Years ago (almost exactly 11 years ago) my cats were born under my parents’ house to a feral mother. Knowing that feral kittens would most likely end up destroyed if they were not tamed, I took it on myself to foster the kittens until they were tame enough to adopt out. Well, my god sister adopted one. The other three I kept. A little while later, a friend found a two week old kitten on a street while she was walking a dog and asked me if I could take care of her. Both of these fostering experiences were so rewarding, I knew I wanted to foster again someday, but the circumstances never seemed right. I worked long hours and lived in small, open plan apartments that had no good spots to host a feral family.
Feral kittens are kittens that have been born outside of a human home and have been taught by their mother to fear humans. They are difficult to handle because they hiss, spit and attack. There’s a short window of time for human fosters to tame feral kittens by handling them and giving them lots of love. Ideally, we like to capture the mother while she’s still pregnant so we can test her for various diseases and feed her good nutrition. That way the kittens are around humans from the moment they’re born. What often happens, though, is that rescue organizations are called in after the kittens are born. If we can’t trap the mother and kittens at the same time, then we take the kittens in and work on taming them right away. (We keep on working on the mother, though – it’s important to get momma cats fixed in order to stop the cycle of over population!)
Last year, when I was coming to terms with the fact that I was disabled for life, I was trying to come up with positives for my situation and one of them was that being home all the time meant that I could finally foster feral kittens. This spring, I asked my vet for a referral to some organizations that might be looking for fosters. For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been told to get ready for cats and litters but trapping feral mothers is not a predictable business. A week ago a mother cat was trapped but her kittens were not found. Nevertheless, the mother cat who was clearly an abandoned pet and not a feral, was given to me to foster. I named the cat Lil Mama because she was tiny – 7 lbs – not much more than a kitten herself. Lil Mama was apathetic and depressed. She cried for her kittens but otherwise passively allowed me to handle her. A day later I got a call from a different contact – she was bringing by a litter of 7 kittens. Not only was I excited to be able to work with kittens, I was also hopeful that Lil Mama would take to the kittens and get past her depression.
The kittens in their crate:
At first, Lil Mama allowed the kittens to crawl all over her and snuggle with her, but a couple of days laters I was ecstatic to walk in on her nursing the kittens.
Lil Mama nursing the kittens:
Within a day of Lil Mama accepting the kittens as her own, I noticed a huge difference in both the kittens and Lil Mama. They all displayed a greater self-confidence. Instead of crouching in the dark, they began to explore the kitten room, playing in the boxes I’d provided them with, running around with their little tails up in their air, ignoring me while I was in their midst. Lil Mama began to growl and hiss at me – not pleasant for me, but a good sign that she was asserting herself.
Over that first weekend, I posted dozens of pictures and videos of the kittens (you can see them all on my instagram feed). I asked my friends to help me name the kittens. Since Lil Mama is the name of a hip hop artist, I asked them all to think of musicians names for the kittens.
The first to get named was Elliott, after Elliott Smith. Elliott is a big, black boy with long, fluffy fur and a sweet, docile demeanor. Along with his sister Stevie, he was the easiest to handle right off the bat.
The two calico girls (calicos have a combination of dark, tabby ginger and white fur), Corin and Stevie were real handfuls from the start. Corin, in particular, growled ceaselessly when handled. As a result, I suggested that she be given a riot grrrl name. My friend Anni suggested Corin for Corin Tucker (of Sleater-Kinney). You can tell Corin apart from her calico sister by her long, fluffy fur.
Here’s a look at Corin’s unique coloring and fluffy coat:
While we were discussing possible names for Corin, my friend Nina suggested Feist, which seemed like a perfect name for Corin’s feisty sister. Feist is a short-hair calico. She has wide set eyes and a flat face. Unlike her more rambunctious sister, Feist settles down fairly quickly when I’m handling her, and has often fallen asleep on my lap.
Feist’s beautiful coloring:
The last of the girls is also the tiniest of the kittens, little Stevie (named after Stevie Nicks – the name was suggested by several people), who has personality to spare. Stevie is a tortoiseshell (which means her coat combines black fur with a tabby’s ginger). She looks bigger than she is because she’s got long, fluffy fur. She makes up for her tiny size with an outsized personality. She’s a very talkative cat and has very loud meows. She’s the only of her brothers and sisters to purr (so far).
My friend Gabby asked if we could name one of the boys Spike (for the character from Buffy the Vampire Slayer), when I explained the musician theme, she changed her recommendation to Billy Idol (who, in Buffyverse mythology, stole his look from Spike). I knew immediately which kitten deserved the name Billy Idol – a rambunctious little cow cat (meaning white with black spots).
Billy’s white and black markings:
The other two boys were tuxedo cats (primarily black coats with white markings on their face, underside & paws). The sweeter, mellower of the two was named Duncan by my friend Katie for musician Duncan Sheik. You can distinguish Duncan from his brother by his asymmetrical markings – the black marks go halfway down the left side of his face. Although Duncan growls when handled, he also settles down to snuggle in my lap.
Last but not least is the most difficult to handle, a bad boy named Tom Waits. Tom Waits is the hissiest, growliest of the cats. He’s the only one who continues to attack me when I’m handling him. He gets scared easily by sudden noises or his reflection in my glasses and is the most bonded to Lil Mama.
Today we weighed all the kittens and have determined that they’re probably eight weeks old already (which accounts for why they’re such handfuls!) Tom Waits is the biggest at over 2 lbs. His brother Elliott is the next biggest. Duncan is just over 2 lbs and Billy Idol is just under. Of the girls Feist is the biggest at 1 lb, 14.5 oz. Her sister Corin is only slightly smaller at 1 lb, 14.4 oz. And Stevie is the tiniest of them all at 1 lb 7.9 oz. Both Corin and Stevie have already been spoken for (they are going to the same home), all the rest of the kittens should be ready for their forever homes in about a month, after they are fixed and vaccinated. There will be a small rehoming fee to cover the vet fees and some of the expenses. I update my Instagram feed every day with pictures and videos of the kittens and will write weekly blog posts about the progress I’ve made with the kittens. I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!