Tux and Doux
Yesterday Doux, the gray kitten, burst howling and speeding in through the cat flap and circled the rooms about three times at such blind speed that he was bashing into corners and furniture. Back out the flap, around the garage, stirring up that set of kittens, back in the flap — and this time I was ready and grabbed him. Holding him tightly enough to keep him from escaping caused desperate squalling that brought Tux, his litter mate, and the Granny MamaCat who lives in the garage. I couldn’t see a wound or even blood. There was no slobbering and he didn’t really bite me hard, but I did think of rabies. Finally Bunny, his mother, arrived, and that helped to calm him down. Still, it was close to twenty minutes before I dared set him down and it was bedtime before he was himself again.
Officious urban middle-aged women and dewy-eyed young women (I’ll invent some pejorative categories in order to make my points here) know all about cats because they read HSUS publications and a lot of pet food marketing. I think few of them have seen cats clamped into special “chairs” like those used for monkeys so that they can be surgically or electrically altered for study. I was told once that in France the cruelty laws are not meant to spare the animals, but rather to spare the sensibilities of people so they don’t have to hear or witness animal suffering. In fact, the law everywhere works that way because of the practical necessity of a complaining witness to initiate anything related to laws.
Even fewer of us these days have any awareness of farm cats, barn cats, meant to control rodents. In the days when people kept cows and killed coyotes, the barn cats got a bonus of milk. Today, when people depend on poison and are restrained from coyote control, they say that any unwanted cat is welcome at a grain farm as replacement coyote food until the secondary poison from vermin kills either cats or coyotes. Coyotes do kill small rodents. I’m not against death. I’m against unnecessary death and careless suffering. Increasingly, I suspect manufactured molecules.
Doux and Tux are escapees from my own birth control program. They are the kittens of the Blue Bunny, a rather strange but pretty cat who was the daughter of Smudge, who arrived here in a procession behind her mother, a white-based calico I used to call Patches and is now the GrannyMamaCat. All of that set of kittens has disappeared but she has not.
If I could catch that original progenitor, I’d try to scrape up the money for spaying, but a hand held out to Cranky Grandma is an invitation to amputation. The advantage is that she’s so fierce that she drives off other cats, like the dark calico female who smuggled her kittens into the old workshop, which is where I found their carcasses, nearly adult, last week.
So you can see already that what I have here is too many cats in spite of taking Squibs and Crackers, now ancient, to their final rest with much personal pain and grief, but for them a gentle and dignified handling by the vet. They had their shots, their spays, their careful supervision and all that. They were pets who slept on my arm even when it wasn’t that cold.
What I have now is a natural history project. Three “sets” of cat, though with the death of her last kittens, the dark calico has left. I’m not counting the assortment of tomcats that visit periodically to, uh, keep their balls rolling.
The Granny MamaCat this last time had five kittens somewhere else, then brought them later. Two have died and one is not well. All three fatalities were white with yellow patches and I think they were simply so inbred that they had fatal defects, maybe heart problems. (There was a colony up the street that someone finally eliminated.) These kittens are feral, can’t be touched. I provide a box with a warm lining and kibble in hopes of persuading them that I’m not a monster so I can catch them. If I do, I have no idea what to do with them. Granny has a bulge in her side that suggests cancer. The ag chemical levels in this town must be high.
One of those garage kittens is marked like a baby wild duck, neither striped nor patched but more black-and-brown mottled. I call him “Mallard”. He was the only kitten to come at food-time (the others waited until I was gone to eat), and now he occasionally comes in the cat flap to join Doux and Tux in play. He’s okay if I’m in the room, maybe reading, but if I move and he spots me, he slips behind furniture and out the flap. I might be able to tame him; he will be a handsome adult.
The neighbors bought a pickup from out of town that had three kittens hidden in it. One died, one is still with the neighbors, and the third moved over to my house. That was Finnegan, the gray-striped belligerent male whom Bunny was so madly in love with. Smudge, who was the runt of her sib-litter, did an offhand job of raising Bunny, who made up the difference in her devotion to Finnegan. Eventually, Finnegan reached adulthood and hit the road, but left Bunny with a big belly. He’s been back a couple of times but not to stay and not to be petted. I see these mammal patterns so clearly in humans that it’s a little uncomfortable.
Tux (black with a white collar and shirt-front, but a black dot on his chin) and Doux, a blurry gray, are different from any domestic cats I’ve had. Bunny took them to the dirt under-floor and then further back under the joists of the bump-out I call my geranium window. (It’s about time to bring the flowers in today.) I thought the kittens might be dead. Bunny only rarely went down there, so some of their characteristics come from being raised on short rations, in total darkness, without much cuddling or licking. Luckily, they were together. They are silent cats unless in their rough play they bite too hard. Then they sound like a squeaky toy.
Once upstairs they were semi-feral, afraid of me. It took a while. Bunny, who had always kept conversation with Finnegan, finally developed enough caretaking impulse to do a lot of nursing and then finally licking. Now she's chatty Kathy, a stream of advice and comment, occasionally coming to me with enough excited talk that I have to go see. I’m impressed with how much of her behavior is related to what must be her hormone stream.
Rat research says that rat pups need a LOT of licking to develop properly. These two kittens are like survivors of rubble, wary, small, committed to each other but rough-housers without limits, not plump with fat nor fluffy. I don’t intervene. They don’t come to me for comfort. Bunny is gone on expedition for long periods. The kittens spend a lot of time sleeping next to the computer under the warm lamp. None of these cats sleeps with me. The three usually spend the night in the wicker chair that has a cushy synthetic fur scrap on the seat.
But yesterday changed the balance a little bit. Doux has been back to be held several times over the last 24 hours. While I hold him, he searches my face with his gaze, the way a human baby does while fed. Mostly what he sees is my glasses, I think. Kittens don’t do this with their mothers because their intimacy during nursing is with their eyes closed and their faces pressed into belly fur. I finally decided Doux was probably stung, as the wasps are looking for places to hibernate and feeling cranky about it. (So easy to anthromorphize even an insect.)
I have not made contact with the humane movement people here. They are always looking for time and money and I’m avoiding all need as much as I can. It’s hypocritical of me. Their work is mostly dog-focused. I am not cat-focused, I’m not even focused. I’m thinking and watching. It would be fair to say I’m thinking about ecology.
If you google “urban rat control”, you’ll find a lot of articles about new successful birth control medicines that have been in development for decades. In the Seventies, when I was doing animal control, birth control hormones for pets were supposed to be ready and some wanted to put them in cat and dog food, except for fear of what it would do to poor people who eat pet food. This new “pill” is supposed to be attractive enough to just be scattered and we are assured that they work, but slowly over generation cycles, and with no danger to other mammals, except for preventing fertility. This means potentially solving the rural small town cat overpopulation. Tomorrow is not soon enough.