Thursday, May 3, 2012

Kitten Season

On the way to a new home!

It was an exceptionally busy Sunday at the end of March. We had just come home from the morning church service, and were preparing to have guests over for lunch. I had dropped off my Bible and a few things in my bedroom and was hurrying to the kitchen, when I heard the pitiful mewing coming from one of the empty lots next door to us. My heart sank as I remembered that it was “Kitten Season”, those months of the year when cats breed freely and irresponsible cat owners take the unwanted kittens and drop them off in empty lots or on the outskirts of town. A quick trip out the front gate and down the sidewalk confirmed my suspicions. There was a bewildered mother cat sitting on a pile of construction rubble. Beside her was one small kitten probably no more that ten or twelve days old and further down the rubble pile were three more tiny gray and white kittens.

Kittens soon after they were abandoned
My family first learned the hard facts about kitten season and the sad reality that there are no animal shelters of any sort in most Brazilian cities, when we lived in Catanduva during the 1990’s. Our home at that time was close to the edge of the city as well as being next door to a dirt road; it was a prime place for people to drop kittens. We kids usually found the abandoned kittens, of varying sizes, colors, and health conditions, as we were out playing with our friends or walking our dogs. Whenever you find a box or bag of mewing kittens, a difficult decision had to be made. Do I take them home? Should I try to find loving homes for them? Should I leave them there in hopes that the improbable will happen and someone else will care for them? Taking stray kittens home has never been a good option for us. Our family already fills our house nicely, and we have always had a dog or two and a few canaries. We also have to take into consideration that we frequently have guests in our home.  Finding new homes for kittens is a good idea, but experience has taught us that it is extremely hard to do. Leaving the kittens where they are with the faint hope that someone else will have pity on them is a hard option to consider, especially for a hopeless animal lover like myself. We eventually learned to do what we could for the kittens. Every year in one of the empty lots near our house, Dad with some help from the boys would build a cat house using anything they could find. I remember one year the cat house was made out of the empty body of a wash machine. Another year Dad found an extra large slab of cement and simply propped it up so that the kittens could run under it to find shelter.  Dad and my brothers not only became experts at building weatherproof cat houses, but they also developed several techniques for rescuing kittens from storm drains with unmovable lids. During kitten season whenever one of us found a kitten or a whole litter of kittens, we would take them to our cat house. Joy and I would carry food to them several times a day. Mom with her nursing skills helped us treat their minor eye infections, funguses, and common parasites. During the seven or eight years that we rescued kittens, a few of our kittens did go to new homes, a few died, but most of them grew up and wandered off on their own.

Empty lot next door to us
In 2004, we moved into a well established neighborhood in the bustling city of Presidente Prudente. The fact that this new home was a good distance away from the edge of town meant that we did not rescue any kittens for the next five years. Of course it also helped that the neighbor on our right was a cat lover, who adopted the occasional stray that wondered on to our road. We moved out of that house in 2009, and into the house where we currently live in the neighborhood called “São Marcos” (Saint Mark). São Marcos is a relatively quiet neighborhood. It is well populated, but yet not crowded. There are still a good number of empty lots waiting for someone to buy them and build a house. Our road is particularly quiet. We have two neighbors on our right side and a third neighbor diagonally across the road from us. Directly across the road from us are three empty lots, and next door to us on our left are three empty lots. Even with all the empty lots around us, we really haven’t had a problem with people abandoning kittens on our road. That is we hadn’t had a problem until that Sunday that the mother cat and her four kittens were dropped off.

Once again Dad built a weatherproof cat house. This time two warped cupboard doors, a cardboard box, a selection of broken bricks, and several armfuls of johnson grass (to shed rain and give shade) went into the construction of the house. We put the kittens in the house and the mother cat was content to care for them there for the next two and a half weeks. At that point, the kittens were beginning to eat on their own, and again we faced that familiar, yet still difficult decision. Should we leave the kittens alone and allow the mother to raise them to be wild? Or should we help the kittens learn to eat and try to find homes for them? We chose the latter option in this case. Mom, Joy and I brought the kittens home on Saturday, April 7th, and began teaching them to eat.  We also immediately began doing propaganda for “free kittens”. This included putting up posters around the neighborhood, asking everyone that crossed our path if they were interested in a feline companion, and joining four other people, who had “abandoned kittens needing good homes”, in putting an ad in the local newspaper. The Lord abundantly blessed and opened up homes for each of the four kittens. The only male kitten found his home two days later through the newspaper ad. The three females were a little bit harder to place, but we ended up taking them to two “feiras” later that week. A “feira” is an open air market where venders set up tables and sell everything from flip-flops and homemade cheese to fresh produce and cheap toys. Just about every day of the week here in Prudente there is a feira in a different neighborhood. Joy and I, first of all, took the remaining three kittens to the Thursday morning feira out by our old house. We walked all through the feira and up and down the busiest roads in that neighborhood, and found a home for one kitten. Later that evening, Dad and I took the last two kittens to the feira in Ana Jacinta, which is a neighborhood near the church. This was one of the largest feiras in town. Government officials had blocked off three roads to accommodate the feira and both sides of each of the roads were lined with venders. Lots and lots of people were out shopping, and we took the opportunity to offer them a free cat.  We discovered that the vast majority of the folks shopping for their weekly supply of fresh fruits and veggies are either are unable to have cats for a variety of reasons or else they already have too many cats, but after much walking and asking, we found two people that were very happy to accept a kitten. 

Sundae Snoozing
 We considered having the mother cat spayed and then turning her loose to scavenge for her living. There are already several cats in our neighborhood that survive this way. Mom and we girls, however, became quite fond of her as we cared for her and her little ones and Dad has given us permission to keep her.  The cat, now named Sundae, and our family are currently going through an adjustment period. We have never had a cat in the house as a permanent resident before, and for some odd reason we keep being surprised that she doesn’t act and react like a dog. Sundae on the other hand finds it hard to understand why she can’t sharpen her claws wherever she pleases and why we insist that the birds are not to be eaten.  I do believe there are some good indications that we are all going survive this period, though. Each of us is quickly becoming a cat lover and Sundae…well, it isn't taking her long to learn to enjoy a life of leisure.