Thursday, November 06, 2008

Life - Grey

Grey is female cat, the mom of either the three kittens or the larger kitten we've come to call Mike. Based on her behavior, I'd guess it was the former.

She was around a bit at the store since I started working there, darting in and out of the spaces left by the various pallets of dirt, rocks, and other yard type stuff. With no obvious external markings we had no idea if Grey was a female or a male.

The kittens were the first hint.

The fact that every time we saw the kittens, we saw her scampering away, that was the second hint.

We put out some food for Grey, and when we saw the kittens munching on it, we knew we could capture all of them since the kittens were weaned.

I caught the three little kittens by hand, tracking them to some of their favorite hiding spots, uncovering the spot (the worst was moving about 20 pressure treated 4x4s, but one involved only moving one layer of plastic sheet), and then returning an hour or two later. Predictably they trotted to their hiding spots where, suddenly, the ceiling had disappeared. I'd scoop them up, Bella being the easiest (she was the rear guard and tried to protect herself - the twins would run though).

Mike was more of a challenge - he preferred to hide under 2000 to 4000 pounds of various soils and such, and as much as I wanted to catch him, moving a couple pallets of topsoil by hand wasn't on my list of "things I can do in a few minutes". I focused on the little kittens and Grey because we had a vet appointment and I still hadn't caught Grey.

A HavAHart trap did the trick and Grey found herself at the Hopmeadow Animal Hospital about 30 minutes later, a kind group of people who did all they could to make her comfortable. After gaining some weight, a "fix" (spay), and some rest & recovery, I went and picked up Grey.

I'd been feeling conflicted about this bit the whole time Grey was at HAP.

It didn't seem fair that the three kittens would find homes, or even Mike, but that Grey couldn't get that. She never attacked anyone but she seemed very afraid of people. Her experience in the cage and the carrier taught her that she had no control in such areas, and her behavior reflected this concept. She'd lay passively if you pet her, staring at you, but she wouldn't try and get away.

On the other hand, she resisted fiercely when transferring her from one cage to another (or to a carrier). I waited about 10 minutes for the assistant to bring out Grey - apparently she fought ferociously to stay out of the carrier, but ultimately, with a couple people there, her fight ended unsuccessfully.

She showed she has some spirit, some fire. But she's not "gone", not in the Colonel Kurtz sense.

Her fur is battleship grey with only a tiny bit of white, I think on her underside. It looks sleek, much more sleek than a feral cat "ought" to look. Her compact size (she weighed 7.5 lbs when we caught her, she's probably a bit heavier with a regular diet) fits my idea of "a cat I'd like to have".

So how could I let her go? Winter approaches, and with it comes extremely cold temperatures and, I think, scarce food.

But when I thought of Grey sitting in a house, or in a cage, with windows separating her from the outdoors, I could only think of one thing.


Elsa was a cub in the movie Born Free, and it was one of the first movies I watched that struck me at my core. I was only a kid at the time, so maybe my emotions were even more jumpy than usual, but I remember the aching I felt when I realized that (at least in the movie) Elsa really belonged in the wild.

Grey was our Elsa.

So I picked her up, talking for a few minutes with one of the HAP people about her, getting the various reports on her health and her possible future with a people family, and left with a twitching nose Grey.

I thought of a lot on the short drive to the store. I was going to splurge for a Frontline treatment, but that was nixed by the fact that Grey had gotten a flea treatment at HAP. I didn't want to poison her. I had contemplated getting a flea collar and decided against it for the same reason. I would like to build her a little shelter, one that would help her keep warm and allow me to get some flea powder in her bed when it gets warmer again. But that will be in a short bit - right now she'll have to make it on her own.

She complained a bit on the way to the store - cats, I find, don't like the combination of carrier and car. Her head sank a bit, the nose twitch gone.

When I got out of the car, though, her demeanor instantly changed.

Her head lifted up, her nose twitched again, more than when we first left HAP. She started looking around, her head darting this way and that. She seemed excited, if I can use that term with a cat.

I walked to one of the few openings into the crawlspace below the store, the one that she ran to each time I approached the nearby kittens.

I set the carrier down gently and paused. I didn't know what to do. I wanted to find someone that would take her, to protect her from all the dangers living in the wild. Okay, even if it's downtown Simsbury, we have bears walking around regularly, so it's wild enough.

Then I thought of Elsa.

I opened the top of the carrier. I hoped that in the brief moment before she ran away that I'd be able to have her get my scent, to show that I wasn't a threat. Or maybe she'll associate me with the hated carrier, I don't know. But I pet her, rubbed her, opening the carrier a little more every minute or two. Although she never totally relaxed, she did let me check her neck for what I thought was a tick or a flea (it was a scab which I picked just to be sure).

After ten minutes or so I'd opened the carrier top all the way. Nothing between her and the world, just my arm poking in and stroking her head. Her tail never fuzzed, her mouth never opened, and her claws never extended in attack. She sat there, nose twitching, looking around.

Then it was done.

She jumped lightly out of the carrier and trotted into the crawlspace, taking a left under there, and disappearing from view.

I crawled over and poked my head inside. The crawlspace, perhaps three feet tall at the opening, is separated into dirt banks of sorts, one bank per set of posts holding up the building. The next bank was only six or eight feet away, and I couldn't see anything beyond it.

I stopped and listened, but she was too wary or too far.

I picked up the extremly light carrier and went into the store, to report that Grey was back in town. I picked up some odds and ends I needed for the house and left. I took the long way back to the car, walking down the dirt driveway next to the building, the driveway where we leave our outdoor-able pallets.

I looked for a flash of grey, maybe a pair of eyes peering at me from under a pallet, but I only heard the slight rustling of leavings, the crunch of my boots on the dirt and gravel. I drove away still feeling a bit hollow inside.

This morning, when I got to work, I set out a bowl of food inside the crawlspace.


knitseashore said...

What an incredibly hard thing to do for Grey. Maybe once she gets used to being back in her home again, she'll come visit you at mealtime. Some feral cats do become people-friendly over time, even if only to certain people.

You are killing us with those kitten pictures.

Aki said...

It was hard for sure. I didn't mention this but we tried to find a place that would adopt out Grey but no one would take her. The closest we got was a place in MA that would take feral cats, but only from MA. I think, though, in the end it was okay.