Win­ning over a wild lit­tle kitty

So­cial­is­ing feral kit­tens is a chal­lenge, but treats help.

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OUR kitchen cats, the group who live in the back lane, are a com­plex bunch. The ones I can touch, have been en­ticed into cages, taken to the vet, and neutered. Maybe the oth­ers saw this and de­cided they’d opt out but the fer­als who main­tain a safe dis­tance at all times are, re­gret­fully, “in­tact”.

I say re­gret­fully be­cause of the kit­tens. The fer­als have batches of them, and most die within a few days of birth. Life on the streets is tough, and kit­tens are frag­ile, so it’s in­evitable.

Part of me says this is na­ture at work. Cats have four kit­tens or so in a lit­ter, be­cause na­ture is hard. It’s the best way to en­sure one or two sur­vive to grow up. That part of me says that what I’m see­ing is a won­der of cre­ation, the world turn­ing, a nat­u­ral cy­cle that has been that way for thou­sands of years.

The other part of me says that we should help to cre­ate a bet­ter, friend­lier world. Also, the prac­ti­cal me pointed out that we need to con­trol num­bers, or we in­vite all kinds of trou­ble from hunger and ill­ness to noise and nui­sance.

So, when one of the fer­als pitched up with two black kit­tens, and her friend brought back a small stripy, I was won­der­ing what I could do to make the best of the sit­u­a­tion.

This time, I was in a good po­si­tion to in­flu­ence events be­cause we had lots of rain. As such, the girls set up their nurs­ery on our back doorstep which is nicely cov­ered. The two mums piled their kit­tens in a heap and shared nurs­ing du­ties.

Al­though the ladies get along well, their per­sonal styles are wildly dif­fer­ent. The black mummy is com­pletely wild, dash­ing out if I open the door and re­fus­ing to come any­where near me. She aban­dons her kit­tens, that’s how scared she is. Stripy’s mum runs too but only af­ter she makes a stand.

Scared cats might aban­don their kit­tens, and even a tem­po­rary ab­sence can in­vite preda­tors like birds, rats and other crea­tures to at­tack, so for the first week, I left the ba­bies well alone. I must ad­mit, it took an ef­fort of will. Kit­tens are su­per cute, and I was dy­ing to touch them, but I wom­aned up and kept my eye on the big pic­ture.

I waited till the kits had opened their eyes and could crawl, and then I lim­ited my­self to run­ning a sin­gle fin­ger over a lit­tle ear or tummy. The first few times, the mums hissed in out­rage. But af­ter a week or so, they re­alised I meant no harm, and they be­gan to ac­cept it.

I was en­cour­aged that they didn’t re­move their kit­tens, and ev­ery­one looked healthy and happy.

So, rack­ing it up a notch, I put out a plate of tuna. It’s a treat from their usual cat bis­cuits, so when the mummy cats were div­ing

in, I picked up a kit­ten. I just put it on my knee, stroked an ear, and put it back. The mums were star­tled, but af­ter sniff­ing it over quickly, they were back into the tuna.

I knew I’d suc­cess­fully re­drawn the bound­aries, and the next day, I did it again, this time with a plate of or­di­nary bis­cuits. The mums looked, and then they ac­cepted it too.

Fast for­ward to this week. The kit­tens are now stum­bling about, chas­ing the tree shrews, their tails, each other, and hav­ing epic bat­tles with blades of grass and imag­i­nary foes. They’re so in­cred­i­bly cute!

When they are five months old, they need to go into a cage, off to the vet, and be se­cure enough to be han­dled to be spayed or neutered. This means we need to get closer. The thing is, at this age kit­tens are so­cialised by their mums, and there’s a dan­ger that they pick up feral traits.

To help them so­cialise and ac­cept pro­longed hu­man con­tact, I upped the stakes again. This morn­ing was my first at­tempt. I made a big plate of tuna for the kitchen cats, and a lit­tle plate that I put on the kitchen counter. I put out the big plate, watched ev­ery­one dive in, and then I ab­ducted Stripy, pick­ing him up and then shut­ting the kitchen door.

The noise was in­cred­i­ble! Stripy shrieked, “Help! Help! I’m be­ing at­tacked!” in kit­ten. But when I put him in front of the lit­tle plate, it was like he had an off- switch. His nose twitched, and then he was div­ing in, tiny whiskers twirling.

He sucked up his food, to­tally con­tent, even though his fam­ily weren’t there. Af­ter­wards, he was star­ing in my eyes, a lit­tle bit wor­ried, but not pan­ick­ing. I gave him a fi­nal ear rub, and put him back out­side.

The se­cond I put him down, his friends were all over him, sniff­ing and lick­ing cu­ri­ously. Stripy was squeak­ing in kit­ten again, and I swear he was say­ing, “I’m OK! It was just the tuna mon­ster! She gave me lunch!”

The mums gave me evil looks, and I ex­pect they’ll be a bit care­ful around me for 24 hours, but if I’m lucky, and care­ful, we should be at a point in three month’s time when we can make our trip to the vet. It will be a be­trayal of the worst kind, but my in­ten­tions are good. Also, I plan on of­fer­ing a boat­load of tuna in com­pen­sa­tion.

For a few min­utes, lit­tle Stripy put aside his fears and dived into the de­li­cious lunch. — ELLEn WhyTE

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