Our second group of foster kittens in 2016 were found outdoors, alone. No one knew what had happened to their mother, but given that there were eight kittens, she was probably having trouble taking care of such a large litter. It was possible that she had abandoned her kittens because she was a young, inexperienced mom. Although cats are usually excellent mothers, those who get pregnant too early sometimes fail as mothers. It was also possible that she’d had to travel very far away to find enough food to sustain herself while nursing such a big litter, been taken in by people, or killed by a car, dog, coyote, or human.
The eight kittens were bottle fed by volunteers at the Vancouver Orphan Kitten Rescue Association (VOKRA) operations center, and when old enough to be weaned, they were divided into two groups of four for fostering.
When our group arrived, one of the kittens had taken a turn for the worse. He’d stopped eating meat and started losing weight, and we were warned that he might not make it. We had to bottle feed him with a Kitten Milk Replacer (KMR) solution and hope for the best. The other kittens were also quite small, but doing well on solid food.
Fortunately, little Gizmo (named for his gremlin-like appearance) survived and thrived, though it was challenging to get him off the bottle once he was out of danger.
Gizmo loved his bottle. The other kittens showed no resentment of his special treatment while he really needed it, but once he was healthy and just malingering, his sister, Queen Beatrice (Queen B) decided that if he was going to be bottle fed when he no longer needed it, she’d like a nice bottle as well, so the two of them ended up fighting over it each night until Gizmo finally gave in and started eating meat.
Gizmo’s weaning was a relief, because mixing and cleaning the bottles multiple times each day was a lot of work, particularly when combined with the complicated feeding routines that very young orphaned kittens require even after weaning. The other three couldn’t just eat regular cat food; their food had to be mixed with nutritional supplements, probiotics, and pumpkin (which is good for preventing and treating diarrhea), because kittens that are weaned too early often have digestive issues.
Queen B was twice the size of Gizmo, and the only female in the litter. She was dominant and a bit bossy with her brothers, but never tyrannical or bullying. They were all quite gentle cats, particularly with Gizmo when he was sickly. I’m always impressed by how kind kittens are to members of their groups who are ill or anxious.
Queen B and Gizmo were an odd couple. Their fights over the bottle were hilarious, because Gizmo, despite his small size, could put up a hell of a battle, but either ever seemed to hold a grudge. Gizmo and the Queen were best buddies, and she spent lots of time grooming him, as his personal hygiene was not up to her more exacting standards.
Gizmo grew stronger and healthier. Each day we weighed him on a little scale until he was too heavy for it. He was still a small cat, however, and took to sitting in my hoodie pocket while I worked.
All of the kittens were chronically mucky, as they hadn’t figured out how to avoid getting meat all over their faces while eating, or how to clean it off effectively (a common problem in kittens orphaned at a young age). Our three resident cats provided some assistance in between the baths we had to give the kittens when their faces became too filthy.
Friends regularly came over to help with the kitten bathing, as freshly washed young kittens need to be held in a towel until completely dry, or they can become dangerously chilled. We had no shortage of volunteers for this job (it’s very easy to recruit people for kitten holding duty).
The other two littermates, a pair of handsome tuxedo kittens named Seymour and Cypress, were distinguished by their facial markings: Seymour had a mustache and Cypress a goatee. The boys were so easy going that they didn’t even kick up a fuss during baths or claw trims.
Although kittens orphaned at an early age often suffer from health, cleanliness, or behavioral problems, they do have one major advantage when it comes to adoption: they aren’t at all feral. These kittens viewed people as mothers, while initially showing little interest in other cats (with older feral kittens, it’s the other way around). However, they soon warmed up to our resident felines and formed a friendly group of seven.
Gizmo’s gang were doglike in both positive and negative ways. They were as friendly, laid back, and tolerant of small children as the average dog (being picked up awkwardly by a toddler and lugged around with their feet dangling triggered no fear whatsoever), so they were able to go to homes with young kids. On the other hand, their personal hygiene and lack of common sense with regard to consuming anything found on the floor were more doglike than catlike, though these issues improved with time.
Gizmo and Queen B were adopted together into a home with three kids. One of the older boys was slightly more interested in Seymour and Cypress, the other in Queen B and Gizmo. Their mom broke the tie. In a house full of males, she wanted a bit of female energy around.
Seymour and Cypress were adopted shortly thereafter, when they proved their worth by cheerfully tolerating the affections of an enthusiastic toddler.
To everyone’s surprise, the mother cat was found safe and healthy when she eventually returned to the place she had left her kittens and someone spotted her and brought her in to the VOKRA operations center. No one knows what had delayed her for so long, and by then it was far too late to reunite her with her litter, but at VOKRA she was cared for and sent to a loving foster home for socialization so that she could eventually be adopted into a permanent home.