Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Don't Try to Rescue a Mother Animal

Some squirrels like to live dangerously. Recently the Cat Sanctuary has been visited by an Adventure Squirrel who likes to run up into the yard and dare the cats to chase it.

On Saturday night Candice, who was then the mother of four of America's cutest kittens, apparently took the squirrel's dare. I knew because on Sunday, when I called the cats for breakfast, I heard stray dogs barking in the direction in which Adventure Squirrel always leads the cats. I'd call Candice, who was missing, and the dogs would bark. I'd wait for them to quieten down and call Candice again, and a few minutes later the dogs would bark.

At this point I have to admit to a certain amount of laziness and cowardice. It was Sunday; presumably the owners of the property where the squirrel lives were in church. I know them, and don't really believe they'd press charges against me for trespassing on their property to rescue my mother cat. I'm not really afraid of two or three hunting-type dogs, either. But I thought, well, the humans would probably come out and round up the dogs after church, and Candice would be safe for a few hours. She's a big strong healthy cat, just two years old; she could miss a meal. So I went into town, checked e-mail, visited relatives.

I came home around sundown. Candice was not at home. I called the cats to dinner. The dogs still barked, and Candice still didn't come home. Now it was too dark to start trespassing and too late to walk around the ridge and knock on the property owners' front door. Well, if they were at home those people ought to notice the dogs barking. Sure enough, I heard a motor, saw a vehicle. Somebody on the far side of the ridge came to collect the dogs.

Now it should be safe to call Candice. I called. Candice didn't come. I've not seen her since Saturday night. Of course it's possible that Candice had already fallen out of the tree and been eaten by the dogs during the afternoon--but it's much more likely that those neighbors tried to rescue Candice.

Although Candice was never my favorite cat, was in fact the one I'd be willing to let the right person adopt under different circumstances, she does have a lot going for her. She's a gentle, patient cat; a person who doesn't know how the cats in her family express friendliness and affection would probably think she was sweet and friendly to humans. She's really sweet and friendly to the other cats in the family. She's an unusually pretty cat--a pale calico, mostly white below, a buff patch on her head, buff and gray patches on her back, long tail, slim build, amber eyes. She's an extreme polydactyl with five toes on each hind paw and what started out as seven toes, although on one forepaw the extra toes fused, on each fore paw. It's extremely unlikely that another cat could be mistaken for Candice.

And she's a very devoted mother who's still close to her last year's kittens. I know a lot of people who think they know what cats are like suspect that I exaggerate the intelligence and loyalty of the Patchnose Family. I don't. I'm wary of any tendency to exaggerate or anthropomorphize, myself. The Patchnose Family are not normal cats. Normal cats encourage their last year's kittens to leave home when they have a new brood. Candice encouraged her last year's kittens to watch the birth process. Normal cats often seem to feel, when a companion cat is suddenly removed from their home, that "If he dies I can get his stuff." These cats grieve.

Iris, Irene, Heather, and even Ivy, who is technically Candice's younger sister but whom Candice adopted, are grieving now.

Of course, partly the cloud of angst that hangs over the Cat Sanctuary is due to the new kittens. The last time I saw them, three were still screaming with hunger and loneliness. One, the cutest and liveliest one in the litter, might have tried to eat something he wasn't old enough to digest--he died last night. The survivors start screaming whenever any human or cat passes through or outside the mud room and don't stop for about five minutes after the possible rescuer has gone away.

And Candice? I can picture these neighbors thinking what a pretty pet they've rescued. If they'd taken her with her brood, in a proper adoption, Candice might have reconciled herself to being transplanted to a place that's not far from the Cat Sanctuary. Other members of the Family have, and Candice has never given any indication that she cares which human feeds or grooms her as long as they do it on time. But I can tell you that Candice is intelligent and loyal. She's never forgiven me for separating her from her brothers while they were young. She'll never forgive you for separating her from her babies, either. She'll be patient and polite. When she wants something she'll let you know in a way that looks like a display of affection. It won't be. This is an animal who has a tremendous capacity for real love and loyalty, and that love and loyalty will never be yours.

What's the difference between living with a cat who could love you, but doesn't and never will, and a "normal" cat who probably doesn't have the capacity to love anybody? It's hard to say, but for two years now Candice has been making sure that I feel it.

Well, here's this web site's public service message to people who care about animals. Do not try to rescue a mother animal (of any species) unless you know for certain that all its young are already dead. If you try to rescue a nursing mother, you are condemning her babies to death by starvation and/or infection. Man-made formulas to replace animal milk exist, but guess what--since they're synthetic formulas that don't contain the mother animal's antibodies, the majority of baby animals whom somebody lovingly syringe-feeds on these formulas are going to die even more painfully from infectious diseases before they would normally be weaned. I've been through this with kittens before, and so has Grayzel, who might induce lactation and feed these kittens, but is letting me know she doesn't want to try to save kittens and lose them, again, either.

If you want to rescue an animal who is obviously lactating, don't try to catch her or lead her away from where you find her. She may be close to home and probably does remember the way home, but she may get lost if you distract her. Try to follow her from a discreet distance. Be patient. Two things can happen--Mama Animal may show you where the babies are, and allow you to adopt them along with her if they really need to be adopted; or Mama Animal may rear and wean her babies. Before one of those things has happened, interfering with Mama Animal is mere cruelty. Don't even think about it.