even with bottle feeding and critical care. It’s hard to think it merciful, but she released two of them from their suffering herself.
I always want a fairy tale ending and happy homes for all the kittens, who were as lovely as their mother, but I will always wonder if she knew when she approached me that her kittens weren’t well and that had been why she had demanded attention in the way she had. As I would pet her she would look directly at me and meow and pull on my shirt as if to say, “This is nice, but don’t you understand? Something is wrong.” Talking it over with my veterinarian later, she explained that Ysabel was very young and malnourished, a situation that does not produce happy endings for kittens, and sometimes not for mother cats either. I also realized I’d taken for granted that because so many cats have kittens all the time that there was no need for her to see a veterinarian, who might have discovered in an exam that she was near term but the kittens were still very tiny and not terribly active, not likely to survive and very likely to suffer, and they were taking a huge toll on her slender young body. And I learned for the first time that often the best thing to do for a cat in Ysabel’s situation would be to spay her. This was something I’d never heard of until then, but my veterinarian advised that mother cats usually know more than we do about their kittens, and Ysabel’s actions were normal for the state of her litter. I decided that any pregnant cats I rescued thereafter would see a veterinarian as soon as possible, I would not presume that nature would take its course and that cats have kittens as easily as drinking water.
For all the cats who’ve run or eluded me when I tried to rescue them, she was a wise and intelligent girl to find a home that would take her in and I’m just glad I was able to. With her birth issues alone she would not have survived without help. Wherever she came from, whether she’d escaped when she went into heat or was tossed out because she was in heat or was pregnant, or had actually been placed in my front yard under the spruce by someone, she recovered from her experience and went on to a good and loving home. I have retained the lessons she brought to me 25 years ago, and thank her for being such a good teacher and helping me improve and save the lives of cats and kittens thereafter.
. . . . . . .
I first published this story on The Creative Cat on August 27, 2013.
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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Great Rescues Day Book:
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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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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!