Recently, I opened up my home to 400 foster kittens who needed a temporary home to heal and grow and become ready for adoption.
Did I say 400? I meant four. Four foster kittens.
It only felt like 400.
The four beauties who came to me through Metrowest Humane Society where I volunteer each week, were dubbed the “Detective Litter” and named Starsky, Hutch, Jane and Maura, after two famous detective TV shows: Starsky & Hutch and Rizzoli and Isles. There were only five weeks old, or so, but had already had a bit of a rough road in life.
A Good Samaritan had seen an advertisement for kittens on Craigslist – $25 each – and knew that anyone selling kittens to strangers did not have their best interests at heart. She offered to buy the remaining four (two had already been sold and we can only hope they ended up in good, loving hands) even though she needed to borrow the $100 to complete the purchase. I am eternally grateful to the generous heart of a woman I will never meet, a person who was willing to go into debt to spare the lives of four tiny kittens.
Her efforts to find a reputable shelter to take the babies led her to the Metrowest Humane Society. Shelter Adoption Counselor Maria Balzarini, and the other employees and volunteers in the office scrounged their own wallets, and between them came up with $75 to help offset our Samaritan’s newly acquired debt.
The kittens arrived at the shelter thin and flea covered. They were still too young to safely be treated with traditional anti-flea medications, and so Shelter Manager Karissa Cook gave the kittens baths with ordinary dish soap, an unusual but surprisingly effective treatment. In this treatment, the kittens’ bodies are sudsed up with straight-from-the-supermarket Dawn (kitten heads are excluded), which is left to sit on their little bodies for 15 minutes, after which they are gently washed clean and their fur blow dried. The treatment is repeated three times over the course of three days. (I simply brought the babies back and forth to the shelter for their daily “spa” treatments).
And that’s when I got the call. Given that the kittens were young (too young to have been separated from their mother), underweight, suffering from parasites, and in need of socialization, Maria thought it best to send the kittens directly to foster care where they could receive constant attention from a devoted foster mother: me.
And so began my almost five-week journey with mayhem.
Kittens this young, kittens left usually under the watchful care of their mother, can not be allowed to simply roam the house unsupervised. They don’t have the kind of control of their own bodies and good judgment that most adult cats have to keep themselves out of harm’s way. So, while we were sleeping or out of the house they were supposed to be kept in an oversized dog crate, which was locked in a spare bedroom. The crate contained everything kittens need: soft bedding underfoot, a cozy bed, dry kitten food, a litter box, fresh water, toys – and each other. For the first couple of nights I’d put them to bed in the crate for the night and in the morning they’d be there mewing for me to let them out to enjoy their wet-food breakfast.
And then one morning I came in and Maura was wandering around the spare bedroom. Did I forget to put her inside? Did I leave the lock undone?
I was more careful the next night and yet, come morning, there she was: the little Siamese-mix Maura, with her innocent little face, looking at me from outside the crate while her siblings meowed from within.
Clearly Maura was outsmarting me and the dog crate. Time for a new solution.
We eventually settled on a large pet “playpen” Maria had, but soon the zippered top wasn’t closing exactly right and before you knew it all of the kittens figured out where the tiny weak spot could be breached. Maria ordered a newer one, a larger one from Amazon while I held the old one together with some quilting thread and my amateur sewing skills.
During the day, when I was able to be home with the babies, I let all four have free rein of my kitchen and dining room. So long as I didn’t open a cabinet (all four kittens could sense a cabinet opening from across the room and would ALL be inside, even if I only opened it for a second) they were fairly safe and secure during these playtimes. I put out some Monster Cheese Wedges and Mega Milk Cartons for them to play in, plus some commercial cat toys the shelter had lent me, as well as their favorite things to bat around: pieces of twisted foil, a toilet paper tube, some junk mail, and the lids to milk jugs and a mayonnaise jar.
All was quiet on the western front for a while. I could keep the babies contained in the kitchen with a simple baby gate. Until Maura figured out how to climb out.
Let me just mention here that Maura is the least athletic kitten of the bunch. She was also the least motivated of her siblings, because eventually, as we upped the ante on the “Let’s Get Out of the Kitchen” game she simply gave up. While Starsky, Hutch, and Jane perfected the art of breaching whatever kind of barrier we put up, she decided in favor of laying in a sunny spot near the sliding glass door. But for some reason it was Maura who I found walking the “tightrope” at the top of the baby gate the first few times.
We put up a larger baby gate. The cats got over. We found them quickly, but they were already tangled in the TV wires in the living room, or shredding the underside of our sofa.
We put the smaller gate on top of the larger gate. But this Mount Everest of baby gates was no match for our determined kittens.
We put a slippery piece of cardboard on the lower gate, then overlapped the upper gate. Surely kittens couldn’t climb the cardboard which offered no foothold whatsoever to reach the upper gate, right?
I didn’t count upon the fact that the kittens are apparently made of mercury. They somehow slithered (their skulls, I had thought, until now, were made of solid bone) between the two gates, and then, burglar-like, shimmied up between them, grabbed a foothold on the gate some four feet above the floor, climbed the remaining three feet and then leapt to what should have been their deaths (apparently it was more of an amusement park ride from their point of view), but was instead their freedom.
I fashioned a new homemade “gate” out of cardboard completely and covered it with extra slippery packing tape. I cut custom notches around the counter and baseboard moldings to keep the whole ordeal in place.
“Aha!” I said to my husband. “I’m still smarter than kittens.” And it worked, for a while. The kittens would lie in wait on the other side of the cardboard (which was so tall I couldn’t see over) for me to unwedge it slightly to enter the kitchen. (They knew I had to eat sometime.) Jane or Starsky would patiently wait for that half-inch advantage and go scurrying out into freedom.
Let me just say that the story goes on from here. The kittens learned to wedge a paw between the edge of the cardboard and the wall and collapse the cardboard gate to escape. My husband put a variety of obstacles in the way: chairs, a magazine rack, a 12-pack of soda, along the edges but the kittens outsmarted us at every turn. I even went to Home Depot and built a cat gate out of PVC pipe. And our now doubled-in-size kittens somehow managed to escape through the one-inch spacing between the rails. How? How?
And yet, they loved every minute that I was on the kitchen side of the gate with them. If I stood making my own breakfast, all four kittens would climb up my legs. If I sat on the floor, I would have four kittens perched on my shoulders and head, purring away. They loved to climb in my hair and then leap, meowing and screeching across the kitchen floor, only to careen right back and do it again.
But like all good stories, this one had to come to an end. When the kittens were about nine weeks old I brought two (Maura and Starsky) back to the shelter for about three days while the Maria collected application after application for these adorable babies. She eventually chose a wonderful couple to be their new adoptive “parents.” These two lovely people had actually built a kitten “nursery” in their home to welcome their new babies.
Hutch and Jane found a very special home: with a young man I have known since he was a preschooler. He and my adult son, Ethan, have been friends since childhood and when my son finished graduate school he and Justin decided to room together in an apartment in Somerville, Massachusetts. They specifically chose an apartment that allowed cats, and so Xavier and Nebula, as they are now called, are growing up with two people I know and love well.
And I’ll get to personally witness the next chapter, and the next, in the story of my two special foster kittens.
I love a story with a happy ending.
Want more kitten videos? Head over to my YouTube channel: thecatisinthebox.com
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Dawn LaFontaine is a lifelong animal lover who always seems to have a little pet hair in her keyboard. Her blog, Kitty Contemplations, helps cat guardians better understand and care for the special beings they share their lives and homes with. Her cat-products business, Cat in the Box, sells beautiful, well-made, and award-winning products that she designed to meet the biological needs of cats.