Animal tales: Feral cat impresses with strong strides for kittens, freedom
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It was a chilly morning 10 years ago when I first saw Denia in my backyard.
From her appearance, I knew this cat had never been anyone's pet. She was small, with thick, black fur. The smaller black cat trailing behind her was probably the only survivor of her last litter and further evidence that they were feral.
As soon as I appeared in the yard with some leftover meat, they ran off. Once I retreated, they returned to hastily eat their unexpected but welcome meal.
As the cold winter passed, the black female and her kitten came for a handout almost daily. Patiently, I coaxed them up the back steps onto the screened-in porch. It offered some protection from rain or snow but not the cold. They would eat only after I went back inside -- then they would run off.
Finally, spring came, and it was apparent that the mother was pregnant. I suspected she wasn't very old. Still, how many times had she scooped out a hole under some bramble to make a place for newborn kittens? Seeing that full belly and knowing what was ahead for her broke my heart.
It became a matter of paramount importance to me to catch this cat and get her spayed. A friend and I devised a plan to shut her and her young one on the porch, corner her and drop her into a cat carrier. We managed to get the door shut and had her pinned against a post on the porch.
We had a firm hold on her when suddenly she wrenched free and turned and bit my friend's hand. Not seeing a way off the porch, the cat ran into the kitchen, and from there into the basement. Of course, the next order of business was to get my friend to the hospital for stitches and shots.
The pregnant cat meowed loudly in the basement, where the next morning she delivered five kittens behind my washing machine. It was such a small, cramped space on the cold cement floor. Loud hisses accompanied my move of the kittens to a blanketed spot near the furnace where mother, too, had comforts like food and water.
The mission was sloppy but successful. Mother cat was in custody. Now what to do with five kittens? I called my veterinarian, who offered to place the kittens if the persons adopting them guaranteed to have them neutered and kept inside.
There was another bigger obligation. I couldn't let mother cat out of the house until she was recaptured and "fixed." When her kittens reached six weeks, I set a humane trap in the basement with a piece of chicken in it. Five minutes later the trap door slammed. A peek into the basement brought a shock -- there was no cat in the trap, and the chicken was gone, too!
When I inquired if the man who had humanely trapped pine squirrels in my attic could help, his response was discouraging, saying he would rather trap any animal but a feral cat. But he agreed to try, focusing on the screened-in porch.
I listened to the commotion from inside as he pursued her for what seemed like an eternity. He gave up in deference to her exhaustion, or maybe his.
Then two young women from the vet's office felt they were up to the challenge, but the mom climbed to the top of the porch screen, and it gave way from her weight, plummeting her about 14 feet to the ground before she fled. Later that night she showed up at the door and went straight to the cellar for her kittens.
The girls wanted another try, this time indoors. I shut the bedroom and bathroom doors. She took them on a chase through the living area. At one point, she sailed up over the refrigerator. They used two tranquilizer darts to bring her down. I was in tears.
After her surgery, with her kittens placed in good homes, mother cat was unhappy to be back inside my house of horrors. She wailed incessantly. I released her to the outside world. She could have run as far as her little legs would take her, but she stayed close -- this had become her home.
She has several warm, insulated sleeping places outside and comes to the porch for her breakfast and dinner. She loves a little scratch on the head, standing blissfully with those golden eyes closed.
Her name now: Denia. It is derived from the name of the famous escape artist Houdini. What could be more fitting?
First Published June 22, 2012 12:00 am