We always had cats, and sometimes kittens, when I was growing up. I loved them more than I loved anything. For years I often dreamed of cats and in those dreams the main feelings were love and a sense of peace. I wanted to be buried with my favorite stuffed cat when I died, and I wanted to come back as a cat in my next life. That’s how much I loved cats.
When we had kittens, we always gave them away when they were about six weeks old. I hated not getting to keep them. But it could have been worse. The neighbors down the street always drowned their kittens. Now I realize they probably couldn’t afford to get their cat fixed. The father hated cats and his word was law. Hence the demise of the kittens.
When I was a teenager, my mother consented to let me have my own cat. I picked out a beautiful gray boy and named him Choo Choo. One night he got hit by a car, and I found out when my sister came racing into the house and said he was flattened in the road. She was kind of giddy with this exciting news. I was crushed.
The next cat I got was a calico and she, of course, had kittens as I was too young to afford to get her fixed. They all had to live outdoors in the garage. I had started giving away the kittens but couldn’t get rid of them fast enough for my mother. One day I came home from school and all of them were gone, including the mother, my calico cat. No real warning. And not a word was said when my mother got home from work. I found out later that she had her boyfriend take them away. He said he found homes for them but I believed for a long time that he killed them.
As an adult I can have as many cats as I can care for. I have three now and that is my limit based on how much litter I want to deal with and how much annoying cat behavior I can tolerate.
Temporarily, I am also fostering two babies.
They were abandoned in a friend’s yard and were probably about a week old at that time. Nobody else could foster them as everyone else in my circle works. I knew they had to be fed every two hours and that was the extent of my knowledge of how you replace a mother cat.
Fostering baby animals is not an activity I would ever recommend to someone with depression. I’ve just about gotten through it and they have turned out damn fine if I do say so myself. But it was probably the roughest activity I could have come up with for myself during these days of healing. It was a risky thing to take on.
The first thing I discovered was that I do not exactly have a knack for taking care of baby animals. They would not eat for me at all at first!!! Here I thought my biggest issue would be waking up every two hours to feed them. Nope. The biggest problem was being awake all the time trying to figure out how to get them to eat anything at all. They might have been starving, but they were also stubborn and my efforts were met with resistance.
A friend offered to come over and show me how to do it. She has lots of experience with baby animals. She is Dr. Doolittle. Each kitten calmed down in her hands and easily ate from the syringe and it took mere moments. I was shocked.
After she left and it was my turn to try, they went right back to being overly excited. But they did eat better than before so I couldn’t really complain. But what a thing. Blind and deaf baby kittens somehow picked up my “electric” vibe just the way humans do and could not settle down in my hands even to eat.
There were several nights when I truly thought, these cats will be dead by morning. How can they go so long without eating? They could sleep and sleep. Their schedule was nothing like the suggested routine on the kitten milk container. During those long nights when I thought for sure they would die, I would mentally kick myself for even taking this on. If I had let them be, they would have died in their sleep the night they were abandoned in those frozen bushes. They wouldn’t have even known any better. Instead, I decided to bring them to my house only to starve to death at my hands.
The first day, I called around for help. I called our veterinarian and the local animal shelter. Neither place could take them off my hands but they did say that no matter what happened it would be a 50/50 chance of them living or dying. They offered other bits of advice including the one that helped me the most. “Keep them warm, let them sleep, and do your best.” That one became my mantra.
For at least the next month my priority was the feeding and care of these kittens. This meant that I accomplished next to nothing else. All my sewing projects stayed in their bags. I missed dance classes. I turned down invitations to go places. I didn’t even bother to call my mother as I knew she wouldn’t be able to work around my kitten feeding schedule and wouldn’t even support this idea of mine to do this in the first place. It was kind of a bleak time.
Fortunately, a friend offered to take them when they are grown enough so I didn’t have to keep kicking myself for taking them in and ending up owning five cats, which is too many. I didn’t have to break my promise to myself keep it at a barely manageable three cats. I do not need more things to kick myself about.
However, my next worry became: how can my friend take you guys if you refuse to eat solid food or drink milk from a bowl? Yep, I discovered that they were supposed to have started solid food at about four weeks and by six weeks should be almost done with kitten milk. OMG! Here we were still tussling over the bottle feedings at six weeks!!! I’m failing miserably at this fostering business!
Depressed people simply do not need such triggers as come with fostering baby animals. I suppose there are emotionally ill people for whom this activity would be empowering. For me, it has been another trial by fire.
The past week or so has been satisfying. They are super cute. They play, run around, do big cat things in miniature. They learned to eat and drink from bowls and one of them has litter-trained himself.
Which reminds me–Shorty! Pee Wee! Cat with the white nose! Whatever-your-name-is-or-will-be!!!! You will never be able to go to your new home if you keep refusing to use the litter box! This is not funny anymore! Get in there and do it!!!
There were times I prayed. It seemed like the best thing to ask for was, let us heal together, me and these little abandoned babies.
I would have to say that my prayer was answered in the affirmative. But it was pretty dicey along the way.
I will not search out another opportunity to foster baby animals. At one time I thought maybe taking care of animals would be a good job for me. Now I know that it is not.
Taking care of animals, or any living creature, is actually another one of those things that I can make myself do in a pinch. But it takes the kind of toll on me that I cannot afford to pay. Especially at this stage of my life where I have depleted my reserves to a dangerous level.
My reserves are so low that I think it is permanent. From now on, I need to mostly do things that will fill me up. I need to rest a lot. I need quiet. I need to not have power of life or death over any creature.
These kittens have turned out well and I think they will make good companions for my friend and her family. I don’t know if they made it because of me or in spite of me.
I feel a little bit proud. I felt a lot of shame and fear and despair and love along the way. I learned many lessons, too.
I hope I am done with the particular lessons this experience brought me. We shall see.