Pets 2010

August 30


When I was a child of about 7, I remember our cat Wandery had 6 kittens. The kittens were healthy and all were adopted to loving families once they were old enough. Wandery was upset and went looking for her children for a few days, but got over it once she understood "our explanation" to her. That was a good experience which taught me much about my favorite animals -- cats.

Ever since then, I have wanted to have kittens again. I have always had cats, but they have generally been fixed so that they could not have kittens. I understand the reason for this, but do not always agree with it. Some of the best cats, ones which should pass on their genes to future generations, are stray cats and offspring of ordinary domestic cats which were not bred for any particular reason. Breeders want to create "purebred" (read "inbred") kittens which they can sell for a profit -- breeds which are mostly based upon appearance, not behavior or intelligence, although that is an aspect of some breeds such as Siamese cats. As it happens, Eunice and I now have both a male and a female stray cat, Smurfull and Xiao Hua, neither of whom has been fixed. Both were just kittens when they came here, but now, Smurfull is several years old, while Xiao Hua is only about 8 months old. Smurfull, the male, actually appears to have been born in this neighborhood, and is one of small numbers of survivors among strays in this difficult neighborhood. He is very intelligent as cats go, and has extremely good behavior, although he does tend to roam the neighborhood a bit. He is gentle, friendly with humans and cats, a good purrer and a fantastic vocalizer. He is also large and strong, with a big head befitting his intelligence. I always thought he would make a great daddy kitty. Xiao Hua is a beautiful little calico female with gigantic "hands," a condition which is called polydactylism in cats, the result of a dominant gene which causes the cat to have more than five digits on a paw. Many years ago, my grandmother's beloved cat was polydactyl. An adorable stray kitten we named Serena that was killed by a Labrador Retriever in front of our house a few years ago was also polydactyl. Serena was given to me by a former student of mine, and was killed while resting on our front porch a few months after we got her. Our cat Gorjilina was also there, but escaped the dog. (God, I hate Labrador Retrievers ever since that event. It was pretty traumatizing.)

In any event, Xiao Hua (Chinese for "little flower") is another super cat -- adaptible and smart, super-affectionate, great purrer, and she knows when to speak up loudly and when to be more subdued, cautious and quiet. In late May, shortly after Eunice brought her here from La Puente (where people were trying to scare her away at the apartments where she was hanging out), she made friends with Smurfull, and in early June, shockingly since she was only about 6 months old according to her appearance, well, she and Smurfull were trying to start a family. And it worked. By late July, she was obviously pregnant (and still nowhere near full grown). I had thought that the gestation period for cats was around 3 months, but I was mistaken. It is only about 2 months. Thus, on August 3, I woke up to find Xiao Hua skinny again, obviously no longer pregnant. At first, I thought that she had a miscarriage, since it was so early and she was so small, but soon, I noticed her jumping over the brick wall into the downhill neighbors' yard, and disappearing into a hole under our cement. I followed her, to find her suckling a mass of little kittens. (By the way, it took Smurfull probably over 2 years to reach his full size and sexual maturity.)

I couldn't tell how many kittens there were at first. Eunice told me that there should be 4 of them, because she had felt them in Xiao Hua's abdomen, and it turned out that Eunice was correct. Once I was able to see the kittens clearly, there was a larger, light grey one (which was the only polydactyl one), one with a white nose turning to orange on its forehead, plus flecks of orange and white it its otherwise dark fur (a calico, so presumably female), a dark grey tabby cat type which resembled Smurfull more or less, and a tiny black one with some white on its underside. I told our neighbors about the kittens, and checked them daily, often seeing them suckling on Xiao Hua's chest, and other times, when Xiao Hua wasn't there, sleeping peacefully. Smurfull was also seen in the area oftentimes, checking on the kittens. We suspect he even helped build the den, certainly not the slacker father behavior that human controlled cat breeding has endowed male cats with. The kittens seemed pretty healthy, although as they approached the 2 week mark, I became concerned that they may have been underdeveloped and may not have been getting enough nutrition from Xiao Hua. When they were about 2 weeks old, the grey kitten and the calico started wandering out of the den, with Xiao Hua picking them up and putting them back. One day, when I went fishing on a Tuesday (during my summer break), I came home to hear Eunice tell me that one of the kittens had wandered down to the neighbors' house, so she asked the little boy who lives there to put it back in the den. It was the calico kitten. However, that evening I found that Xiao Hua had moved the kittens to our greenhouse area in our backyard (where we had hoped she would have the kittens in the first place). The next day, I noticed that all of the kittens' noses were covered with mucous and dirt. I cleaned them off, but the kittens were clearly sick and did not appear to be feeding. Xiao Hua was sneezing frequently, and appeared to have passed the cat version of the common cold to the kittens. Meanwhile, Eunice insisted that Xiao Hua would continue to keep the kittens fed. By Thursday, it was obvious to me that Xiao Hua was not producing milk anymore, and the kittens were starving and overheating. Two of them, the grey one and the calico, were crying a great deal, and already walking. However, only one of the kittens, the grey one, had opened its eyes. The littlest kitten died Thursday afternoon in 105-110 degree heat. The one which resembled Smurfull died on Friday afternoon in similar heat. Finally, Eunice was convinced that the kittens were not feeding and needed help. Xiao Hua was licking the kittens, moving them around, and trying to suckle them, but to no avail. Meanwhile, I was reading about kittens and mother cats on the internet. I found out that when a kitten's nose is blocked by mucous, it cannot smell the milk so it does not feed, a common cause of death in kittens. The kittens not feeding is probably what caused Xiao Hua to stop lactating.

We took the kittens into our patio, and attempted to hand feed them using the cat replacement milk and milk bottle we had purchased in April at Wal-Mart in our unsuccessful attempt to save the kitten we called Sweety. (I wrote about that on this blog at the time.) As it turned out, the grey kitten, which had been the largest and strongest one, had deteriorated quickly without food, and was too weak to feed even with the bottle. It died Saturday morning. The calico, which we named Sweety2, was doing better. Eunice was able to get her to down frequent meals (including nightime ones) of cat replacement milk, so for about 3 days, we thought her condition was improving and she would probably survive. However, on Sunday, we tried to figure out what had happened to her eyes, which never opened, and couldn't find any eyes, just flesh. On Monday, the place where her right eye should have been became very swollen and produced puss, and she seemed to be weakening. On Tuesday, the place where her left eye should have been also became swollen, and it became very difficult to feed her. Finally, Sweety2 died around 10 p.m. Tuesday evening. It had been just over 3 weeks since her birth. Of course, they were cats, not baby humans, but the whole experience was very distressing. All of this was happening during my summer break, too, preoccupying us so that we didn't go anywhere. (We finally decided to take a short trip starting on Wednesday, although I felt somewhat guilty about going on a trip at the time.)

All of the kittens were adorable, although I suspect only the grey one was developing normally until it became sick. Since I was only a child when Wandery had her kittens, I don't really remember what normal kitten development is like, though. We still are wondering what was wrong with Sweety2's eyes. Kittens' eyes are supposed to open between about 7-14 days after birth, although they do not see well at first. It certainly wasn't the kitten raising experience I had hoped for, to say the least. Burying little kittens is not my idea of a fulfilling experience, but it is part of learning about the great cycle of life. We also learned a lot about raising kittens and kitten development through this process. I had not realized just how small and helpless young kittens were before. (Even the smallest ones available for adoption are far more advanced than young kittens.) Of course, we mourned the loss of the kittens, but realize as Darwin did, that animals such as cats (and even humans) tend to far overproduce young with the expectation that many will die in a harsh environment. Hopefully, some better adapted ones will survive, the way that Smurfull and Xiao Hua did (the only survivors in their respective broods, I suspect). Sweety2 seemed very resilient and strong-willed, but sadly, even she could not survive her severe infection. We are hoping that Smurfull and Xiao Hua will have kittens again when Xiao Hua is full grown and more mature, larger, healthier kittens, and that she won't get sick at that time, but rather pass antibodies to that germ to her offspring. Xiao Hua seemed sad and worried about her kittens for several days, but soon recovered.

When we came home on Saturday from our trip, I saw Smurfull and Xiao Hua playing, and even saw Xiao Hua chase Smurfull up our Silver Dollar Eucalyptus tree until he was at least 10 feet above the ground. Hope continues to spring anew. As for the past, at least we -- both their cat and human parents -- showed the kittens our love during the short time that they were here.

April 11-12, 2010

This One is for Sweety

Einstein said that nothing is stupider than trying to do the same thing over and over, and expecting better results the next time. However, learning from one's mistakes is a different matter. So is the serendipity of statistical probability in which random events change outcomes from one trial to the next. My wife's and my experience with pet cats is a case in point.

The first cat that my wife Eunice and I adopted from an animal shelter was Mimi Mittens. She was one year old, hyperactive (probably the reason her previous owners gave her up), and "an excellent mouser." The night we brought her home, we left her inside our house when we went to bed, but she kept banging on the doorknobs of our bedrooms, actually opening both bedrooms and entering at different times of the night. That was quite a talent. However, the next morning, Eunice went to work in the yard, and brought Mimi Mittens with her. After awhile, she disappeared while Eunice wasn't paying attention, and I was at school teaching. When I returned, we did a search for her. We found her, or what was left of her, lying on the street to which our cul-de-sac connects. A car had hit her in the head, and she must have died immediately.

The next cat was a shy Siamese female we named Cocolina. Perhaps Siamese cats have an aloof quality. I say perhaps, because later, we had a Siamese male we named Kona who was the complete opposite. He loved everybody, and everyone loved him -- both cats and people. However, Cocolina hid in the house, and once outside, had a tendency to disappear, only making brief appearances, and wasn't the trusting, affectionate cat we had hoped for. After about a month, she disappeared and never returned.

Around that time, we built a cat shelter in the backyard, which we started populating with cats from various shelters. We placed various "kitty beds," "kitty condos," cat toys and so forth inside in order to make a nice environment for them. Before long, however, the cats figured out how to squeeze through our chicken wire door, which consisted of two pieces of chicken wire going in opposite directions. (When I say we built it, I mean WE, as in Eunice and I, built it from scratch.) First, two more Siamese cats, Catalina and Kona, discovered how to do that, followed by other cats, although some cats continued to like the security of their new home. To top things off, the entire shelter fell down during a heavy wind. We repaired it, but it fell down yet again during another strong wind. Finally, we gave up on keeping cats there. Eventually, we had that area -- once again through our own labor -- built into a greenhouse which cats were welcome to visit, but not actually a home for cats. They were free to live outside from that time onward.

Several cats disappeared over the next couple of years, probably victims of the coyotes which inhabit this area. One cat named Jasmine, we never even got home from the animal shelter. When the employees tried to put her in a carrier, she bolted, ran off, and was never seen again. (It was outside. This was the same place where we got Kona, by the way, whom they just let happily wander around the grounds of the shelter.) Another one, a declawed adult long-haired male, Zhuei-Jia, choked to death on a furball while we were on vacation. Another kitten, Maxwell, was killed by a male Great Dane namedTrouble who lived on the next street over, but kept jumping over his fence and terrorizing the neighborhood. I think at least 3 neighbors including myself complained about this dog, so his owners had to keep him in an enclosure afterward. The final insult was when the adorable six-toed kitten I named Serena, was killed on our front porch by a female Labrador Retriever, several years ago. Serena had been a special gift from one of my favorite former students, who was working in an animal hospital. Since that time, our only new cat has been Smurfull Strayborne, a stray male who adopted us 4 years ago when he was a kitten, rather than the other way around. Meanwhile the murders of 2 of our cats by dogs has put me more firmly than ever, as a cat lover since I was a child, on the side of cats in the long conflict between the two pet species.

However, we eventually had success with keeping cats alive and well for many years. In addition to Smurfull, who is a savvy cat genius, other success stories have been Kona, although he died of a severe infection in 2008; Byootricia, a shy Ragdoll type female, although she got scared when the next door neighbors went on their roof last summer, where she liked to sleep, ran off and I haven't seen her since; and most of all, Gorjilina, our loyal and loving calico female. Another success has been a stray cat I call Hissy-Cat, an intelligent, well-intentioned (I think) but as the name implies, rather uncivilized cat, probably Smurfull's mother, who disappeared for something like 9 years, then amazingly reappeared last winter for one week wanting to eat our food. Apparently, she has been sucessful in finding someone to take care of her, and has thrived all these years. I guess that Hissy-Cat's caretakers were on vacation that week, and nobody was feeding her, so she returned to our yard. One thing all these cats have in common is high levels of intelligence for a cat (at least it seems that way to my perspicacious mind).

Eunice has mentioned from time to time that she would like to get another cat to keep Gorjilina and Smurfull company. Thus it was that Eunice informed me last week that her daughter Isabella wanted a cat to keep her company, but she was too busy to go to the shelter now that she has a job again after 16 months of unemployment. (She lives in another city in this region.) Last monday, we headed for the Moreno Valley Animal Shelter.

Animal shelters are distressing places for me. The thought that so many animals might be euthanized, invokes feelings of pity and compassion from me. I would like to help them all, but know that neither I nor my family can. The Moreno Valley Animal Shelter is no exception. In fact, it is worse than most, because it always seems to be full of pitiful, yapping dogs that one must pass in order to get to the cattery. Eunice had her eye on a cute little white Chihuahua (the unofficial city dog of Moreno Valley), but she had the self-discipline to continue to the cattery. There weren't that many cats there -- far fewer than the number of dogs, at least -- and most of the cats were not available yet. We had our eyes on two little orange kittens, one male, one female, and a one year old orange male, but none of them were available yet. Then we focused on an 11 year old declawed Siamese-type female who was already available. (I doubt that she was a purebred.) In the end, we picked a gorgeous, "muted calico" 2 year old female which the employee said was prone to run away, but when we held her, she took an instant liking to us. Since she resembled the cat who ran away at the shelter (although much easier to handle), Eunice decided to call her Jasmine. This was to be Isabella's cat. However, the employees said that first, she had to be spayed, so we agreed to return on Wednesday, after paying the fees which were much more expensive than those of any public shelter we had been to in the past. Strangely, this was our first time adopting a pet there. We had tried to adopt a couple of cats there in the past, but the cats are so popular there -- fortunately for the cats -- that we had to join a lottery to be selected the adopter, which we lost in both cases.

When we returned on Wednesday to pick up Jasmine, Eunice went to check whether any of the other cats we were interested in were still there. As it turned out, all of them had alreay been adopted, including the 11 year old Siamese -- once again, a good thing for the cats of Moreno Valley, but frustrating for us. Meanwhile, I stood in line at the front desk. I noticed that the woman in front of us was carrying a basket with the smallest kitten I could ever remember seeing. It was a little black and white thing, about 4 inches long, with ears that were folded forward, reminding me of a Scottish Fold. I don't know if that is normal for newborn kittens' ears to be that way or not. In any case, this kitten was already on its own and needed help. The woman who was holding the basket told us that the mother was a stray cat that must have given birth 1 to 2 weeks earlier. However, the mother had suddenly disappeared that day, and the other 2 kittens in the litter had already died. Eunice said wanted to take care of this kitten, which the employee at the shelter agreed was the best thing, since taking care of it would require finding a foster parent.

Thus, we took both Jasmine (whom the hospital employees had opened up only to find she apparently had already been spayed) and the tiny kitten home, and immediately headed to Wal-Mart to buy supplies for the baby cat. Amazingly, Wal-Mart had special kitten formula, which the bottle said should be fed to young kittens instead of cows' milk, and special little milk bottles for feeding little kittens or other animals by hand. Thus, we headed home well equipped, we thought, to take care of this tiny kitten. However, when we tried to feed her, she constantly cried in a squeaky little voice, writhing and moving her little cat arms, while the milk kept pouring out of her mouth. It was difficult to tell if any of the milk made it down her throat, but we figured that some did.

That night, I heard the kitten frequently, making her squeaking noises. I thought of naming her Squeaky because of the noises she made. During the day, Eunice fed her frequently, holding her tenderly in her little cloth towel, but she would never clamp down on the bottle's nipple. Eunice ended up just squirting milk into her mouth, and she would wind up wet all over her underside and all around her mouth. As instructed, Eunice would wipe off her bottom after feedings, and she expelled some diarrhea-like potty as well as some urine. Eunice and I also noticed that the kitten's abdomen was hard and appeared to be swollen. As time went on, she vocalized and struggled less, but we weren't sure whether that was a good sign that she was adjusting to her new routine, or a bad sign that she was weakening. It turned out to be the latter. Thursday night, I didn't hear the kitten. When I got up, I found her lying on the floor, apparently having crawled out of her little bed. Her underside and front legs were soaking wet. When I saw her, I was afraid she was dead, but she was alive, although she was no longer making noises and her movements were slow.

Nonetheless, Eunice optimistically discussed with me what to name her. I suggested "Squeaky," but she was unfamiliar with that word, and had difficulty with it, so she suggested "Sweety," as she was a very sweet little girl. Sweety is was. We even called my parents to ask if they had a small funnel, since ours was too large for the little bottle. Nonetheless, Eunice managed to devise a funnel made out of paper to pour the milk powder into the bottle. Then she fed Sweety, who this time, was actually opening her mouth, apparently asking for food, although she was not making any noise or moving much. I sat on the couch next to Eunice and Sweety, watching as the milk kept coming back out of Sweety's mouth. When finished with the feeding, Sweety suddenly went limp. "Oh no, I'm afraid she is dead!" Eunice told me. I was afraid she was correct, but somehow, both of us kept hoping she was simply taking a nap after feeding. A couple of times, Eunice said it appeared that Sweety was opening her little bright blue eyes. When she showed me, it was true. Perhaps she was saying goodbye.

Like those monkeys who carry around their dead babies for days, hoping for a miraculous recovery, we kept hoping and praying for Sweety to revive, but it wasn't to be. Eunice bundled her in her little green blanket and tied it with string. After an hour or so, we checked her, but this time, there was no opening of the eyes, no movement whatsoever. It was obvious that she was dead. It was time for me to be engage in my part time job as unpaid gravedigger for animals. As instructed by Eunice, I buried Sweety, blanket and all, under a pepper tree on our backyard hill.

After that, I went to Lake Perris (our local state reservoir) to try to process my sorrow while fishing on the marina docks. A helpless kitten, a homeless man, a worm on a hook, a fish on a hook, a tree root crossing Sweety's grave -- it is all part of the cycle of life, and it all reminded me of Sweety. We realize now that she was probably doomed from the beginning, but we can't help but wonder if we did something wrong. It is like that when those under one's care die. We figure that Sweety's mother probably abandoned her kittens because they were dying from some disease, perhaps parasitic worms. Maybe the mother cat died, as well; I suppose we will never know. But if Sweety is like some of my other departed cats, I may hear from her soon. For example, I had a very vivid appearance -- in a dream -- from Serena a few weeks after she died. She thanked me, in her cat way, for loving her and taking care of her. There have been other ones, as well. Actually, the first experience I had like this was with a human visitor, my 6 year old niece after she drowned. I don't know what happens with our essence after we die; I have no special knowledge, and am skeptical of those who claim that they do. But I do know that nothing in this universe is ever created or destroyed. I suspect we attract the conscious force of the universe, the God consciousness, and when our collection of molecules is done with its biological processes, this energy either goes back to the God consciousness, or enters another organism, which is my way of saying reincarnation.

Nonetheless, grief, whether for a departed human or an animal, is our way of saying that we love them, miss them, and want their souls to continue even after death. I have mourned the loss of unborn children, children, old folks, and various animals, and it is always the same. For me, grief is not about us, it is all about the departed. However briefly you were here on this earth, Sweety, we love you.

It is often said that a good measure of a society is how it treats its most helpless members. That goes for animals, too. Some people may think that having outside cats puts them in too much peril, but when the alternative is euthanization, our choice is a very loving one. My mother, who is very compassionate toward animals, always told her children that cats are happier when they can roam about, and perhaps have a choice of communing with humans in the safety of their homes or yards, by their own volition. A movie about a lion which was raised by humans, then set free when it was grown, "Born Free," was one of the first movies that I ever saw. I was never so proud of my mother as when she gave three teenagers who were abusing a squirrel, a tongue lashing, and shamed them into stopping their behavior. This was while on vacation in the mountains, when I was a teenager or in my early 20s myself, and the teens had been throwing rocks at the squirrel and thrashing it with pine tree branches, injuring the animal.

At this time, we are preparing to transfer Jasmine to Isabella's house. She has been overjoyed to be here, and a joy to be around. When Eunice was feeding Sweety, Jasmine kept climbing on Eunice's lap and licking Eunice. The only problem with Jasmine happened when we made the ill-advised move of introducing Gorjilina to her, hoping that they would be "friends." We put Gorjilina in our patio enclosure where we have been keeping Jasmine, to which Jasmine responded by immediately attacking Gorjilina, then biting Eunice. Apparently, Jasmine had already laid claim to the patio as her own territory, and blamed Eunice for allowing the intruder Gorjilina to enter her sanctuary. I think Jasmine will be better off not having to contend with other adult female cats, and Isabella's house fulfills that criteria. May Jasmine have a long, happy life in Isabella's care.

If only we could force all the world's soldiers, generals, and politicians to watch videos of their enemies' parents tenderly doting upon their children, the way I saw Eunice holding our "baby" Sweety, before they decide to engage in armed conflict, I believe we would finally have a truly peaceful world.