Thursday, December 04, 2008

Life - Hidden Costs

So we still have four kittens at the house. Technically three are still up for adoption, just to set the record straight.

Bella, she's been well integrated into the family. She seems to be the only one willing to jump into a cat box with Tiger, she is trying hard to displace him as the feline that cuddles up under the blankets with us, and she's always the first to come exploring when something new happens.

Tiger, except for the "under blanket choice" thing, seems to take it in stride. He scoots away quickly if Bella ends up under the blankets, but otherwise, well, he's pretty good about things.

Tiger sitting in the recently liberated cat carrier. An idea of scale here... compare it with this shot:

Three kittens in that same carrier.

Bella just delirious with comfort.

Tiger is a friendly cat.

What a smirk.

The other cats are integrating well too. We now have a taste for their personalities. Hal, the white male (straight-across mohawk pattern) is most like Bella. He's a human Geiger counter - walk into his vicinity and he'll start purring like crazy. He'll poke his nose into everything, boldly curious, loves to chase the Stick (a set of "fishing rod dowels" with a zip tie or a broken Livestrong Band tied to it via a long string). He chirps like Tiger does when he's happy or satisfied or making an effort - he'll run somewhere, chirp, run somewhere else, chirp, and so on.

Riley, his twin sister (V-shape in the mohawk) is more cautious. She'll check all around her spot for the best way down, carefully weighing her options before deciding on one. She'll play, but she'll let the others play first, then when they're worn down, she'll jump in. A tactical cat, if you will. She doesn't purr except when she's really sleepy, and she'll hide (and stay hiding) if she has any doubts about what's going on.

Mike is the big soft bruiser. Mean looking, he's the most skittish of all the cats. Usually my first sight of him when I come home is his tail as he dives for cover behind the bed. But a minute later he'll come trotting over and plunk himself down, content to hang out near the Humans. He loves to drape over the edge of furniture, dangling his paws, swiping half heartedly at any kitten wandering by. He, too, is a human Geiger counter, and when he's less rudely interrupted (i.e. the storm door and front door don't slam shut), he'll purr before you can touch him. He meows his quiet, cracking meow when he wants out, and he does this every now and then.

Hal, Mike, and Bella. They scaled the mattress (leaning against the wall) and looked outside for a while. Mike was still looking when I took the shot, a bit longingly I think.

Mike looking mean. Or tired.

Mike doing his flounder pose. Or bear rug, but flounder sounds better. I always think of that Gary Larson "Boneless Chicken Ranch" thing when I see him like this.

Mike (underneath) with Bella, with the matronly Lilly looking on.

So, yes, the cats are all happy, well behaved, and acting like cats in human households should act. They're nice, playful, and technically Hal, Riley, and Mike are up for adoption.

I describe their temperament because, frankly, I never understood what made a cat a feral cat. I mean, yeah, this is what I think of when I think of a feral cat: Grey. We caught her, we gave her to the vet, and after an aero wheel's worth of medical bills, she was fixed, innoculated, and cleaned of fleas. She also gained a lot of weight, looking much better than her initial 7.5 pounds.

She seems to have maintained her weight, partly because of a generous effort designed to keep her well fed. The owner sometimes feeds her, her daughter too, but I feed her at least 5 days a week. The other day I took the camera and used it as a flashlight under the store.

Where is Grey?

I put the cat bed there on the left (fuzzy brown thing), the yellow box next to it, and laid out the roofing shingles to keep the dust down. I liberated two of the feeding bowls from inside the store (we used them to feed the two labs that the owners have) and I cleared out the poop and litter from the area. I think Grey learned about feeding in her few weeks of captivity. She's consistently there when I go feed her.

(Note - she's actually in the picture above, between the cat bed and the concrete block to the left.)

She makes it easy for me to spot her though - she moves around to three different spots most of the time. One is behind the left concrete block, one is behind the right block, and one is directly in front of me, but at the other side of the building. When she moved to the "in front of me" spot, I finally got a decent picture of her.


She looks healthy, well fed, alert, and agile. I peeked in about a minute after leaving her a couple bowls of food and found her at one, eating. She scampered off as expected. The next morning, she was there again.

Tonight I'm typing a little slower than normal. In the course of the past week, I received word of a cat walking around with a glue trap stuck to its side. I felt it my civic duty to capture, clean, and fix said cat (hoping it wasn't Grey), and set about trying to put action to my thoughts. My first trapping attempt failed because I set a "both sides open" trap and baited only one side.


I told myself that I was just trying to feed the cat wet food and that I wanted to just get it used to the cage.

Today I set the trap correctly, and, predictably, I found a cat in there.

Luckily, it had a glue trap on it.

Unfortunately, it was not a cat we'd ever seen before.

In fact, in looking at the cat, it looked like a Mike-aged Bella. Perhaps Mike's sister (or brother, but her cautious nature makes me think it's a she, so I'll call her a she for now). She calmed down in the office, and after some consultation with the owner, I went to the bathroom to clean the glue off of the cat. I planned to use mineral oil which, at worst, would act as a laxative if the cat licked it up. I took my heavy duty gloves, long sleeved shirt, and gently let her go on the floor.

Then I reached out to pick her up.

When she bit me I was half crouched, the cat just above the top of the toilet. I could feel her teeth work their way into my hand, a deep, rich, solidly anchored bite.

It hurt.

I must have had a shocked look on my face - a cat, biting me?! I grabbed her jaws, opened them up a touch, and pulled her away. I realized right away that I had gotten into something I couldn't handle, and I had to get the cat back into the cage.

I went to grab her again, to switch hands, to get the cage open, and she sank her teeth into me again. Deep and solid, I could feel her teeth working their way in, an act of desperation by a creature fighting for its life.

This one really hurt.

I can't imagine getting stabbed or something - this was like getting jabbed with a pencil or something. I couldn't get her jaws off of me so I put her on the floor, held her in place with a firm push of my (steel toed) boot, and grasped her cuff just about as tight as one can grasp a cuff. I pulled her away from my hand.

She finally, reluctantly, let go.

I whipped my hand away, my glove sliding off because her fang had totally impaled it. Blood, I noticed, was started to drip everywhere.

With the cuff-grab, the cat was frozen in place. I managed to open the cage on its end and stuck the cat inside. The glove fell off her tooth when the glove hit the cage edge, and when I let go of the cat, she jumped in the cage.

I closed the cage door, and then, dripping blood from my hand, tried to clean it up. My hand started throbbing, I got sort of dizzy, and my finger felt like it was ballooning up (but my analytical mind compared the two fingers and basically they were the same size). I tried not to drip blood everywhere as I walked back to the office, to report the unfortunate situation.

Feral cats are feral. They are not cute kitties. Bella and Hal and Riley and Mike are not feral cats. Sure they were born to a feral mom.

But they are not wild animals.

The glue trap cat is a wild animal. A wild animal that is scared, and when I tried to pick her up, a wild animal that feels threatened.

I called our vet, the one that handles all of our cats. I described to him what had happened, how we'd found this cat, and that it was really a kitten, blah blah blah. I didn't realize how well he knew us until I said, "Well, the kitten is maybe 12 to 15 weeks old, because it's about as big as our big kitten."

"You mean Mike?"


Then he laid it out for us.

"We can put down the cat, have it tested, and act accordingly. Or we can quarantine the cat for two weeks and we'll know well before then if the cat is okay."


"Knowing you, you'll take the second option."

Am I that easy to read?

Twenty minutes later we dropped off the poor cat at the vet. Wild feral cat, yes, but one that was in pitiful shape thanks to a glue trap and most of its fur matted in gluey material. The doc (Hal, i.e. we named our kittens Hal and Riley after our vets) said they have tools to deal with wild animals - plastic head balls to keep them from biting, assistants to hold their legs, and if it came to it, "chemical sedation".

What did I get? I got a nice walk-in clinic visit, a tetanus shot, another bill to add to my mounting medical expense list, and a quick trip to CVS on the way home to pick up some antibiotics. And while we were there I picked up replacement hydrogen peroxide (I used up all of the stuff we had at the store) and some first aid spray (we had none at the store).

Apparently a cat's claws resemble bacteria injection weapons. Bio warfare, if you will. Accordingly I had to take some antibiotics. I didn't know but now they include a description of the pill. This way you know if someone's been messing with your meds.

"These are huge pills!" - the Missus.

The first bite marks are visible at the base of my index finger. The second marks are covered by the bandaid. They all hurt.

I couldn't stop talking about Tiger through all of this. Tiger and Lilly and even the kittens. They are, as I now realize, about as civilized as a cat will ever be - they only need to eat using the outermost utensil first to become snooty class citizens. I realized the only reason why the cat couldn't bite deeper is because she'd bottomed out her fangs on me, and the thick gloves took up a precious couple millimeters of "fang penetration depth". If Tiger had bitten me like this, well, I'd be in the hospital dictating this post, not typing it.

So I learned a lot today. I learned about the difference between a wild animal and a tame one, a scared animal and a threatened one. I learned that I will select gloves (if I ever need to handle a feral cat) based on the animal's expected fang and claw lengths, and to select a glove that would force even a long fang to bottom out before it got too deep into my skin (ditto jacket and pants).

I've also learned to appreciate just how precious our cats are, how friendly they are, and to not take them for granted.

And yes, this means I didn't train tonight. Drat it all.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Atleast you didn't/don't have to get rabies shots...

I've had to get a set of those and my girlfriend is undergoing her set after being nipped by a dog.

Not fun...