Thursday, February 22, 2024
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Rescue Story: Where Moms Stash Kittens

She is watching us in the yard next door.

Last week friends were trying to trap a mom cat near me and needed a carrier and maybe some backup. I went over with sheets and cardboard and my extra trap (but initially forgot the carrier, the new car setup threw me off because I always had one in the back of my Escape).

The situation started when a resident on the street had been watching kittens and a mom cat on a second-story deck of the house next door where the residents were out of town for a while. She saw one of the kittens near the edge of the deck, and just a few seconds later it was on the paved driveway! The kitten had a bit of a bloody nose but otherwise was alert, but she had no idea what to do next so she asked for help.

Two rescuers responded to her, and the plan was to get the rest of the kittens to safety because others could fall as well, and trap the mom. Amanda found a space for them in a rescue where the kittens would be socialized for adoption and mom would be spayed and assessed for an adoptable nature; if not she would be returned to the place where she’d been trapped. The kitten who had fallen appeared well and stable, so it stayed in the separate crate, covered and kept warm.

The little fluffy who fell.

First, set the traps for the mother, on the ground below the side of the deck where the kittens had been seen. Then how to get the kittens? There was no access to the deck from the outside, only from inside the house. They could see the kittens on the deck from the yard of the woman who had called, and it looked as if they went under the deck flooring. Looking from the street at the side of the house opposite her yard, they could see a section of the deck where there had likely once been a set of steps. An opening led down under the deck flooring between three joists, and that was apparently where the kittens were.

This is where the kittens were.

Here is how high off the ground it was, and how inaccessible it was.

The placement of where the kittens were stashed.

By the time I got over there they had gotten all three! They stacked things up for Kelli to stand on to be able to get up to the deck and reach in between the joists and grab those kittens—those hissing, spitting, totally unfriendly and frightened kittens—with her bare hands! She found three and didn’t see any more (and no more have been spotted), and into a carrier they went to sit next to their sibling who had fallen earlier in the day. They appeared to be four to five weeks old.

The kittens, really bad picture because it was dark. Two tabbies and a Siamese mix.

Then the wait began. The neighbor who called had been putting out food for the mother cat and she had begun visiting her yard, not on a regular basis. As dusk began, mom cat showed up two doors down in the yard, lounging on that neighbor’s paved patio where she could see the side of the deck where the kittens were stashed. The mother cat always showed up coming from the direction of that yard, next door to the house where she’d stashed the kittens, so likely she was being fed somewhere in that direction. If her belly was full, using food as bait was going to be difficult. Later she was up on the deck.

We walked down the street to look between the houses. The mom cat was busy looking into the openings where her kittens had been. Then she sat down to look at us.

Mom wants to know where her kittens are.

Then she left again, browsing the neighbor’s yard. Later, when Kelli and the neighbor walked down the street, they could see the mom cat sitting between the houses looking at the traps.

We tried setting up the kittens in their carrier as “bait” to catch the mom, tucked up behind the trap with a sheet over it and some “kitten music” playing on Kelli’s phone. The mother cat took off when she saw us and seemed unmoved by the sounds of kittens crying. You can read about this technique in Trapping a Mother Cat Using Her Kittens.

We like to keep moms and kittens together. It’s best for the kittens, and we would never leave the mom behind. Because the kittens were in danger up on the deck they couldn’t be put back there, and there was no safe place to put them so their mother could get to them, or even any place to hold them overnight. Kelli took all four to meet Amanda and we made plans to support the neighbor in setting traps and luring the mother cat.

A week later, the mother cat has been seen, but is elusive. No doubt she is still being fed by someone, but she has been coming down to the original caller’s yard. When she’s trapped, she could still be reunited with her kittens, who would be partway through weaning but still had some nurturing and socialization to learn, even if she happened to be feral. In any case, trapping her before she has more kittens is a must.

Finding where the kittens are, or finding where mom cat eats

A mother cat will find a place where food is available before they give birth, and choose a safe, secluded, small place within a few minutes’ walk from there so she doesn’t leave her kittens for too long and can quickly return. As the kittens grow, their needs grow too, especially for physical space. Also, their scent builds up on the site of the little den and it can be easily traced by predators. Their mother moves them occasionally, sometimes as often as every two weeks, as they quickly move through growth patterns that have them crawling around, then up and playing with each other. Finally they need to start weaning and their mother will begin to lead them to the food source, so they’ve got to be pretty close to it for those little kitten legs.

This means that if you see a cat coming to a feeding station and determine she’s a mother, or if you saw that she was pregnant and see that she’s had kittens, She will have her kittens stashed somewhere within a three-house circumference of the feeding station—put the feeding station in the center and draw a circle around the houses on either side and across streets and alleys. If the food is adequate and regular, she will stay with that food source unless it becomes unsafe, so even when she moves the kittens she will still be somewhere in that circumference.

If you find kittens, draw the circle with the kittens in the middle and the place their mom eats would be somewhere within a three-house circumference.

In either case, the circle could be widened to include another house or two, but they wouldn’t be much farther than that.

Alas, cats are not only masters at hiding illness, they are masters at hiding, period. It sounds easy, but really it’s just a clue for where to look. And then, they also find some pretty strange places to build their dens, like this clever mom cat. How did she ever decided that spot was a good one, and how did she get them there? Guess we’ll never know, because she’s not talking.

Can’t adopt? Foster! Can’t foster? Donate or volunteer.

There are so many ways you can help cats who need homes and care. You may not have room to adopt another cat, but can foster a cat or kitten for a few weeks. If not that, you can volunteer at a shelter or with a rescue, or donate. You do this because you love your cat, and by doing so you help all cats. No matter which of these actions you take, you help to save a life, and make life better for all cats.

  • Adopt one of the cats I’ve posted here, or from any shelter or rescue near you, or from Petfinder, to open up a space for another cat to be rescued and fostered.
  • Offer to foster cats or kittens for a shelter or rescue near you.
  • Volunteer at a shelter or rescue.
  • Find a group of volunteers who work with homeless cats and help them with their efforts.
  • Donate to a shelter or rescue near you.

If you can foster kittens or adults cats to help prepare them for a forever home, please run to your nearest shelter and find a cat who needs you! Anyone can help with this effort at any level, even if all you do is donate to a shelter or rescue so they can help to pay for the food or medications needed for their foster, or the spay/neuter/veterinary care during a clinic.

Need to know more? Read Fostering for Your Shelter and Fostering Saves Lives

Gifts featuring cats you know! Visit Portraits of Animals


Art With Donation from Portraits of Animals!

marker illustration of 63 cats
“The TNR Story”, 8″ x 14″, Sharpie markers © Bernadette E. Kazmarski

This award-winning art was inspired by working in post op at the May 25, 2014 Homeless Cat Management Team TNR clinic. I’ll make a $5.00 donation to HCMT for each poster sold to help spay and neuter more cats so there won’t be so many to rescue. Quantity discounts are available if you want a stack for a clinic or event. Read more about this artwork and purchase a print of this sketch.


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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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.

4 thoughts on “Rescue Story: Where Moms Stash Kittens

  • Wish I’d had this information when heavily-pregnant Sweetie showed up in 2009! We never knew where she’d stashed the kittens, and only saw them after they were 6 weeks old. We were such newbies at the time!

    • If I had a dime for every fact I didn’t know when I started rescuing years ago, I could retire! We all start with no knowledge and really only gain it by experience. Sweetie came to you to teach you! And she still is.

  • It can sure be a challenge trying to keep all of the family together!

    • I really think this is proof that cats have a sense of humor.


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