We had conquered the challenge of cat ownership but failed miserably at being dog parents. Were kittens something we were really ready to take on? Nicole and I had a very brief discussion and realized quickly that we couldn’t say no to the opportunity to help our former neighbor out.
Nicole asked how many kittens. The woman responded “About eight.”
I just assumed she wasn’t good at counting. You figure knowing how many kittens you had in your house was a skill you learned in kindergarten, right after Advanced Shapes and Colors and before advancing to Adolescent Cookie Dunking 101.
Apparently her math was a little shaky, because when she showed up two days later with a box full of dirty kittens we counted thirteen in all.
She asked us to take the three adult mothers with her that day but we couldn’t take them all in along with the kittens. We urged her to take the mothers to a local shelter and found out that ten minutes after she drove away from our home that our former neighbor just dumped them on the side of the road about two miles away from out house.
After making a few calls, two of the three cats were found and put into proper care at a local shelter. The third was never found. But I’m getting ahead of myself still have a box of kittens to tell about.
The kittens were a writhing mass of poop and pee and fur and little mewling noises, so we took them to the bathtub for a quick scrubbing. After cleaning them all up and drying them off we determined that four of the kittens were so young (probably only about five weeks old) that their ears had not even flipped up, so they needed to be separated from their older siblings for their own safety.
That first night we kept the Peanuts in the bathtub since they were too small to even jump out of the tub. The remaining kittens were put into our smallest of three bedrooms where they were left free to roam and explore as kittens are wont to do.
On day two we realized we were in it for the long haul and would be raising these kittens until they were ready to be adopted out. We decided to make sure every single cat had their shots and got fixed before we found them new homes. But our first task (second if you count that bath that all thirteen cats seemed to hate) was to come up with names for all of these little balls of fluff.
The Four Peanuts were moved out of the bathtub and into the dog crate that used to belong to Nori. That allowed them to be in the same room with their brothers and sisters but also be kept safely from their older siblings. We named them, because they were all either black or gray, Biddy, Boo, Ash and Smoke. Of the remaining nine slightly older kittens there were two fluffy black and white (tuxedo) kittens (Chuck and Casey), two mirror image tuxedo twins (Xena and Gabrielle), and five black kittens.
The black kittens were the hardest to tell apart at first, even though their personalities started to come out right away. Nicole and I came up with an idea of using color-coded collars, so we bought four different collars to assign to the black cats. We assigned the multi-colored spiral collar to Neko (promised to our friend Gena), the pink collar to Ninja (promised to a friend I made riding the bus to work every day), the red collar to Ophelia and no collar to Mr. Black.
The last collar, the blue one, was assigned to Yorick, the ring-leader of the kittens. He established himself right away as my favorite so I named him after one of my favorite comic book characters (Yorick Brown from “Y – The Last Man”). It was an appropriate name because he was mischievous and an expert at escape, just like the character he was named after. I think Nicole and I realized very early that we would only be adopting out twelve of the thirteen kittens and that Yorick would be staying with us. He was my buddy from the beginning and there was no way he wouldn’t become cat number three in the Lombardi family.
The Peanuts were actually the first to be re-homed. After only four days of caring for them they were reunited with their mother in foster care, set up by our friend Donna (the resident neighborhood “cat lady” who was an invaluable resource from day one), so we had eight cats left to be adopted. The next to go was Casey (renamed Tikka), to the sister of one of Nicole’s high school friends, leaving us with seven to go.
The remaining kittens were fixed and the folks at Forgotten Cats helped us defer many of the costs. They’ve become one of my favorite charitable organizations and I’m sure to donate to them every year because of what they did for us. They also helped us to discover that Xena was actually a boy (surprisingly not the case for the character on TV) so we renamed him X-Man. We said goodbye to Chuck (taken in by my friend Tom, who renamed him Dragon) and we were left with six cats to re-home. We took a car trip to Brooklyn to deliver Neko to our friend Gena and were down to five. X-Man was the next to go (to my brother-in-law’s cousin) and we were down to four. Mr. Black was renamed Mr. Glass and went to our friends Bryan and Judy (who in turn renamed him Mr. Moto) and just like that we were down to three.
Ninja was our project cat. She was always skittish, sort of an outsider among her brothers and sisters and acted almost like an autistic child. So the day that she crawled into Nicole’s lap and began purring was one of the most amazing and heartwarming days of our lives. Shortly thereafter she was delivered to my friend Rob, and Nicole’s tears meant that we were down to just two cats left.
By then Yorick (an official family member), Ophelia and Gabrielle had been let free to roam the house with Saku and Cleo, so it felt more like a house of five cats. Around the same time Gabrielle really started to bond with Nicole. One day we renamed her Maggie, and then decided she would become cat number four in our household, which meant there was just one more cat for which we needed to find a new home.
After meeting many new potential adopters we found a gentleman on Craigslist who seemed perfect. He had recently lost a beloved cat to old age and wanted to find a new companion for him and his remaining kitty. Ophelia was adopted to him (and became Mi-Mi) at the end of September and we had succeeded in finding a new home for each and every kitten that came to us that day in late June.
I learned many things from the experience, the biggest of which was that caring for thirteen kittens was immensely easier than caring for just one puppy. I also learned that taking a part in their lives was incredibly fulfilling. Knowing that we helped to shape the lives of these kittens and get them used to being around people was one thing. Understanding that we kept them from the potentially short lives of living on the streets was wonderful. And feeling the love back from them as we raised them from mewling poo-covered messes to happy, healthy young cats is something that’s difficult to describe.
So, I’ll say this: It was life-altering. Raising those cats and finding new homes for them was something I knew I wanted to do again and again. Having Yorick and Maggie in our lives as parts of our newly extended family was also a great feeling.
I felt complete. I have the wife, the home and now the kids. Except in this case, all of my children have paws. And I wouldn’t have it any other way.