Every cat, just as every person, has a story. I’d like to talk about Max today. Like many kittens, his start was rocky. He and his two sisters were born across the fence from us to a very young—only about half-grown—neighborhood cat. I didn’t know this until the day little Momma and her three 4-week old (or so) kittens climbed over the fence into our yard. How fortunate that there was a board leaning up against our side of the fence, creating a perfect ramp into our yard. I don’t know how those little ones scrambled to the top of the six-foot fence on the other side. Maybe young Momma cat carried them to the top one by one.
What a glorious day it was, when I stepped out into my backyard and saw the three adorable kittens—one black, one black-and-white, and one cream-and-brown—making their way down that slanted board into our woodshed. And there they stayed for the next few weeks, hiding. They only came out when they thought no one was looking. No one in that feline family had a sociable bone in their bodies. And believe me, I tried to entice them. I’d sit at the open woodshed gate for hours every day, talking to the kittens, offering them food, etc. Nothing! Well, I can’t say nothing. I was often treated to a glimpse of a kitten scurrying to hide among the logs or a pair of eyes staring out at me. But the kittens were not your ordinary domestic litter. They were as wild and frightened as they come.
So when the kittens began eating on their own, we knew we had to do something. Without human intervention, these kittens, along with their mother, would become wild neighborhood cats. They’d no doubt live in fear and danger for the rest of their life and die a cruel and early death alone.
We borrowed a small cage, donned a pair of heavy gloves and managed to capture the three kittens. But our work had just begun. It took another several weeks to socialize them. I didn’t know a thing about socializing feral cats, but after some quick research and using common sense, I decided to let them live in our bathroom where we could easily work with them. Or course I kitten-proofed the room–closed the toilet lid, removed cleaning chemicals, tied up the blind cords,made sure the window screens were secure, etc. And we moved in some kitty toys, a cat tree, kitty beds, a litter box, and a bowl of water. Then I’d go into the bathroom and talk to the kittens and pet them, against their will, at first. To my dismay, there was little progress.
Finally, I talked to a friend who works with dogs. He suggested that the kittens weren’t bonding with me because they were bonding with each other. Wow! So that day, I separated Max from the others, asked my veterinarian to help me find homes for the two little girls, and that was the true beginning of my relationship with Max, the formerly feral cat.
I’ll never forget the first day I let Max out of the bathroom. He was ultra-cautious of his new surroundings at first. Then he decided there were some fascinating things to explore and play with and explore and play he did for about an hour. Finally, he stopped, looked around for something or someone familiar and he suddenly spotted me. What a heart-warming moment when he raced to where I was sitting and clawed his way up the sofa to my lap, where he lay and purred for a while.
Now at seventeen-and-a-half, and experiencing a few age-appropriate health issues, only Max and I know what he would have missed in life had we not intervened. Here, I must say that it was not all rose petals and pudding for Max. He never quite became fully domesticated. He and I had a lot to deal with and overcome over the years.
Monday, I’d like to review some of the highlights and lowlights of Max’s relatively long life. Then I’d like to share some insights about living with an aging cat. So stay tuned.
Note: If you have a doubt that Max and his sisters were in danger, let me share this with you: After we had the kittens settled in our home, the neighbor behind us spoke to me. She didn’t know I had the kittens and I didn’t tell her. But I did ask about the little momma cat. I wanted to trap her and take her to get her spayed. The woman said, “Oh I couldn’t catch her to have her spayed, so I took her in and had her put to sleep.” No, I’m not making that up.