Our most recent foster kittens were rescued from a hoarder house where more than a hundred cats were living in squalor, many with nasty infections. Their mother couldn’t be found, so the four were bottlefed at the Vancouver Orphan Kitten Rescue Association (VOKRA) ops center until they could be weaned, after which they came to us for fostering and further socialization.
Rowdy was the easiest to name – this feisty kitten, who had the energy of ten kittens, was named after former UFC champion Rowdy Ronda Rousey. The only one of her siblings who could keep up with her initially was Scrappy, hence the name.
Rowdy was a one-cat comedy team, tearing around the house at lightning speed, doing crazy backflips, tackling anything in her path (including our resident cats, who were at least eight times her size), running up screens (with no idea of how to get herself back down), and making seemingly impossible six-foot leaps (not all of which ended well). She had to be trained out of the annoying habit of standing on her hind legs and pushing drinks over onto computer keyboards (one evening the last beer was tragically lost to her antics), but was hard to stay mad at her, as she was the most entertaining cat to watch, and had bags of personality.
Rowdy was kind-hearted, despite her fierceness. She might tackle your hand, but if you pretended it hurt more than it actually did, she would let go immediately and search your face with a worried expression to make sure that you were okay. (This is actually a great way to train kittens to be gentle – overreact to a bite or scratch, pretending to be hurt; they don’t really want to hurt anyone, and they’ll usually start regulating their force if they think they’re hurting you. It’s important to train them this way when they’re young and small so they’ll be gentle with their teeth and claws when they’re adults capable of inflicting real damage.)
When Rowdy first arrived, I thought she was bullying her hapless brother, Cory. Rowdy was a brilliant fighter, whereas Cory’s idea of fighting was to wait until the other kittens were facing away from him and whap them on the backs of their heads. He didn’t have any good fighting moves, yet Rowdy was on him constantly, and he was prone to overreacting, howling as though he was being killed in response to things that other kittens took in stride.
I worried that Rowdy was picking on him because he was weak, but then I noticed that he was seeking her out, that they slept snuggled up together regularly, and that she spent a lot of time grooming him (he also had poor grooming habits, and was particularly inept at removing food from his face after eating). I realized that Rowdy wasn’t bullying him; she was mentoring him by teaching him how to be a more effective cat, and he eventually became a very good fighter, training under the master.
Scrappy wasn’t bothered by Rowdy’s feisty antics, but then he wasn’t bothered by anything. Scrappy was the most laid back kitten we’d ever fostered – very doglike in his eager friendliness and lack of anxiety. All he wanted to do was hug and kiss everyone he met, regardless of species. I had to train him to stop climbing people – he wanted to reach the summit of every person he met so that he could wrap his arms around their necks and kiss their faces.
On first meeting, guests were amused or startled to see a kitten ascending their pantlegs. Scrappy was so easy going that he purred even while being given medication or having his claws trimmed, procedures most kittens find traumatic. He was just happy to be held.
Although smaller than Rowdy (they were all smaller than Rowdy), scrappy was a very muscular kitten – he felt like a small, warm rock.
Kittens like that usually grow up to have athletic builds. It was fortunate that he was a gentle, good-natured cat because he was destined to be an incredibly strong cat.
Ally was the smallest of the bunch, and quite ill when she arrived. One of her eyes was so badly infected that she couldn’t open it, and she was very weak and scruffy.
Because she looked as though she needed an eyepatch, she was given a pirate’s name, Alcantara, which was soon shortened to Ally. The real Alcantara was a brutal pirate, but strong, and Ally needed a strong fighter’s name, given that she had been weakened by illness.
Ally didn’t have the energy to play like the other kittens. Instead, she would just wait by the chair of whoever was home, looking tragic, until she was picked up and placed on a lap where she would snuggle in for the duration.
She required oral medication and eyedrops, both of which she hated, but her health gradually improved to the point where she would play gently on our laps, and eventually she started to play with the other kittens, though very lightly and cautiously.
The others were incredibly gentle with Ally.
While they played hardcore rough-and-tumble games with one another, Rowdy setting the standard and the boys developing their fighting moves to keep up with her, none of them ever tackled Ally roughly. Instead, they let her swat or pounce on them and, at most, did a gentle catch-and-release. I’ve seen this behaviour with other groups of kittens as well – they’re very gentle and solicitous toward any kitten that is ill, injured, or depressed.
All of the kittens were very affectionate, though Ally tended to hang back when meeting new people, perhaps due to her awareness that she was still weak, which made her vulnerable.
Rowdy continued to gain size rapidly – she was bigger than the other kittens, and her eyes changed from blue to their adult color more than a week before the others’ did, so I believe she was from a different litter.
She also lacked the shortened, kinked tail that the other four had, an apparent family trait, and she was fluffy, while the others were definite shorthairs. Although the group had been found together, they were rescued as part of a big swarm of random cats and kittens, and it’s possible that after losing her mother, Rowdy joined another orphaned group or they joined her.
It was frustrating for Rowdy to have so many little siblings that were less advanced than her, and she eventually took on a bossy mother-type role, attempting to bring their grooming habits up to her more advanced standards. She was spotless from day one, whereas the others always had mucky faces after eating.
When kittens have been orphaned at a very young age, they usually don’t know how to keep their faces clean, so we had to use a toothbrush to remove caked food, which often resulted in some fur loss, making them look unfortunately mangy. Our resident cats also provided cleaning services whenever we handed them a mucky kitten, and with this instruction, the kittens eventually learned how to clean themselves properly.
Ally grew stronger day by day, though she was still the runt of the litter. We sent in profiles and photos to go up on the VOKRA adoption website when we felt that she was strong enough to be adopted. We requested that Rowdy and Cory be adopted as a pair, and Ally and Scrappy as the other pair. All of the kittens liked each other, but those pairings were a little closer, based on play behaviours and sleeping arrangements.
Kitten season was in full swing by the time they were posted to the website, and when there are lots of kittens available, the black ones are usually the last to be adopted, which is really sad, given that they’re often the smartest, most interesting, and have the best litter box habits from an early age. Ugly old superstitions, combined with the fact that black cats don’t photograph as well, cause them to be avoided or overlooked by potential adopters.
The problem is even worse for adult cats, which have worse adoption prospects than kittens in general.
Cory and Rowdy went relatively quickly. I’m sure that Rowdy’s adoption was sped up by being paired with Cory because he was a grey and white kitten. Pairing a black kitten with a kitten of another colour will often have that effect.
Scrappy, the world’s most loving cat, and his sweet sister Ally stayed with us for quite some time, but as often happens with black cats, when they eventually do get adopted, they end up with the best owners.
Scrappy and Ally went to a lovely couple who live nearby and say we can visit, and they’ve sent a video of the kittens looking happy and relaxed in their new home.
VOKRA is again overwhelmed with kittens and begging for foster homes, so we’ll probably take in another litter soon.