As I’m writing this our Feral Kitty Momma is on her way to be fixed. Her ear will be clipped and, assuming she has no serious diseases, she’ll be released back into the wild. Its a foggy morning, her four kittens are huddled somewhere amongst the Stuff To Be Re-Used awaiting their Mothers return.
The last few weeks have included cautious interaction with our Feral Kitty Habitat. We’ve been feeding the Mother to make sure she is able to nurse her kittens and to get her accustomed to us. We’ve also had a chance to enjoy watching her kittens frolic, our 19 month old son Tadg has taken to waving to them all when he passes by. The Mother still puts on a fearsome show if we get too close. The Re-Use pile has proven to be perfect Feral Kitty Habitat. They could enjoy play and quickly disappear when they need to.
At dawn this morning I spotted a tiny orange tabby hovering near the live trap we put out to catch the Mother. We didn’t expect to catch the Mother – the trap had already closed on the kittens twice right in front of her eyes the previous day. We released them thinking the Mother would move the rest if her little ones started getting carted off by us. The lure of canned food must have been to great for her in the end. Picking up that cage was like lifting a basket filled with exploding cans of soda. Every second or two the cage would rock and jump and hiss.
Before we rented the trap I journeyed back to the Spirit of The Land to get advice on how best to capture the whole family. We researched and decided to get the Mother fixed and habituate the kittens to humans. The Mother would be checked for Feline AIDS and Leukemia and then released back into the wild. The kittens would find good homes either through us or a nearby shelter. I wanted to get the spirits advice on the best way to manage what could be a difficult and traumatizing process. When I arrived in the Lower World, at the spot where I’d found her before, the Grandmother Spirit of The Land was still gathering and releasing. With a beaming smile she turned to me and said “Gratitude.”
That was the sum total of her advice: have gratitude for the crop of kittens our accidental Habitat experiment had created. That sits well with me. We don’t have control over how our kitty capture will go, its best to remember that and practice receiving our Habitat response with gratitude. Sometimes the spirits don’t give you all the answers, just a tip for the road.
Day Two: Its amazing how traumatizing kittens can be. I’m not even talking about what they’re going through – that must be horrific! If they were willing or able to listen to me I’d be saying to them “congratulations, you’ve done your job! All of your hissing and spitting and leaping about has genuinely terrified me! I know you think we’re going to toss you in a pot for kitten stew but we really just want you to be healthy, happy and safe.”
We caught the first two the hard way, by hand. The Mother was off with the trap at the vets so we figured he had to catch them without a cage. Gingerly sifting through the thick rotting beams, fence and pipes, Terry and I chased the one orange kitten we spotted. After enduring our complete rearrangement of a few tons of Feral Kitty Habitat the little rascal made a dash for it and Terry snatched it up in her leather gloves. Though we overturned the entire Re-Use pile we saw no evidence of any of the remaining three kittens we expected to find.
I disentangled a fifty foot coil of air venting that was the perfect size for kittens to hide in. After moving it around a bit I judged it too light to contain kittens. We decided the others must have been moved to another location during the night. There is no way they could have escaped our search.
A few hours later I spotted orange fur scaling the inside of the tubing through a small breach. We have an exceptionally sneaky kitty crop. Skillfully climbing up a vertical incline the little prisoner was crying out for its Mother to rescue it. Lifting one end of tubing high into the air so it couldn’t escape, I turned the other end towards a box. Of course this wild thing would not go so easily – it breached the vertical tubing at about ten feet above the ground. I managed to direct it into a box as it clung to the lip of the tube.
I carefully cut the tubing up into manageable pieces, hoping to harvest the remaining kittens. No sign. Now we knew we must surely have crushed them. They had to be there beneath the rubble of the formerly hospitable Feral Kitty Habitat. We were fast entering into Negative Habitat Conversation Land. The Spirit of The Land must think Vlad The Destroyer was talking to it. We decided to stop turning Feral Kitty Habitat upside down and get another live trap to see if we’d get lucky. Terry returned with the somewhat dazed Mother. She was angry but looking strong, her trap would be her home for the night. We picked up another trap while she rested and our two new family members tried to escape the make-shift cardboard pen we created for them. I set it out that night in the hopes of proving ourselves wrong.
Day Three: I awoke at dawn to find the kittens Father in the trap we had hoped would catch the remaining kittens. A healthy young orange buck he was ready to take me apart as I approached. He needs to be fixed, but not today, we’ve got our hands full. Honestly you’d have to medicate me to enable me to handle yet another freaked out cat right now. He became an orange blur as soon as I opened the traps back door.
Momma Kitty will have to be bait for the remaining two kittens. She had a warm night inside with food, hopefully her cries would call the remaining kittens out of hiding. I placed her cage near the Re-Use pile with fresh food and water. Just next door was our new trap with a fresh plate of food. Within a few minutes I spotted activity as I watched from our house. Of course they’d been inches away all the time.
That was when I saw the fifth kitten – another orange tabby. Our trap closed on two orange tabby’s leaving the remaining gray stripped little one circling the two cages, looking for a way in. I must remember gratitude for our bumper kitten crop!
After moving the two last tabby’s to their new home I reset the trap and waited about thirty minutes before the last kitten was caught. Definitely the feistiest of them all he fought hard when being moved into the pen with his siblings. The trap still waits for any others that might be hiding, I’m definitely content with five kittens to care for.
Time to release the Momma back into the wild. Loading her trap and all into Tadgs All Terrain Wagon (ATW) we decided to roll her out towards a neighboring farm just to give our cat Tabitha a chance to wander for a day or two outside without harassment (she just recovered from the absesed wound the Feral Momma gave her a month ago). If we were truly good neighbor of the protected watershed land being restored to its Native Habitat we’d have the Momma euthanize. She will undoubtedly continue attacking native birds and mammals as she’s done for years, slowing the restoration process. We just cannot say “no” to her life. Thats not how we participate in the Conversation.
When we’re done releasing her we’ll finally go out to get the kittens a new cage that they can see out of. We’re told exposing them to us is the best way to habituate them to humans. We plan to keep all of them for a few weeks to make them people friendly before giving at least some to good homes.
That Evening: It only took the feral Momma a few hours to find her way back to our house. We were returning from getting our new kitty home when I spotted her wandering outside, looking for her little ones. I avoided eye contact. Yes I feel guilty.
Day Four: Play is happening. This morning I moved four orange tabbies and one gray striped kitty into their new home which Terry has named Kittonia. A few adventurous orange ones have broken away from the Cowering Pile and have started to play. They’re ravenous and spunky and mercifully litter trained already. Tabitha hisses at them as she runs by. Likely their smell reminders her of fights with their Mother. We hope over time they’ll bond and find peace.
Their Mother continues to haunt the house. I pulled the cage out front so that she could at least see that her little ones were together and healthy. My spirit teacher told me to keep them in the kitchen so they get more exposure to people. With the window open they can hear their Mother calling from beneath one of our parked cars. I hope even her plaintive cry will give them some comfort. None of them have cried out in answer. It seems that sorrow is an unavoidable part of this Conversation, and yet there is also play.
As our Habitat Conversation continues I feel inspired to dismantle the Re-Use Pile and another old structure on our land that might serve as ongoing Feral Kitty Habitat. I do feel oddly proud of the Great Kitty Crop of 2009. I hope it will go down in history as our greatest Feral Kitty harvest and that few or none will follow. I’ll do my part in the conversation to discourage the response “Kittens”. As for the kittens themselves I’m hoping to name the gray stiped one Gratitude. He was the last one to be brought into our home and he faught me tooth and nail. I’ll have to journey on that to see if its OK with his Mother.
This reminds me of an old story I read in a book about Zen. There are three horsemen presented with a chasm to leap over. The first rider gallops forward and flies to the otherside without any problem. The second rider approaches the chasm and his horse resists. He urges it on and it finally picks up enough speed to clear the great divide. The last rider is thrown in his first attempt to cross the chasm. He has to calm the horse, walk it through the hills and talk to it before he can finally encourage it to make the leap.
The third horse is the one you want to ride. When you are finally able to get the horse to cross the chasm you will both be of a single mind. The horse will know the rider and the rider will know the horse. Perhaps this is part of the Habitat Conversation. Perhaps this is a teaching these kittens have brought us.