Having a Tiger by the Tail

Wow! It's been several weeks since my last blog entry. But I've been kind of busy. While I was visiting family in Ohio, my son brought home a mama cat and her three kittens to foster (the apple doesn't fall far from the tree!) Of course, when I returned from my vacation, the responsibility for the kittens somehow migrated from him to me, maybe because he was working full time and I was so full of helpful - if unsolicited - advice, anyway. After a worrisome few weeks requiring every-three- hours supplemental feedings (mama cat didn't have enough milk),  the three kittens are doing just fine (one of them, Cheddar, is pictured helping me write this blog) and will be ready to return to the Georgia SPCA adoption center in a week or two, but I've also acquired two semi-feral kittens to foster. They were about 3 months old and pretty wild when they were found behind a Publix grocery store and rescued. I have to admit that socializing kittens is one of my favorite fostering challenges, so when I was asked to help, I said yes.

Dr. Mavis McCormick, at Lanier Animal Hospital, gave me good advice when I first took on the responsibility for socializing some wild kittens that my son rescued when he was working as a lifeguard at a local subdivision pool a few years ago (do you see a pattern here?) She told me to put a big wire dog crate on my kitchen table, put the kittens in it, and every time I pass the crate, reach in and pet or cuddle the kittens. And I mean every time - many, many times a day. The sooner they get used to being held, and to the usual sights, sounds and smells of a household, the sooner they acclimate to it and can be adopted. The American Veterinary Medicine Association says that the critical time for socializing a kitten is when it is between three and nine weeks of age; the kittens I am working with now were well outside that "sensitive period" when they were rescued, so they require more time to adjust. When I picked them up, the person who had rescued them told me that one of them was named "Shark Attack." I forget what they'd named the second kitten, but it was along those lines. In the spirit of positive thinking, I have re-named them Cuddles and Lovey. I'm grateful, though, that the vet tech clipped their claws before I brought them home.

They are, in fact, frightened but pretty gentle. In addition to their time in the crate, I turn the kittens loose in my home office for a few hours a day, and I spend as much time in there with them as I can. This gives them a chance to run around and explore bookshelves, windowsills, desk tops and pretty much any place they can knock something over. They also get supervised visits with my own adult cats and with my very gentle German Shepherd. Oh, and I talk to them, all the time. Mostly baby talk. And I say, "I love you" to them, a lot, usually in some kind of baby talk. Laugh if you want to,  but I think it makes a difference. I dont think I know any adult who doesn't talk to a kitten in baby talk.

Cuddles, originally the more timid of the two, is coming along nicely. She reaches for my hand when I pet her, and plays with it, and her posture is usually fairly relaxed when I reach into the crate. Lovey, who has a beautiful bull's-eye tabby pattern and who purrs the moment I touch her, tends to be more frightened (purring but frightened? I can't figure that out.) It really helps when I can get them to chase a cat toy on a string - their hunting instincts and naturally playful kitten natures kick in, and with every new experience they begin to feel more confident and safe. So we're making progress. But even after a good play session and a long petting full of purrs, I have to allow enough time at the end of our "free play" session to catch them and put them back in the crate. Those little stinkers can move! We've got a ways to go yet, but they are destined for loving new homes. Sure beats scavenging behind Publix.