2018-04-25 / Columnists

Pets, Pets, Pets

Kittens have a small “window of opportunity” to be handled by people so they tame easily, and become good pet prospects. Eight weeks of age is the unofficial cut-off. If left untouched by human hands, each additional week makes domesticating the kitten more difficult; or later, essentially impossible.

This taming timeline is not carved in stone. There are older kittens more genetically predisposed to being socialized, yet, before eight weeks is a general rule of thumb. When working with kittens of an outside feral mother, those grabbed at four weeks old are easily transitioned to soft food, and calm down in a day or two of tender touch. Their hissing is “phony baloney.”

This works even better if the mom is trapped first for TNR (Trap/Neuter/Return). The babies tend to cluster, and without Mom to move or warn them, venture into a humane trap, sometimes more than one at a time because they are so hungry.

It’s heartbreaking for cat caretakers to feed young cats past this point of no return who seem to want to approach their feeders but are too overcome with fear.

The poem “Thoughts of a Feral” by Annette
Easton captures that inner conflict within the cat:
I sit beneath the bushes as she fills my dish each day,
I only venture out to eat when she has gone away,
I know it will upset her when I turn away and hide,
As every day she tries her best to get me by her side.
I wish that I could let her know that I don’t want to run,
And hope that she will understand it’s
nothing that SHE’s done.
I’d like to have her stroke me and pat my weary head,
But fear will overcome and I’ll run and hide instead.
For all the kindly people who feed the strays each day,
I pray the Lord will care for them as they have
cared for me.

As does the poem “Feral Cats” by Mavis Khan:
Close to the ground with jogging steps they run
Until they reach the safety of the hedge;
There, to observe how closely I will come
To where, feet poised, they wait with nerves on edge.
And yet, by now, they surely ought to know,
That I will only put the food, and go.

Each day the same enactment has to be:
They show themselves, then run with bobbing gait,
They trust my coming but they don’t trust me,
Preferring, till I go, to lie and wait.
They choose discomfort, though their needs are clear,
Having no greater feeling than their fear.

Oh! If I’d had some means to bring them in
When first I saw them, when they first were small,
Why then, I could have helped them to begin
To lose their fear of man, once and for all.
I dream of seeing them in firelight glow,
Warm and content, not running through the snow.

Just as tragic are sick or undernourished kittens
found young enough to tame, but too late to heal.

Michael Michalak’s poem “The Kitten Nobody
Wanted” addresses such sadness:
He sat beside the factory door,
And I thought that I would cry;
It seemed the world and maybe more,
Had looked and passed him by.

So small and weak, and oh so thin,
Just bones in tabby fur;
But when I stroked him, he’d begin
To roll and softly purr.

His eyes were green as leaves in spring,
His heart so big and bold,
Oh how I loved that little thing
That shivered in the cold.

I turned and slowly walked away
As the rain began to fall,
But through the bleak November grey
I heard his plaintive call.

I gathered up his tiny form
And clutched him to my heart,
I held him there so soft and warm
And vowed we’d never part.

His little life soon ebbed away,
And on my lap he died,
A tiny ball of black and grey;
My tears I could not hide.

Most upsetting are abandoned, pet cats left to fend for themselves by people who move without them, or callous owners who don’t want to care for a pet any longer. Friendly cats often show up at feral feeding stations where caretakers do their best to re-home these bewildered cats.

The poem “The Abandoned Cat” by an
anonymous poet depicts this act of cruelty:
It was raining that day, They went away,
Yes, they went away and left me.
I scratched the pane, But nobody came,
The house, it was all so empty.

That night the frost, So lonely, so lost,
No friendly voice to call me. What had I done,
They should leave me alone?
Oh, what a fate to befall me.

Please give me a home,
I wouldn’t roam or leave you alone,
You need never to say,
Remember that day,
That rainy day,
He went away and left me.

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