I wrote this story many years ago when I was a young mother. It was just one of my adventures with life and our pets.
“Mom,” my twelve-year old son’s voice came over the phone.
“What’s the matter, Tim?” I quickly asked. The quiver in his voice was undeniable. I had allowed him to go to work with my husband, who was clearing a tree lot for a new house that was to be built. Images of heavy-duty equipment raced through my mind. My heart lurched.
“Dad was digging up a pipe when a cat ran out of it. When he looked inside, there were four kittens. One is dead.”
“What about the mother cat,” I asked biting my lip. “Is she alright?”
“I don’t know,” he wailed. “She ran off and won’t come back. Dad put the kittens into a box and sat it in the woods. He told me to call you and ask you what to do?”
“How big are the kittens?” I asked.
“Their really tiny and their eyes are closed.
“Is there a house nearby? Are they somebody’s pets?”
“No,” he said. “There aren’t any houses around. Dad said the mother cat must be wild. He thinks she is hurt and tried to find her. But he doesn’t think she’ll come back.”
“Okay,” I replied. “I’ll come to the jobsite and take a look. Hopefully, the mother cat will come back by then.” I hung up the phone and grabbed my car keys. “Come on Shannon,” I said to my two-year old daughter. “We’re going bye byes.” I held her hand and walked into the garage.
“Kitty,” Shannon cried, pointing to a large box. She pulled on my hand, walking towards it.
Patches, my calico cat, stuck her head over the rim of the container and meowed. Inside five kittens playfully attacked one another. One nipped at her tail.
“Hello,” I said to Patches, rubbing her head. Next to me, Shannon giggled, pushing her hand into the box to touch a kitten.
“Be careful,” I warned as her chubby fingers pushed on a kitten’s head. “Be nice.”
After several more pokes from Shannon, I took my reluctant daughter to the car. Strapping her into her car seat, I drove the thirty-minute ride to my husband’s jobsite. When I arrived, I was met with the sight of my husband’s equipment, a backhoe and dozer busily clearing the land. Trees, dirt and debris were piled to one side. But it was the large, jagged, broken pipe that caught my eye. It lay in several fractured pieces.
Tim raced to my car, peering anxiously in my window.
“Did the mother cat come back?” I asked him, noting the expectation in his freckled face. His red hair reflectively caught the bright sunlight. I opened the car door and stepped out.
“No,” he said, shaking his head.
My husband spied me, waved and climbed out of the backhoe. His boots were caked in mud, his jeans and sweatshirt evidence of his labor.
“Hey,” he said, guilt in his gaze. “If you want to look at the kittens, Tim can show you where they’re at. I’ll stay here with Shannon. There are roots and rocks all over the place. She could fall and get hurt.”
“Okay,” I cast him a wry smile. “What happened anyway?”
“I was digging up the pipe, which was partially broken, when a bloody cat darted out of it. When I looked inside and saw the four kittens. Newborns. The cat must have crawled into the pipe to give birth.”
“Oh.” Dread twisted my stomach. It was worse than I thought.
Tim tugged on my hand. Hope kindled his eyes. He expected me to somehow fix the problem. Good old mom to the rescue.
We made our way into a group of trees. Colorful leaves hugged the tree branches. A chilly wind nipped the air. A small box was at the base of a tree. I peered inside at the three white kittens. Pink wrinkled skin peeked through their fur. A fourth kitten lay outside the box, its tiny dead carcass painful to see.
“They’re so tiny,” I whispered, touching one. All of their umbilical cords were twisted together, binding the three kittens together, belly to belly.
“What should we do?” my son anxiously asked.
I looked around the area. Endless trees stretched out before me. It wouldn’t be long until night arrived. It was getting cold. I couldn’t leave them. Even if the mother cat came back, there was no way the kittens could nurse. I didn’t have scissors or a knife to cut their cords free. Surely, they would die.
“I’ll take them with me,” I said. “The animal shelter in on the ride home. I’ll stop in and see what they suggest.”
“Can we keep them?” My son’s face lit with expectation.
“No. We already have five kittens at home.”
“Pleasssssse, “he begged. “They got no mother.”
“I know. But our kittens are much older. There is no way Patches can take care of these kittens too.” I put the kittens in the box, picked it up and went to my car.
Broodingly, Tim followed me, footsteps tramping heavily through the brush.
After putting the box in the backseat of my car, I quietly told my husband what I was doing. “I’ll take Tim with me,” I said. “He can help me with Shannon.”
“Good luck,” he said.
Arriving at the SPCA, I took the box inside. Tim walked beside me, holding Shannon’s hand.
“May I help you?” an oversized woman asked, peering at me over the rim of her glasses. She sat behind a large counter, papers in her hands.
“Yes.” I sat the box on the counter and began telling her what happened. As I talked, her gaze strayed into the box. I noted the frown and dismal look that formed over her features.
“Is something the matter?” I asked, alarmed by her reaction. “Can’t you do something?”
“It doesn’t look good for them,” she replied, shaking her head. “They are just to small. They require around the clock care. There is just no way we are equipped to handle such small babies. They require too much time, and frankly, we don’t have it. We are swamped with cats. I’m sorry. It is a shame. But I’ll have our veterinarian take a look anyway and see what he says. You can wait or leave. We can handle them from here.”
“I’ll wait,” I replied, glancing at Tim, whose eyes held the sheen of tears.
After several minutes, the veterinarian came out to talk to me. He introduced himself and smiled sadly.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “Even if I could, I can’t separate the kittens. They are stuck so tightly together, that I can’t cut the cords. I tried and there is just no way. The merciful thing to do is put them to sleep.”
“Mom,” my son cried, tugging at my arm.
“What about the other one,” I asked. “Does he have a chance?”
“No,” he said. “There is no one here to devote the time to feed him. If he were older, maybe I would try. I am going to put him down as well.”
“I…I have a cat who has kittens,” I said quickly. “They are about two-months old. Do you think my mother cat would care for the kitten?”
“Maybe,” he said, shrugging. “You could try it and see. But she might reject the kitten and, of course, the other kittens are so much bigger.”
“I’ll try,” I made up my mind. The box was returned to me, one pitiful kitten left inside. Helplessly, it cried for its mother, a sound repeated on the drive home.
At my house, I took the kitten inside and held it, trying to soothe it. After taking Shannon to her toy room, Tim watched her, while I took the kitten out to the garage.
“Here, kitty, kitty,” I called to Patches.
Patches eagerly raced to me, sniffing at the kitten, which eagerly began to cry.
Alarmed, Patches ran off as if afraid of the tiny feline.
Worried, I followed Patches and called to her. She refused to come. After much coaxing, she sat near me. I lay the kitten before her, which eagerly moved towards her belly.
Patches, noticing the kitten, darted off.
Worried, I rescued the kitten and started the process of coaxing Patches to comply. Finally, I got Patches to lie on the floor, petting and talking to her. She didn’t seem to notice as the kitten enjoyed its first meal, tiny feet pressing against her fur.
Abruptly, Patches stood and ran off, halfway dragging the kitten, as if she knew I had tricked her.
The baby cried out, searching blindly for its source of comfort.
I took the kitten back into the house with me, peeking out the door into the garage. A little later when Patches climbed into the box to feed her kittens, I quickly took my little refugee out to the garage and placed him into the box with the five other kittens.
“Oh my,” I murmured, staring in dread. The other kittens were huge compared to the white kitten. He looked so odd, pitiful, against the other kitten’s vivid coats of orange and black. His new siblings stepped all over him, eagerly nursing. I felt like crying in frustration. How was this ever going to work? This was only the kitten’s second meal.
As I watched, I was spellbound as the kitten pushed past the others, seeking a spot to nurse. He was thrust aside from a swiping paw. I took two of my fat kittens out of the box and held them, hoping to give him a chance. The three big kittens finished eating, jumping and playing with one another. I swapped them with their two siblings so they could feed as well.
Once again, the white kitten was thrust aside when the Patches abruptly leaped from the box. Her own kittens were quick at their feedings, while the baby kitten had barely begun. He crawled over his new siblings, blindly seeking his foster mother.
The kittens began batting him about, playfully nipping at him. They threw him about as if he were a mouse.
Confused, the blind kitty tried to nurse from its siblings. I took him out of the box in despair. What would ever happen to the baby? Would he ever survive?
Determinedly, I took the kitten out every other hour to be fed. I woke through the night, completing the ritual. I became quite good at finding ways to get Patches to comply. My kids joined my efforts, my husband too.
Somehow we made it through the first night, then the first week. That Saturday my husband, his brother, Eric, and me stood around the box watching the tiny kitten feed. For the first time, I happily noted Patches carefully cleaning the baby.
“What are you going to name him?” Eric asked us.
“I don’t know,” I mumbled. “He’s white. Any suggestions?”
“He looks like a baby rat,” my husband stated. “He’s not cute like the others.”
“Give him time,” I replied.
“Call him Lucky,” Eric suggested.
“Why Lucky?” I asked.
“Because he’s lucky to be alive.”
“Lucky, “ I repeated. The name stuck and Lucky had a name.
The next few weeks, Lucky took it tough from the other kittens. I tried to keep them separated as often as I could. As my other kittens were given to their promised homes, Lucky became the center of Patches undivided attention. He flourished, filling out in health. His white coat grew thick and he turned quite pretty. As the months flew by, he grew into a playful, young cat.
One day, as I pulled into the driveway, I saw Patches and Lucky playing together in the yard. Lucky was pursuing her twitching tail and soon the pair was chasing one another around the tree. She stopped and licked his face. He rolled onto his back, swatting at her. She leaped on him, joining in the mock battle.
I decided then and there to keep Lucky. I had several offers from friends to take him. But I couldn’t let him go. For he was a special cat. A feline with a heart of gold. He had beaten the odds of his doomed beginning, battling from the first to survive. And we were lucky to have him.