27 August 2012

lessons from foster kittens

it's ideal, really: we get the cats at the cutest, most entertaining part of their lives, then send them off to find their "forever homes." carl and i both think that "forever homes" sounds almost creepy...sort of like  the euphemism "putting to sleep," but we know that what the animal shelter means by "forever homes," is permanent adoption. They used to let people adopt the cats before they were spayed or neutered, and give them vouchers to have the procedure done for free once they were old enough. but they found that  even the free voucher wasn't enough to compel some folks to have it done, so now they won't put animals out on the adoption floor until they have been altered. so, they need foster homes for the kittens, until they reach an age and weight that will allow for the operation.

we aren't ready to have pets of our own yet, but we all love cats, so we decided to become a foster family. our first set were three boys, all orange tabbies. they were difficult to tell apart, but we found a few distinguishing characteristics, and gave them the names of the three youngest weasley brothers from the harry potter stories: fred, george and ron. these kittens were tons of fun, but they had some inappropriate suckling habits, presumably from being weaned too soon, which we found disturbing. it was a lot of work to care for them, and so much cleaning...but the biggest effort for carl and i is managing cosmo's treatment of them.

he is not mean to animals, he likes them, is interested, and generally sweet to them. but, he doesn't seem to always know the line between holding, and holding too tight, against the kitten's will until they start meowing frantically and struggling to get away. we found ourselves constantly correcting and scolding, and had to let some things go, and choose our battles.

our friend julie, who does a lot of kitten fostering, pointed out that it can be really hard for young children to understand what is appropriate with kittens, because they look so much like toys. they are small, adorable, and easy to manipulate (compared to adult cats, who typically don't put up with much). after some close calls, we learned that we really had to be present in the same room any time cosmo was interacting with the kittens. it gets tiring. between that and the constant cleaning, i was happy to seem them go when they reached 2 pounds.

a month later, i'd forgotten all the annoying parts of having foster kittens. cosmo and i responded to an email and headed for the shelter to pick up five kittens and a mama. these ones were tiny.

they could barely walk and seemed to be nearly blind. having the mama with them made it so much easier. she took care of everything, and we took care of her. for the first few weeks, all they did was nurse and sleep. they began to explore, one by one, and soon were wrestling and scampering all over the house, cracking us up with crazy antics, as kittens do.

cosmo has learned a lot about handling kittens, and knows what is allowed and what is not. but he still seems to have lapses in judgement, and we still have to keep an eye on him with the kittens. i have tried to get him to appreciate how interesting they are to watch. they do so many amusing things if left to their own devices, but he is unconvinced. his first impulse is always to pick them up. mostly, they don't mind, and i figure we are socializing them to be accustomed to children in their future homes.

the mama cat and the three boys of the litter have returned to the shelter. from what i understand, the kittens have already been adopted. we still have the two girls with us, but they will probably leave us this week. i'll be happy to have our house back, and to give it a thorough deep clean, but i think i will miss all the pitter patter and physical comedy. people usually imagine that we'll get too attached, and won't be able to give them up, but so far, we have not been tempted to keep any.

we have learned that we are not yet ready for permanent pets. we have also learned to let creatures into our home and into our hearts, and how to let them go when the time comes.

as a tribute to the latest batch, i present these portraits of the mewler family:
this is the stellar mama cat, trixie, and her daughter rita. rita is cosmo's favorite, and he refers to her as the "captain of the cuties." she is very social and adventuresome, and the smallest of the litter.

meet snape: the best at latching on, and the last to wean.

we call him zincy (after the element: zinc) a gorgeous cat, with velvety fur that matches his eyes.

here we have ginger, rita and pingu. ginger is very strong and looks like he will be a big cat. pingu has some unusual markings on her face. she loves the out of doors, and is also quite social and affectionate.

we tried to get a photo of cosmo with the whole crew, but trying to get them all together is like, well...like herding cats!