By fairstarphotography on October 28, 2011
Occasionally I would see a pretty tuxedo cat moving through my backyard. I never paid much attention to her since I had a dog, a very grumpy dog, who loved to try to chase her. I assumed that she belonged to one of my neighbors. She would show up unexpectedly and perch on the side of my bird bath, balancing on the rim, enjoying a long, languid drink. I often wondered which of my neighbors she belonged to.
One morning my husband announced that he thought we might have rats in our backyard alcove. The alcove area was created by the union of the outside walls of the house as they connected to the garage, forming a u shape, which was completely covered by the house’s roof line. Since it was completely protected from the weather, we sometimes stored large boxes there.
On the day in question, my husband had gone out through the small garage door leading into the alcove. As he opened the door, he saw a blur of fur…lots of fur…scurrying. Whatever he saw dove behind the boxes before he could get a good look. So he came to me, and deposited the mystery into my lap. We had a window in that door, so I filled a bowl with water, put it down on the floor in the alcove, closed the door, and waited. I peeked through the corner of the window to see what would emerge from behind the boxes.
I didn’t have to wait long. Out came that same tuxedo cat…and four tiny little kittens. They immediately went to the water bowl and began drinking. I sprung into action. Assuming the cat was domesticated, I threw the door open and cooed – “Hi baby!” The mama cat , startled by my unexpected arrival, emitted this amazing sound – midway between a scream and a screech, and they all scattered behind the boxes.
Undaunted, I raced to the store to buy kitten food. I fashioned a large box into a cozy kitty shelter. I put towels inside. I put food bowls and water bowls around it. I went back into the garage and closed the door…peeking. After a suitable length of time, out came Mommy. Alone. She looked around. She glanced up at the window. She smelled the air. When she was satisfied, she cautiously approached the bowl and ate. Pausing, she looked all around and smelled the air. Finally, she made this soft sound, like a whirl with her tongue, and out crept her four tiny kittens. Butt’s raised, tails sailing back and forth rhythmically, they struggled to chew their first solid food.
After checking with my neighbors, I learned that she was feral. Wild. No one owned her. I learned that she had already had several litters of kittens in their backyards, but her kittens had been captured while she was out hunting for food. The had been taken from her and brought to a shelter. But because the kittens had been born feral – wild, they were deemed “unadoptable” by the shelter, and they were killed. I vowed that THESE kittens would not be stolen from their mommy, and they would definitely NOT be killed. But… I knew it was going to take a lot of dedicated work.
Each day I brought fresh food and water. She would never come near me or allow me to approach her. If I did, she would arch up and hiss in a very menacing way. She would never allow the kittens to come out when I was there delivering food and water. She would never eat until I had gone back into the garage.
The turning point came one morning when I decided I needed to increase the reward. I opened a can of tuna and brought it outside. As I stepped into the alcove I saw that she and the kittens were just returning from a walk – her kittens trailing behind her in a row. She immediately became aggressive. I said the first thing that sprang into my head – “TUNA!” She inched forward, smelling the plate. She relaxed her guard enough to eat for the first time with me standing near her, but the kittens fled to the safety of the boxes.
She slowly began to associate me with food and predictability. She knew I brought food and never tried to hurt her. After two weeks, she gingerly stepped up onto my lap, settled in, and begin purring. I was over the moon. After another week, she called the kittens out with a soft, guttural sound. They happily scampered out and immediately began using me as a climbing tree. They played elaborate games of hunting and stalking, and when they finally exhausted one another, they would curl up on me and sleep. Those days remain in my memory as some of the happiest days in my life. I called it “kitten therapy.”
Flash forward – I named her Aubrey, after my dad. She was a devoted and competent mommy. Tireless, patient, dedicated and loving. Her kittens were adorable, and they became socialized under my constant interactions with them. When they were old enough I made sure they all got loving homes to grow up in where they would be safe and loved.
I got Aubrey spayed. Even though the Feral Cat Society of America told me NEVER to bring her in the house because she would destroy it, I had faith in her and in the relationship we had developed. So I brought her inside. That was ten years ago. She never harmed anything in the house. She’s been a devoted lap kitty, and I find it hard to remember that there was a time when she would bring dead rats back to the alcove to “share” with me and her babies. She has been a constant, loving and extraordinary cat and I feel so honored to have earned her respect and trust.
I love my dog with my head. My dog has never known a day of hunger or fear. But I love my cat with my heart. She went from a life of extreme hardship to a life of protection, leisure and love. I still give her the respect a feral cat demands – everything on her terms, but in doing so, she has rewarded me with so much more. She taught me to believe, even when every expert said it was impossible, that love really can make a difference.
To view the entire picture, please click on each one.