Editor’s note: This post is a Care2 favorite. It was originally published on January 9, 2012. Enjoy!
Written by Sasha Lilly of Ontario, Canada
A few years ago, I lived in a rather rough neighbourhood in Toronto, Canada. There were many feral and abandoned cats there, the result of people “freeing” their unwanted pets or simply not spaying or neutering them. The cats suffered terribly througout the winter, and sadly, many died by freezing or starving or in cars as a result of trying to find a warm place to sleep.
The motor of the car would remain warm for a few hours after the car had been turned off, and the cat would crawl in from underneath the car, cuddle up to the warm motor and fall asleep. They believed that they were safe, but it only took someone starting the car to kill or maim them. This is how the mothers of many kittens died, which meant that many babies were left to survive the terrible Canadian winter alone.
No one really seemed to care. I think they saw the cats as some kind of nuisance. I decided to tell as many people as I could about the danger of cats in their car, hoping they would check before they started the cars in the morning. I also decided to put out as much cat kibble as I could, to keep the cats well fed so that they could stay warm enough to survive.
One night in February, I was very sad as I had just broken up with my long term boyfriend. I had put food out for the strays about an hour earlier, and was staring moodily out the window when I saw two cats sneak into the yard. One was a large male, a short-haired marmalade who walked with a swagger. Behind him came what could easily have been mistaken for a rat.
When it came closer, I could see that it was a tiny kitten, one that certainly should not have been away from its mother, and it was very ill. It was tiny and black, but the area around its eyes looked white. Up close I could see that its eyes were gummed shut by infection and mucus. There was so much pus that it spread down the face and looked from a distance like white fur. I had no idea how it could see.
They Were Eating Bird Seed to Stay Alive
He and the male licked at the empty containers, and then broke my heart by trying to eat birdseed off of the ground. Both were terribly thin, and clearly needed a good meal. When I tried to take more food out to them, they ran away in terror.
The next night they came by again and I had made sure to leave more food for them. After they ate, the large male kept trying to treat the kitten like it was a female in heat and the kitten crouched and looked miserable as it tried to avoid this unwanted attention. Clearly, it had latched onto this male because its mother was gone. I sadly realized she was most likely dead, the victim of a car motor, or perhaps starvation. With no way to fend for itself, the kitten had attached himself to the nearest adult and had hoped for the best.
At that moment, I decided to get the kitten. I was not allowed to have more than one cat in my apartment, but, I rationalized, this was not really a cat — more like one third of a cat. Surely that wouldn’t be against the rules? I knew I couldn’t take the male in as he was just too big to handle, but I would feed him all winter, and make up the shed in the yard behind the apartments so that he could sleep there.
I Made a Plan to Trap the Kitten
Valentines Day was looming large and I tried to ignore it as I made my preparations. I took an old coat out to the shed in the back and left the door slightly ajar. No one used the sheds and it would be the perfect place for the adult male to get out of the cold, and snuggle down into the winter coat. I also put some food and a bowl of water in there.
I put out food for the cats in the back courtyard as usual, but I was careful to leave less than I usually did. I went back inside to the lobby and turned off the lights. It was almost midnight and I knew that no one would be around at that time. I also tried to ignore that midnight meant that Valentines Day had arrived.
The windows from the lobby that faced out to the back courtyard could slide open, and as I waited, I slid open a lower window, and fished in my bag for the tin of salmon, the can opener and a plate that I had put inside earlier. I put a spoonful of the very smelly fish on a plate. My plan was simple; the kitten would not be able to get any food, because as I had put out so little. The big male would eat it all. I hoped that the kitten would smell the fish, and come see where the enchanting (to cats) smell was coming from, and driven by his hunger, would overcome his fear to have a look inside.
I waited, hiding behind the curtains, feeling like a spy or a crazy person, for about half an hour. Finally the cats showed up, and as predicted, the big male refused to let the little guy have any food. The kitten wandered around the courtyard trying to find something to eat, but even the birdfood was gone.
Finally he approached the window, stopping and looking carefully around for predators. He crept forward and stuck his head into the lobby, while the rest of his body was outside. I could see that the terrible infection in his eyes had left a tiny crack for him to see through in one eye. He couldn’t reach the plate although he strained and most likely willed his neck to grow. Frustrated, he took a single step forward. I was tensed, ready to slam the window shut behind him as soon as he was entirely inside.
The tantalizing fish (to starving kittens anyway) was too much for him, and he crept inside and began to eat. As quickly as I could, I closed the window. He reacted like a bomb had gone off, and turned to run into the windowpane. I scooped him up, put him in my coat and took the plate of fish with me. We went up to my apartment, where I sat down on my sofa to look at the kitten.
He Fell Asleep on Me
He was so thin I could feel every bone and so afraid that he was hardly moving. I leaned back and laid him on my chest, over my heart, and to my amazment, after complaining and struggling a bit, the tiny baby fell asleep.
We sat like that for over an hour, and then I took him to my room where I had set up a box and some kitten food for him. He was afraid of me, but desperate for the food, and while he ate, I spoke to him and petted him. He allowed it only because he couldn’t run away and eat food at the same time. In the night, I felt a tiny little body crawl furtively up onto the comforter from under the bed, and cuddle next to me for warmth. When I woke in the morning, he would dive underneath the bed once again to escape the terrible monster.
He Looked Like He Would Explode from Happiness
I took him to the vet and got some eyedrops that he truly objected to, but that helped me to find his beautiful huge green eyes in all that mess. In two weeks, he had put on weight and become a handsome little fellow with large green-gold eyes. He adored my grumpy female cat, and followed her everywhere, and the night she finally turned around and held him down to give him a good cleaning, he looked like he was going to explode from happiness. He purred and leaned into her as she washed his ears. He had found a mum at last.
Ian has grown since then, and still sees Lucy as his mum. I am his cuddle companion, and my best friend is his favorite pillow. He loves to be brushed, even more than getting treats, and he adores sleeping beside his favorite person. He is delighted with his new life, and has become an absolutely huge male, who looks rather imposing, until he “talks” to you in the voice of a bird, and runs up for belly rubs.
The big male that he had been with as a kitten stayed in the area, and lived in the shed. I fed him all winter and watched him play in the summer. He was in the area for two years, until I moved and then a friend of mine who lived in the building took over his care.
When my ex asked about my Valentines Day, I informed him that I had spent it with a dark-haired stranger with the most beautiful green eyes, and that we had a fish dinner together. I neglected to tell him that the dark-haired stranger also missed the litterbox on the first try and pooped on the floor. I thought that would detract from the story a bit.