Thursday, May 31, 2007

brace yerselves

I've been getting a lot of inquiries about the fate of my runt, my failing foster kitten, and no, it's not a case of "no news is good news." He didn't make it, and I have been stalling on writing here because I felt guilty about having gotten this blog's (smallish, but devoted) readership emotionally involved with him.

Things go in waves in the feral kitten population of San Francisco. We see the same things over and over again in a season. Two years ago, it was the year of Incredibly Stubborn Fleas, where pet stores were selling out of Advantage because the fleas just wouldn't die, and it was also an epic year for ringworm. Last year, it was calicivirus: kitten after kitten came down with that weirdest of feline diseases, which usually starts with a swollen front paw and a limp. There was the season when there were so many eye infections that there was a shortage of the topical eye medication we use, and people were being solicited to bring it back from Mexico. This year, six or seven kittens died in one week, and their last days followed the same pattern. The kitten crashed (we call a state of near-death "crashing", which is unmistakable. Kittens go into shock and lie in strange postures, stiff and contorted, with low body temperatures), was revived, crashed again on the second day, was revived again, and then died on the third day.

This kitten had been separated from his mother at only about four days of age, so his survival was always in question. I'm trying to focus on my success stories: the kitten's tiny, frail brother is still alive, and he ate independently yesterday for the very first time (I've had him for nearly two weeks, and I've been force feeding him as I tried to wean him from the bottle, and FINALLY now he will eat by himself, but only if I stay by his side. If I leave, he stops eating). Also, one of my biggest success stories ever, the runt from my first litter of the season, now weighs 2 pounds and will go up for adoption this weekend. She was a poor eater and chronically dehydrated, so for about three weeks I force-fed her and gave her subcutaneous fluids several times a day. This saved her life, and now she is perfect: an uncommonly beautiful, friendly and healthy kitten who would be a joy in any home.

The first couple of years I fostered kittens, I blamed myself and felt like a cat murderer any time I lost a kitten. But now, I know what I'm doing for the most part. I know a lot about ringworm, calicivirus, and kitten diarrhea. If something goes wrong with one of my kittens, I can often treat it myself successfully without involving a vet (I have a supply of the most commmonly prescribed medications, which I get replenished from my rescue program). Sometimes kittens have crashed and come very close to dying, and I have been able to save their lives. This time, I couldn't.

The head of my foster program has a saying: "There's a reason cats have more than one in a litter." Not all kittens survive. I'm very sorry my little gray feral kitten didn't live; he was a good kitten. On his last night, I had the feeling he wasn't going to make it. That evening I let him doze on my chest for hours, and I made him a separate bed so the other, more vigorous kittens wouldn't trouble him. I got up at 3 AM to check on him, but he had already shuffled off this mortal coil.

Nature can be harsh to little animals. Last year, my rescue program saved about 500 feral kittens, but we can't save them all, alas. RIP little gray feral kitten; I wish you could have lived longer.

14 comments:

Anonymous said...

sniff.

I'm sorry he didn't make it.

I just got an email from the Milo foundation (they don't know I've moved to AZ) seeking emergency foster homes.

I wish I could foster kittens, but I think one of my dogs would be a kitten tormentor.

Kim

DCup said...

Sorry to hear the little kitten didn't make it. It's a wonderful thing you do to help all of those cats.

Epiphany said...

Awww, sorry about the little kitten. From what you have said, your work is really above and beyond. I don't know if I could give injections, bottle-feed and constantly clean up their messes.

Yes, please, continue to give yourself props for all the kittens that you do save!

foodette said...

Housewife - I have been following the story of this kitten, and I am so sorry to hear that he didn't make it. You are a saint for helping so many kittens through rough years. If I didn't have a massive Cat allergy, I would want to foster kittens as well. Maybe when I own my own place, I will foster puppies. You are inspirational.

hughman said...

bless you. i couldn't do this work you do both for them possibly dying and then having to give them up later.

crazymumma said...

You have done some wonderful things. I did feel attached to him. I'm sorry....

Morgan said...

:(

Thanks so much for taking care of them... so many poor little things out there... little cats and little bugs, just trying to make it. Makes my heart just melt!

M said...

sweetie, you DO succeed with so many, and don't forget you were a comfort to the poor little one during his last days.

another of your success stories: Ninjai and Bruce are HYOOGE now, and they are amazing kitties!

much love from all of us.

- M

Thi said...

I've got a stray calico mama cat("young single mom seeks dinner, place to stay, leg to rub") and two kittens in my garage since last Thursday.

Mama was left when neighbors moved (good riddance to bad rubbish) and had her babies under another neighbor's storage building. When we had a monsoon the other week, Mama had enough and started seeking a new home.

We knew about the kittens, but had never seen one.

My poor wife, she ran over one in the driveway. It was the first time they'd ventured out (they lived across the street, in the back yard, so this was quite a venture for such younguns). I came
home and took care of the poor thing, gave him a final resting place in our back yard. At least it appeared to be very quick, no suffering.

So now Mama and 2 kittens have found a home in our garage (I lock the door one notch up so she can fit under there).

I'm worried about one of the kittens - it has a raspy breath and does not talk (the other one calls Mama a good bit and is way more energetic and curious and brave).

We have two grown cats (M/4yo and F/3yo, both fixed) in the house and can't see having Mama and kittens in here, too.

My wife wants to adopt the healthy kitten, I want to feed them all but outside.

What is your suggestion for this type of situation, besides of course having Mama fixed?

We're new to this whole rescue thing ...

Thanks,
Thi

Chaos Control said...

When I lived in San Francisco, I volunteered for a cat shelter in Alameda. I know of which you speak. But the work you're doing is fabulous - and so very needed - and much appreciated!

the Drunken Housewife said...

Dear Thi, if you are in the Bay Area, email me at drunkenhousewife@gmail.com and I can hook you up with my cat rescue. If you are not, I recommend you call your local SPCA and ask if there is a program there for helping feral kittens.

What I recommend is what we would do at our rescue: we would try to trap the mom & take the mom and kittens into fostering. They would live in a dog crate together, with the kittens coming out for socialization. Then when the kittens were big enough to be separated, the mother would be neutered and released (preferably near where she was found), and the kittens would be neutered & adopted out. If you could catch the mother, you could keep her with the kittens in a dog crate yourself in your garage or a quiet room (here it's fairly easy to get a loan of a dogcrate; I've borrowed one myself. You could post on craigslist and seek one). That way, the mother wouldn't interact with your cats.

I think the raspy kitten needs antibiotics. It's pretty common for kittens to get colds and upper respiratory infections, and we normally give antibiotics twice a day for that. If you can, at the least, catch that kitten and take it to a vet.

The kittens need to be handled in order to be adoptable. If they stay with their feral mom, they are likely to be feral themselves, which is a hard and short life.

Good luck, and thanks for being caring towards these cats.

hughman said...

thai -

if you are in the LA area, i have a dog crate i would be willing to lend you! let me or the DH know!


hughman

Anonymous said...

I am so, so sad for the little one, and so grateful that you were there to make his short life more pleasant.

Our almost a year old male kitty seems determined to end his life (fall from second story surround sound speaker, contract a serious and scary respiratory virus, etc.) and we finally came to terms with it by accepting that while we have him, he has a good life--better than he would have had otherwise.

It is the only way we can live with the reality.

I am so glad you are giving so many kittens a chance at a longer and better life.

Texzmissy (still too lazy to find her google password.)

Thi VanAusdal said...

Hughman,

Thank you for your kind offer, but we're in Austin, TX, y'all, but I will take your advice about the vet.

DHW,

I think I can find a dogcrate here(yep, I'm a Craigslister), and will see about capturing the wild ones.

Mama is so loving (not just when she's starving, either, LOL) she'd be easy to get, but the kittens are very shy still.

My concern about picking them up is that there were three on Thursday, plus I swear I heard Mama calling a fourth in our front yard or across the street. Then one ran out of our garage while I was trying clear a kitty place in the clutter and hasn't been seen since.

I'm worried about cutting Mama off from other babies and vice versa.

We will also work to handle the kittens ... my kids spent about six hours in the garage with the cats watching silently so they would venture out - like it was Cat-TV, Channel 9. We're trying to get them used to us, but the clutter is great cover for kitties.

I've put up the dangerous chemicals and car stuff so that it's safe in there, and adjusted the garage door setting so it stays up enough for Mama to get in and out, even as she fills out (as we feed her).

My bride and kids were also plotting on how to integrate the one kitten into our house, but it breaks my heart to separate it from Mama and sibling(s) ...

How do you say good bye to them?

And again, thank you for all you do, D-H.