Topaz is much happier this evening than she’s been in a month. At five a.m. I startled awake to her hissing and growling at the kittens in their crate downstairs. I tossed and turned for awhile, and tried to call her upstairs. Eventually she came, and let me rub her belly (and finger comb an awful amount of weeds from her fur). It soothed both of us back to sleep. Later in the morning, I delivered the kittens and all their belongings to a shelter staff member who met me in Hotchkiss. I hope Topaz doesn’t think she accomplished this by hissing at them this morning. It was in the works for days.
I’m grateful that mindfulness kept me from locking into a judgmental, agitated assessment of the shelter. Last week I was finally able to speak with the director, who was appalled and apologetic to hear of my unfortunate experience with the foster coordinator, and let me know I wasn’t the only one with complaints. We were able to have a clear, open conversation about all that went awry, and appreciate each other’s honesty and grace. Once the director reassured me that my experience with FC wasn’t characteristic of the shelter as a whole, I was able to examine my motivations and assess more accurately the reality of keeping either or both kittens.
I reflected that when FC had said I should bring them back when they’re two months, because “people are always coming in wanting a kitten,” I had a knee-jerk reaction to the way he had just manhandled them, and thought No way am I bringing them back here. So part of my motivation to keep them was to protect them from him, or from any abuse. Part of my initial motivation for fostering them had been to maybe end up with a kitten, but that was purely a selfish longing. I was able to admit that the one I fell in love with, and would have kept, was the one who died, and I realized as I continued to care for the others, and cuddle them, that–cute as they were–I wasn’t feeling the same connection to them. Also, to think that I was the only person who could give them a good home was just ego.
At the same time, I considered carefully my attention budget and my energy level, and realized I didn’t have enough of either to take on longterm responsibility for another little life. There were numerous pragmatic reasons–including Topaz–to let them go now that they were weaned and active enough to need, and deserve, a lot more space and interaction. Finally, I thought about attachment. It came clear to me that spiritual growth is my highest priority; simplifying my life and letting go, my path.
Buddha advises us to relinquish attachments, knowing that all things are impermanent and that clinging brings suffering; and knowing that at the end, whenever that comes, we all have to release our attachment to our own life. So by practicing letting go of attachments as we age, especially to things we care about, we can practice for the ultimate letting go, and die with grace and ease rather than fear and suffering. With this in mind, I’ve already begun giving away some valued heirlooms to younger family members, and being more generous with other things as well. So I looked hard at my attachment to having a kitten (or two), and it vaporized. I looked at my attachment to outcome, also, and understood that even if I kept I could not prevent them from coming to a sad end (like Ojo). Understanding the shelter conditions and policies–they would be housed together and given daily affection and enrichment activities (like training to high-five), and there is a comprehensive vetting process for adopters–I was able to release my fears for their future.
And so it came to pass that this morning, on my way to get my second Covid booster, I handed off the precious little beings with sincere gratitude for all that I learned from the experience, from how to bottle-feed kittens (which might come in handy some other time) to the importance of understanding, patience, and letting go, and lots of insights in between. I am at peace having made a wise choice, Wren misses them, and Topaz is delighted. I hope she doesn’t think she can get rid of Wren the same way!
Her name is Wren. It came to me last week as I pondered “Ready,” which she responded to, and “Fen,” which I kind of liked better. Then those two merged into Wren, a sweet, delicate, little brown bird. Wrennie. She doesn’t know it starts with a different letter than Ready, and she came to it immediately; maybe thinking I’d developed a sudden speech impediment with that middle consonant.
Then, several people said, “Oh, like Ren and Stimpy?” What’s that? I had no idea there was a cartoon about some revolting creatures called “Ren, an emotionally unstable and sociopathic Chihuahua; and Stimpy, a good-natured yet dimwitted cat.” So no, NOT like that Ren; like a canyon wren, or a house wren, or a Carolina wren…
In the woods, May is the blooming month. Lots of little lives burgeoning.
Little Tigger fluctuated between eating well and gaining a bit, then losing weight. Last Wednesday he seemed listless. We had an appointment with a vet for the next day, and I had to go to the audiologist that afternoon, so I called a local foster expert, and she suggested giving him straight honey with a syringe. I did that for a couple of doses and he vomited after each dose. I cut back the dose and lengthened the interval and he seemed to keep it down and perk up. That night I offered him the food/formula slurry and he ate it well. Thursday morning he ate well again. I took them all to the vet with some stool samples, and the diagnosis was that he was “loaded with parasites.” He was also tested for FIV, and fortunately was negative. They gave him subcutaneous fluids to hydrate him. All three kittens were dosed for parasites, and we were sent home with medicine to administer daily for a week.
Tigger ate well Thursday and Friday, cleaning his own bowl and finishing off Smokey’s when he left some in it. I was so relieved to have him sorted out and on the mend. This morning, when I came down at seven, he lay limp in the corner as his brothers climbed and called for breakfast. I set them in their boxes with food, and picked up the tiny boy. It was clear to me that he was dying. I cradled him in my shirt and sang to him. He lay there, softly ticking… I thought it was a death rattle. After awhile, it dawned on me that it was a slow-motion purr.
I remembered Foster Friend telling about holding a dying puppy on her chest overnight, dosing it with honey, and how it came back to life. I thought about dehydration. I mixed a little water with maple syrup, and began to drip little bits into his mouth. He swallowed, his eyes brightened; I thought either I was prolonging his agony or I was reviving him. When I saw him lick his paw, I committed to the revival story. For the next few hours I gave him intermittent drips of fluid. He meowed a few times, yowled a few times, rested quietly, swallowed more, looked up at me… As I meditated and then talked with friends on zoom, he got very quiet and still. By the end of our conversation he was dead. I wrapped him in a cotton square, and buried him in the garden with Stellar.
I felt sad. I’m grateful for the skill of equanimity. Through the morning I kept things in perspective. Even as he lay warm and loved against my heart, there were thousands of kittens around the world dying of parasites in awful surroundings; there were human babies suffering malnutrition, neglect, and worse; there were species going extinct, and wars ravaging lives and cultures; there were politicians lying and corporations conniving; there were good people dropping dead in the prime of their life, and a pandemic surging again with a new, even more contagious variant. In a world of suffering, I loved a tiny kitten through his short little life and his inevitable death. It wasn’t much, but it was something.
Meanwhile, more little lives continue sprouting in the garden. The first potato leaves emerge from mulch as tiny peach buds open. I turn my attention to the ample beauty and life that remains to be nurtured as the garden rollercoaster ramps up…
Fostering these kittens is a wonderful experience, and I’m grateful for the opportunity. It’s also been fraught with frustrations but not from the kittens: communications with the shelter have been sketchy from the start, supplies inadequate, and there was an unfortunate visit with the foster coordinator last week that traumatized at least three out of four of us.
Three people told me three different ages for them. The person who called said they were two-and-a-half to three weeks old, one maybe older. They had been brought in that morning by a person who “picked them up from a place where there were a lot of cats.” They needed to be placed that night. I was excited to take them. I’ve hand-raised baby parrots, but always wanted to bottle-feed something and was happy to help out.
The woman who delivered them to me in the Safeway parking lot, about halfway between the shelter and my home, said the black one was already spoken for and named Smokey. She gave me the name and number of the woman who had brought them in and said she’d like some updates. She also gave me one can of powdered formula, a small bag of kitten food cans, a heating disc, a package of one bottle and several nipples, and some cursory verbal instructions. When I asked again how many weeks old they were, she said “three-ish.” Later the foster coordinator told me they were listed as four weeks old at that time.
It seemed like it would be easy enough. Mix the formula, warm it, and give them the bottle. It wasn’t that easy. For five days, they failed to ‘latch’ onto the nipple, and feeding was cumbersome, messy, and insufficient. That first night I searched online and found the Kitten Lady videos, learned what was supposed to happen, and also learned about the ‘miracle nipple.’ The next day I let the foster coordinator (FC) know they weren’t eating well, and he suggested I look up the Kitten Lady. It occurred to me then that it would have been helpful if they had arrived into my naive, first-time foster care with an instruction sheet and a link to the Kitten Lady. By then I knew I would be back in Junction on Monday to meet the potential new dog, so I arranged to bring the kittens in for a lesson in bottle feeding. He mentioned then that he had these great miracle nipples that might help. Why, I wondered, had he not sent the miracle nipples along in the first place?
Then I learned that the woman who found them and claimed Smokey has an email address at the shelter. If she worked there and wanted the kitten, why did she send it out to be raised? A small question, and I’m sure she had her reasons. But then why so vague about the kittens’ provenance?
After a couple of days I advanced the largest kitten onto a slurry of the canned paté and formula in a bowl, feeding him in a tall cardboard box, and he ate well. Smokey progressed to the slurry after a few days, but Tigger ate very little and had liquid poop, a big no-no according to the Kitten Lady. At one point all the kittens had loose stools.
We took the kittens to the shelter on Monday, and after coming and going from the room several times the FC finally set us up with a bowl of food for the older kittens–a large bowl full of adult-size cat food shreds, ¾” long by ⅛” wide, that both Pitbull and Smokey dove into. All the way, face first. It didn’t seem right to me, but I figured, hey, he’s the foster coordinator, he must know that’ll be ok for them. Stupid me.
Then he gave me a lesson on bottle-feeding Tigger, during which he did everything the Kitten Lady had expressly said not to do, including forcing the nipple into the mouth, and turning the kitten onto its back to feed it. I said, “Here, let me try,” and took Tigger back, holding him gently and offering the nipple.
I asked again, to clarify, whether they were supposed to supply everything I needed to foster. Yes, absolutely everything, was the answer. “I’ll need some more canned food,” I said, and proceeded to list the remaining obvious supplies: wipes, litter, more formula mix. Resupply had been part of the plan we’d agreed upon, and I was surprised that I had to specify everything I’d need, and that it wasn’t already boxed up for us. I mentioned that I live 90 miles away and wouldn’t be able to come back for more. FC left the room again to gather supplies. In short order the tiny kitten began to suck. How wonderful it would have been to have had the miracle nipples for the first five days of fostering, instead of the unwieldy puppy nipples that came. Meanwhile, Pitbull and Smokey in the crate got covered in goo from the food.
When Tigger was done feeding, I handed Smokey, who was a mess, to FC to wipe down while I cleaned Pitbull. There was a box of wipes on the table, but FC struggled to open the new, sealed box he had brought for me, until I pointed out there was an open box right there. Then FC took Smokey across the room and held him over the garbage can as he cleaned him, kitten screaming, while I wiped down Pitbull. When Smokey was returned to me bedraggled and limp, he was still goopy, so I gently wiped him down again.
FC had set a small bag of litter, a sack of canned food, and an opened half-can of formula (“this should be enough”) on the table. Once the kittens were back in the crate, I said I’d need some help getting stuff to the car. “Oh. Sure,” he said, and gathered the supplies into his hands. After we left, it struck me that everything about his attitude and actions suggested he was stoned.
Smokey was still wet and limp when we got home. I dried and cuddled him. Over the next 48 hours he ate less and less, his little belly bloated. Monday night I discovered that the entire bag of canned food was adult cat food, not kitten paté. I texted FC to ask if they could ship me some kitten food or reimburse me for buying some, since kittens have different nutritional needs than adults. FC responded with, “Oh my goodness, I’m sorry, I didn’t look close enough but it was in the kitten section!!” He said he’d look into options. Three days later he got back to me, saying he still didn’t know about reimbursing or shipping, but that the adult food should be fine. Not on my watch. Meanwhile, I’d already asked a friend to pick up some kitten food while she was in town.
On Tuesday I put Smokey back on the bottle instead of offering slurry. By Wednesday afternoon he had become listless and quit moving. I thought he was going to die, and planned to take him to the vet on Thursday morning. That evening I gave him a warm soak in the tub, then held him and rubbed his belly for awhile, thinking maybe one of those shreds had gotten impacted or I don’t know what. It was an anxious night, but I was delighted in the morning to see him romping again with his brothers.
It’s Monday again. I ran out of litter yesterday, and formula this morning. Wipes will be gone tomorrow. It’ll be almost three weeks until they reach the alleged two month age at which I supposedly relinquish them back to the shelter. Tigger has gained only 10g in 10 days, about a tenth of what he should have. After his setback, Smokey is eating well and gaining weight again after losing for three days. FC has responded vaguely and slowly to my missives, saying he can’t guarantee that they’ll reimburse me for the cost of the supplies I’ve ordered, and that I’ll need to bring Tigger to a vet in Junction because they don’t have one in Delta. A local vet provided enough formula today to tide us over until the can I ordered arrives Thursday. Litter and wipes are on the way. I’m taking Tigger to a closer vet on Thursday and will pay the bill myself, since I intend to keep him.
I understand that all shelters are overrun and understaffed these days, but I am disillusioned with this unprofessional, slacker approach from an organization that had a good reputation and relies on volunteers. There are a few other annoying details, but I’ve gone on long enough. It’s been a joy to tend to these kittens, and a headache to deal with the logistics. A couple of four hour sleeps each night and a nap or two each day, and my mindfulness practice is in tatters. I’ve alienated a friend with my impatience, and let my best self down. I won’t be fostering for this shelter again, for sure, and I doubt I’ll foster anything ever again anyway, since I’m what they call a “foster fail”: I’m going to keep both the tabby kittens, giant little Pitbull and tiny sweet Tigger. After the time, energy, affection, and money I’ve invested, just let that FC try and take them away from me!