This is rescue. Momma Jenny (perhaps one of the sweetest cats ever) found her way to us when her kittens were just wee little nuggets. They’ve been in one of our amazing foster homes and now everyone is ready to find their forever homes. —The Cat House
On July 12, Andy and I were scheduled to take our current foster kittens to The Cat House, as they had just been spayed/neutered and ready to be adopted. Then I got an email from the The Cat House’s president, asking us if we’d be willing to foster a Momma cat and her four two-week-old kittens IF no one else could do it–thinking that we would probably want a break before taking in any more cats. We wrote back immediately and told them to stop looking, that we’d take them.
Later that day, we brought in our current foster kittens and got a look at the new ones. They were so small. We’d never cared for such young kittens. But starting the very next day, they were ours. Like their mom, three of the kittens had short black hair, while one kitten was a chocolate-point Siamese. During the three months that Jenny and her kittens were in our care, we saw them grow in size and develop unique personalities. By witnessing those changes, Andy and I became even more convinced of how companionable cats can be.
To prepare for writing this article, I reread my journal entries about our cat foster family. In a space of three months, our foster kittens transformed from rat-like creatures that slept almost 24/7 in a nesting bed, to furry energetic kittens that kept us awake as they raced around the foster room. Andy and I are so sad to let them go but also so happy to have been part of this beautiful experience.
For the first few days in our home, the kittens wanted nothing to do with us but were all about their mom. If we dared to pick them up, they cried immediately for her. But then on July 15, when I held out my hand, one of the kittens clasped my fingers and my wrist.
Suddenly we became important to them. When a friend came to visit that first week, the kittens whimpered as she lifted them out of their nesting bed. But when Andy or I picked them up, they clung to us and were quiet.
When the kittens were about four weeks old, Andy and I began to give them supervised crawl time in the foster room. They explored in pairs and often on very unsteady paws. In addition, their outings were always quite short-lived. They never wanted to be far from their mom or from us. The kittens were often now extending their paws to Andy or me, and would curl up beside us on the floor.
In less than a week, the kittens began scrambling over the edge of their nesting bed and tumbling to the floor. For a day, Andy and I tried returning them to their nesting bed whenever we saw them loose. It didn’t take long before the kittens also figured out how to climb back into the nesting bed. At that point, Andy and I granted them their desire for more freedom, while also placing blankets on the floor next to the nesting bed to soften their falls.
From this point forward, it seemed as if every few days or even hours brought new changes. The kittens were now starting to look fuzzy. They were also learning to walk and run without tripping over their paws. And, to the dismay of both Jenny and us, they were showing more independence. Oh, to be sure, they still came running when called, but no sooner would they respond to our calls than they’d want to scamper off to discover their next new adventure. At the same time, the kittens weren’t ready to completely leave the nest. They still nuzzled and played with Jenny frequently. But when they weren’t with their mother, the kittens wanted to climb our legs, our arms, our chest, and our faces to sniff and to nibble. But even as they climbed on us, their need for independence was growing more apparent. If they began to slip on their ascent, rather than let me help, they’d dig in their claws and doggedly find a way to cling to my clothes or skin.
At the turn of the month, two more major changes happened. First, the kittens began to pee on the floor, therefore letting us know that they were ready to use the litter box. Andy and I began putting them into the litter box right after they woke up or nursed with Jenny. Of course, there had to be that one kitten who tried to eat the litter. Soon after, Skippyjon lightened the mood with comical expressions on his face as he tried to poop. We couldn’t have been prouder pet foster parents that week, due to the simple accomplishment of our kittens learning to use the litter box.
The second change was the gradual introduction of canned kitten food. We started them on a soupy pate. Sprockets and Pixel Immediately understood what they were supposed to do and began licking the food. Miss Minoes waited until her mom ate but then followed her lead. Skippyjon for some reason wanted nothing to do with even the softest food and refused for days to eat it. Once in a while, he gave in and ate from my hand. It wasn’t until August that Skippyjon began to eat as often as the others. By that point, the kittens were also beginning to try dry food. Andy and I were also monitoring their progress by regularly weighing them.
In early August, our friend came back to see the kittens, and her first reaction was: “They’ve gotten so big!” In contrast to her visit, the kittens now allowed her to pick them up and hold them to her chest. In fact, they acted like Velcro, sticking to her feet and her hands. Our friend’s husband also came, and the kittens took a fancy to his hair. Over the weeks that followed, as we invited over more friends, the kittens became more and more social. At the same time, by the end of each visit, the kittens were ready to retire with Jenny and with us.
As the kittens came into their own there were still many changes to come, starting with that of appearance. The eyes of the three black kittens turned green, while the eyes of the Siamese kitten stayed blue. In addition, their teeth and nails were growing longer, an event which led to our common refrain of “OW!” as the kittens started to bite and scratch. I began to wonder if any of our clothes would maintain a respectable appearance. To my relief, the kittens began to figure out how to use scratching posts and to play with toys. The kittens also began to change in other ways too. For example, they became more adept at climbing and jumping, which meant there was soon no stopping them from claiming the human bed in the foster room as their own.
Andy and I introduced Jenny and the kittens to more and more adventures. We banished our own pets from the living room and blocked the doorway, so that our foster cat family could explore the living room in peace. There, the kittens wasted no time investigating our shoe rack, the plush cat mouse bed, the cardboard cat castle, and the cat tree. Upon other occasions, we gave our pets the run of the basement, while our foster cat family could have free rein of the entire main floor. They began to demand those adventures, with the result that we often had to restrain them from rushing past us each time we opened the door to the foster room.
Yet no matter how independent they became, they never stopped desiring human contact. When in the living room, they regularly sought us out on the recliner, where they learned to coax for treats and fall asleep on our laps. In addition, when Andy and I chose instead to hang out in the foster room, they acted no less happy. They climbed on us, played games on Andy’s tablet, and listened to me read. Perhaps most special to me is that when I slept in the room with them, they’d all snuggle atop or next to me throughout the night.
What about Jenny during all this time? Foremost, she was a dedicated mom. In her earliest days at our home, she never left her kittens’ side other than to eat and drink. When with them, she wrapped all four legs around them to keep them warm. If the space where she chose to nest them was cramped, she’d lie in whatever position necessary to provide them room. When she did leave to eat or drink, she immediately returned to them if they gave the slightest whimper.
Jenny was also a protective mom. For some reason she viewed Andy and me as safe, but if she heard any of our pets outside the foster room she instantly bolted upright and hissed. The few times we accidentally neglected to completely close the foster door, rather than having to look for her in the house, we found her standing guard behind the door.
As the kittens matured, we saw yet another example of her love. Multiple times, I’d find Jenny playing with one or more of the kittens. They’d stretch out together, she’d wrap her front paws around them, and they’d tussle.
At the same time, Jenny was a complicated creature to figure out. From almost the very start, Jenny meowed plaintively at the door of the foster room and nothing we did ever completely alleviated it. During our stay with us, her need to be out and about went in waves. At times, just being allowed to roam the house would relax her to the point that she purred. Other times, nothing seemed to satisfy, and more than once she banged against and/or knocked over barriers.
At least some of her restlessness had to be due to her being a mom. Perhaps now that the kittens had less need of her, Jenny felt compelled to meet more of her own needs. Or maybe now that the kittens were straying more often from the nest, Jenny’s maternal instincts also hit full gear. At any rate, when we decided to allow the kittens crawl time, Jenny often worked against us by scruffing the kittens and returning them to their nesting bed. Once the kittens started to venture out without our help, Jenny showed her displeasure by pacing the floor until all four had returned to the nest. As time went on, some of her unhappiness might also have been due to her not wanting to let go of her kittens. When the kittens began to seek us out, Jenny would at times interrupt their snuggle time by calling them persistently until they returned to her to nurse.
Mid-September, Andy and I received word that it was time to bring Jenny and her charges to The Cat House. In the weeks following, we’ve visited The Cat House weekly. I’m glad to report positive changes in Jenny. Andy and I long suspected that Jenny might have been an outdoor cat and wasn’t comfortable being cooped inside. Even if this is true, motherhood must also have been a factor in her restlessness. Near the end of her time with us, Jenny had begun to play with toys and to coax me for ice-cream. Since bringing her to The Cat House, we’ve seen her toss around toys, and even scamper in play. It’ll be interesting to how she matures as she becomes a cat in her own right without babies to watch.
For a while, I’ve wanted to write about our most recent fostering experiences. Yet the focus for an article remained unclear until Andy shared with me that these particular kittens helped him see how strongly dogs and cats need human companionship.
“I think it’s fascinating that, in spite of how little time we spend with them, they’re so strongly drawn to us,” Andy wrote in an email. “As soon as I go in the room, they immediately start trying to crawl up my legs! Why? What have I done that makes them want to be with me? I don’t hand-feed them. I try to play with them, but can they really have more fun playing with me than they have playing with each other? I don’t think so. I pet them a lot, but I’ve never seen any signs that they really enjoy being petted. And yet they want to be with us. It really seems like they have this innate desire to be with people. It’s weird but cool.”
I’d take his observation a step further to say that I see parallels between caring for kittens and human parenting. Recently, as a greeter at the church I attend, I watched a mother with her baby. The child reached out with his hands to grab at her hair and it felt like déjà vu. Over the summer months, our foster kitten Miss Minoes had developed that same exact habit with me. One online parenting article suggested that being able to grab at things is a milestone for human babies. It’s the first step to more interactive play. And this is exactly what I saw in Miss Minoes. She progressed from having no interest in me, to wrapping her paw around me, to extending her paws so that I’d hold her, to playing with me.
As I reread my journal entries, there’s another parallel that stood out to me about parenting, which I didn’t comprehend at the time. As objective as I tried to make them, my journal entries show a gradual progression from excitement of fostering two-week-old kittens, to a pleasure in how adoring the kittens were, to a state of exhaustion. Every day became about cleaning litter, changing dishes, grooming, and entertaining our charges. When I lamented this once to my dad, he reminded me that it’s caring for children (albeit in our case the feline kind) is tiring but worth it. By late August, my journals again began to reflect how blessed Andy and I felt in our role. When the time came to let them go, we were relieved for a break but also very certain that fostering is something we’ll do again next spring, and the following spring, and….
I recently read an article which reiterated what I consider to be a misconception about cats. The article contended that because some cats are affectionate while others are standoffish, they defy logic and remain a perpetual puzzle. The more cats I meet, the less sense this makes. Some people are affectionate while others are standoffish. Some dogs are affectionate while others are standoffish. And the list goes on. To me, the more social skills that dogs, cats, and people learn during their formative years, the greater the likelihood that they’re going to turn out social as adults. At the same time, even children who are raised in the same home and in a similar way can turn out different, because people’s personalities and the experiences that shape them are unique. Some will be extroverted, some introverted. Some will be excitable, some will be calm. Some will be mischievous, some will be well behave. I believe the same holds true for cats. And so even though Sprockets, Pixel, Miss Minoes, and Skippyjon grew up under our care, they vary in how affectionate and playful and serious they are. I don’t think this defies logic. I think this makes them no different from any other creatures. Including people.
As I write this article, eight of our fourteen foster cats have been adopted, while six remain at The Cat House. All of them are loving and entertaining. Please consider welcoming one of them into your home. And if you do, please send me updates!
Editor’s Note: Two of our remaining fosters at The Cat House are Nacho and Taco. Their photos are below. Whenever we visit The Cat House, Nacho wants lap time. His sister, Taco, always enjoys a good play session. The two are a bonded pair.