April 15th, I walked into my chicken coop expecting only to find my one lone chicken, the others having been eaten by raccoons or passed away. Instead, there stood my Buff Orpington hen in front of her laying box, clearly agitated and yelling an excited call signaling something was not as it should be. Behind her in the box was a hissing feral cat, her wild eyes fixed on me, my terrified eyes fixed on her. I feared for my hen and also feared that this cornered cat might attack if I got too close. Gathering all the courage I had, I grabbed my hen leaving nothing between this hissing feline frenzy and me. A moment later she bolted. Behind her lay two wet lumps. Kittens.
This wasn’t my plan, but then, I guess we don’t always get to choose what life events come to us. I put out a bowl of food for this new mother, probably just a teenager, and decided she could raise her babies in my chicken coop. But by the time I returned from work later that day, the food was gone and so were the babies. Still, I put out food for her, and eventually she would meet me on the porch, still hissing, still wild, but hungry, and eager to be fed.
After eight weeks and two days, it was time to trap the mama cat and her kittens. Since Dave and I were going to be out of town, my daughter and granddaughter volunteered to do it. By the time we returned on Sunday, the mama cat had been neutered and released. The kittens had been separated from their mother to be kept in our guest bathroom. Just as wild as their mother, they hid behind the toilet in the bathroom ready to fend off any aggressors.
I tried talking with them, using my most soothing voice as I thought of the boy in the book, The Little Prince, when he tamed the fox. It took a very long time before the fox trusted him. In one week, I planned to take these wild kittens to the SPCA to be adopted while they still had their kitten magic that will make them irresistible to vulnerable people and their children who walk through the doors. But all they did was hiss. This would surely take too long.
On Monday, a friend, who knows more about these things than I, told me, “Jozeffa, you have to pick them up. How else, are they going to know that you aren’t going to hurt them?” Pick them up. Really? Protected by my gloves made of elk hide, I picked them up one by one as they fought and bit, sure they were going to die. Tuesday, they fought less and let me pet them until I let them go so they could again dart to safety behind the toilet.
Wednesday, Dave came in while I was petting the dark one and asked if he could pet him using his hand. “You can if you want to take your life into your own hands.”
He persisted, “How would you like to be petted with a glove?” He then petted the dark kitten, and I felt his stiff body soften just a little under my grasp.
After Dave left, I decided to take one glove off while I held him with the other. I felt my heart beat faster as I stroked his small tense body and scratched gently behind his ears right next to his needle sharp teeth that just the other day had tried to pierce through the glove, my only protection. The front of his body seemed to relax while his back legs were ready to bolt. A polarity seemed to exist between the part of him that liked the feel of my fingers as I scratched behind his ears and neck and massaged his body and the part of him that didn’t trust and was ready to spring away as soon as I loosened my hold on him.
But each day has gotten a little better. This morning, they still hissed at me, but each of them let me pick it up without gloves, each accepting my nurturing a little more than the day before. Wednesday, I’m planning to take them to the SPCA. I don’t know if I’ll make it. I wanted to spend time letting them get used to people so that I wasn’t taking in wild kittens that no one would ever want to adopt. But this process of getting them to attach to me has the risky business of me attaching to them as well. Dave says we don’t need any more cats. He’s right. I just don’t know what will happen.