Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Kittens: the Joy and Anguish (Contains a Nag)

Phenology for 3/13/13: It was frosty last night, and a few scattered and listless snowflakes blew past as I walked to the computer center. Nevertheless, I've seen one violet blossom, two dandelions, and a patch of celandine that was at least showing pale cream-colored flower buds.

Does anybody out there need to be reminded how to like dandelions?

Another little nature note at the Cat Sanctuary: Candice, the polychromatic and polydactyl granddaughter of Polly, has been growing ever since she gave birth to five kittens and adopted four more, last summer. Her body shape is probably going to be about halfway in between those of her long, lean mother and big, burly father. But the ten-pound weight that sank twenty-three claws into my shoulder last night is not just one big mama cat. Candice is going to have early spring kittens again, and expect to be allowed to raise them indoors again...

Candice is not even a pet cat. She's tame, and has nice, friendly ways of calling attention to herself when she wants something, but she's never really bonded with any human. Her three brothers were adopted when they were just fourteen weeks old. I expected Candice would be a highly social cat like the rest of her family, but thought her mother and aunt wouldn't let her feel lonely. But ever since, Candice has acted as if she blames me for having cheated her out of the chance to grow up with siblings. She doesn't misbehave. She was a good mother cat, and she's nice to her poor old Auntie Grayzel. She just doesn't show affection to humans at all.

Kittens. Sigh.

There are four sexually active female cats at the Cat Sanctuary...not counting Grayzel, who, like many spayed or neutered cats, actually spends more time carousing and caterwauling, since she doesn't have kittens to occupy her mind. Allowing an average of four kittens per cat, there is some possibility that other people will be able to enjoy the special quality of life with social cats, beginning this summer.

I don't "breed" these cats for profit. I respect their reproductive choices, mostly in the way I respect the reproductive choices of human friends. Since communication with cats relies on interpretation of their body language, I make the ethical compromise of "reading" things like stillborn kittens, abortions, defective kittens, heavy postnatal bleeding, or inadequate maternal behavior as a cat's way of "saying" "I don't need to have kittens again." I'm aware that some women say things like "Even after my genetic defects have caused me to give birth to three miserable, sick children in between five spontaneous abortions, I want to keep trying because I think life owes me one healthy child." Humans will defend a human's right to that kind of insanity. I make the decision on behalf of cats who don't need to have any more kittens, I have to admit, because I can.

I don't "advertise" them--no need to look for pictures of specific kittens with prices or "adoption fees," as if kittens, like handcraft items, were for sale to the highest bidder. They're not. Social cats understand these things more completely than ordinary cats do. When kittens get big enough to appreciate a lap of their very own to curl up on, they get the final decision about whose lap that will be. What we have, at the Cat Sanctuary, is a list of good homes that deserve very special cats.

There is no way to predict how long anyone will stay on that list before being able to adopt one of the Patchnose Family. The Cat Sanctuary is not and won't be a kitten mill that guarantees a certain number of furballs, however defective, per year. What the Cat Sanctuary is about is (1) providing a home for as many deserving cats as possible, and (2) connecting as many other homeless cats as possible with catless homes.

If yours is a catless home, and somebody at a Humane Society shelter has told you that your home "should" be catless because they think you're too old or too young, or your children are too young, or you don't earn enough money, or they suspect you don't agree with their basically genocidal view of cats and dogs, then the Cat Sanctuary is here to help. We don't collect data about your age or income. We do look for evidence that yours is a good home, either for an ordinary cat or for intelligent social cats.

There is no fee for adopting a Cat Sanctuary cat, although reimbursement for rabies vaccinations is appreciated, and a receipt showing that you've prepaid a local vet for either sterilization or rabies shots for prospective kittens is one way to prove you're not one of those urban legends who "adopt" free cats and sell them to research laboratories or ethnic restaurants or whatever. Other ways to move up the list include feeding, sheltering, or transporting cats when needed, or donating cat food...or adopting a rescued cat from outside the Family.

Is it possible that, with four females who might have kittens this summer, we could consider bringing in a rescued cat? It's possible, but unlikely. Some cats are truly antisocial, but when average cats spend time with social cats, the average cats usually respect the social cats, learn the rules, and seem to become "socialized." I like to keep newcomers in quarantine for a few weeks, and I suspect that Candice may think she has the first claim on the mud room. But in order to rescue cats from the horrors of Humane Society shelters, it's not actually necessary that those cats stay at the Cat Sanctuary itself. Last winter three people volunteered to "foster" rescued cats, so in theory there are other places where a cat you might adopt through this web site might stay.

But kittens are so, well, risky. Whenever nature provides for the average life expectancy of an animal to extend over ten or twenty generations of its kind, this always compensates for other factors that cause a lot of that species to die young.

In five out of six years since the Patchnose Family was rescued from an alley and domesticated at the Cat Sanctuary, a few social cats have moved on to other good homes. However, although a majority of kittens born here have lived to grow up, we've lost a few each year.

After I posted here, in January 2012, that we didn't know of a Dog Sanctuary, a few people have identified themselves in real life as proprietors of Dog Sanctuaries. It was one of these Dog People who most recently asked me, "Aren't you going to get any of those cats fixed?"

I said, "Yes...if they're broken."

"What do you mean by 'broken'?"

What I mean by "broken" is Annie.

A dearly loved and sorely missed cat called Mogwai, who was especially sensitive to the emotional tones of words, used to like hearing her daughter called Princess Anne. After Mogwai left the Cat Sanctuary, however, the kitten ignored the name "Princess Anne" and answered to the name "Annie." From the fact that she had this consistent preference we know that she was intelligent, listened to words, and paid attention to others; she was not an average cat. She looked average, though, a boring little gray tabby, thickset, not pretty. She was tame, but not especially friendly to humans. She was nobody's favorite cat. I thought she might go feral when she grew up.

Instead, before she'd really grown up, Annie spent enough time with the biggest, baddest tomcat in the neighborhood to produce seven kittens, all at once. Seven large kittens. She gave birth to them on four different days; the first two were born dead.

A cat with healthy maternal instincts usually hides her kittens. When a cat calls others to admire her new kittens, something is likely to be wrong. Annie called Grayzel, Bisquit, and me to admire her new kittens. And they were ugly kittens: about twice as long as kittens of their apparent age are supposed to be, skinny as rails, with extra toes on every paw. I wondered whether she was planning to abandon them because they weren't going to live.

By the third day I knew something was wrong; Annie still smelled of blood, although she did a good job of keeping her fur clean. I thought it was time for an emergency spay. But this was 2011, the year when I had no income. Some people who've supported the Cat Sanctuary were also in unprecedented financial distress, and some just weren't as sympathetic to Annie as they might have been to Grayzel, Bisquit, or Mogwai. There was no emergency spay fund. And on the eighth day after the final four kittens were born, Annie died.

Annie was literally broken; she died because she wasn't fixed in time.

Fortunately, because there is as yet no monstrous Veterinary Care Insurance Industry, almost anyone can scrape up the money for an emergency spay plan. If you have an intact female cat, you might want to consider prepaying your friendly local vet for one emergency operation when necessary.

Now, here comes that Nag...If you consider your intact female cat ordinary, don't want to keep her kittens and don't have a list of people who would like to adopt her kittens, you might want just to get her spayed now. She may already be pregnant; if so it's safest, and most humane, to get the operation done before bulges start to show. Normal cats start producing kittens in early spring. If you don't want kittens, call the vet today.